A Tale of Two Turkeys (Part 2)

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

Clay Rivers
Nov 21, 2017 · 7 min read

The moment you utter the words, “This will be the best [insert your favorite high pressure goal] ever,” you can start weeping and gnashing your teeth because what you’ve done in your momentary glee is implored all malevolent forces in the Universe to conspire against you to bring about your complete and utter humiliation. But thank God for his provision. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.

The Best Laid Plans

In September 2016, I published my first book for a paying client, The Food Safety Book: What You Don’t Know Could Kill You. The consumer food safety, food quality, and food storage book was a hit. Both the client and I were thrilled with the final product. I was on a roll. Once again, I was appointed head turkey-meister for the Rivers family and armed with my amassed knowledge about how to handle meat, Thanksgiving 2016 was destined to be the best Thanksgiving ever.

[cue: universe revving up to issue a beatdown with my name on it.]

Days before Thanksgiving, I headed to my friendly neighborhood Publix. With a couple of successful turkeys under my belt, I opted to step up my game and get a twenty-pounder, but I couldn’t find one in the case. The butcher offered to check in the back to see if they had more on hand.

A few minutes later, he strolled out showcasing a titanic turkey. He said they were out of the brand and size I wanted, but he’d cut me a huge deal on a twenty-found pound Butterball turkey. My mouth fell open as he extolled its virtues. Images of a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving, but with a black family, filled my head. A well-put-together woman who looked like she knew her way around a kitchen, leaned over my shoulder and whispered, “You have to get the Butterball. It’s the turkey. You can’t go wrong. And for that price, if you don’t take it, I sure will.”

Not one to pass up good advice and a good deal, I blurted “I’ll take it!” to the butcher, and thanked Miss Know-It-All.

SCORE — a massive Butterball turkey for a song! I indulged in serious endzone celebrating all the way home.

Having spent the past year publishing The Food Safety Book: What You Don’t Know Could Kill You, I learned the correct way to thaw a frozen turkey: put in the fridge to thaw over a number of days and never let perishable food stay in the Danger Zone (between 40° and 140°F, the birthplace of all bacteria) for more than two hours. My mom is old school and her answer to the question of how to that the turkey was to let him thaw on the counter, then just put him in the freezer.

My thoughts: bad idea.

She has this freezer in the garage that keeps things cold, but not frozen. The turkey was already frozen solid and denser than Thor Bjornson’s biceps and there was no way I was going to risk giving everyone a foodborne illness. Nope, not on my watch. I got the mom-stare, and despite my gut reaction, I demurred and set the Butterball in the non-freezing freezer to thaw.

Three days later, the day before Thanksgiving. A friend from church called and asked if knew anyone who needed a turkey as a friend of his had an extra one. Of course, I said “yes.” My family was all set, we had the mighty Hercules thawing so we figured we could surely find someone in need of a turkey.

We met the friend to pick up the turkey, but she ended up giving us not one, but two sixteen-pound turkeys. We made some calls, found someone in need, and gave one turkey a forever home. But we were unable to find a home for the second turkey, so into the non-freezing freezer that one went.

At this point, it was about 6:00 o’clock in the evening. My plan was to cook the turkey the night before, so I could lounge around the house in my Christmas plaid fat pants and work on my cherubic figure by grazing all day long.

I brought the turkey into the kitchen, climbed up my trust step ladder, and flung it on the counter. The thing landed with the thud of a concrete block. Hercules didn’t give an inch when I pressed my thumb against it. The damn thing was frozen solid. Apparently, the non-freezing freezer upped its chill game and gifted me with a frozen bird.

Panic gripped me by the throat. Images of my black Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving were marred by a gaping hole where the guest of honor should be displayed and quizzical looks on everyone’s faces. Who does that? Who hosts Thanksgiving dinner and doesn’t have a turkey? Okay, maybe vegetarians and vegans; but no self-respecting carnivore would allow himself to become an otherwise avoidable Thanksgiving cautionary tale. I couldn’t allow that to happen, especially being linked to the misused herb rub story. Never!

Perhaps drowning the bird in the sink was the way to go?

Not really. The kitchen had been remodeled three months prior and the possibility of a twenty-plus-pound turkey ripping out an under-mount sink terrified me. I called the carpenter to find out if he thought the sink would hold. His response: I think so.

Wrong answer! Frozen bird rips out sink? No freaking way on Earth.

Next option: soaking it in a roasting pan! Yes!

Keep in mind, I’m doing this all atop my trusty step ladder. I removed the shrink wrap from the bird, wrestle it into a roasting pan, and begin to fill it with water. And it just as the pan fills, it dawns on me that only half the damn thing would thaw — the bottom half — and the breast would never thaw.

Onto the next option.

So I wrestled the massive turkey inside the flimsy roasting pan to the edge of the sink to dump the water out, the pan folds and chilly turkey water spills down the front of my clothes and onto the floor. If I had been watching the moment transpire I would’ve been double over laughing. But that was not the case.

“I would’ve just left him on the counter,” my mom said from a safe distance.

“I’m not giving people food poisoning! The Food Safety Book says — ”

“I’ve been thawing turkeys for a hundred years and no one’s ever got food poisoning.”

“Fine. You do it.” I climbed off the step ladder into a pool of turkey water and began cleaning up the mess.

I retired to another part of the house, slipped into something less fowl, and nodded off. In my somewhat semi-conscious state, I thought I heard my mother and brother talking about her dog Jasmine (a Yorkie Dachshund mix), and how she slipped outside and got wet.

A few hours later … I returned to the kitchen and asked my mom, “So how’s the turkey coming?”

“It’s on the patio,” she said muttered in disgust.

“How does it look?” It was dark outside, except for a few exterior lights, and I couldn’t see through the window as I’m not tall enough to just look and see the scene outside.

No response.

“Mother, is it thawing okay?”

“I don’t want another turkey,” she said tentatively. Now mind you, my mother is a very intelligent woman with a masters in education, so she’s got a great command of the English language.

“What are you talking about?” I wondered what in the world could have happened. “Use your words and tell me what’s going on?”


“Well, I’m going out there to check on the turkey.”

I walked through the garage and onto the patio. At the edge of the patio, sat Hercules, the once glorious Butterball turkey, in the roasting pan. On the patio decking. With a garden hose tucked into the pan. I didn’t know which infuriated me more, the fact that the turkey was on the ground or that a garden hose was being used to thaw it out.

I turned around to find my mother standing behind me.

“You put the turkey on the ground???

“It’s not ‘on the ground.’ It’s in the pan.”

“But the pan is on the ground.” Broaching the use of the garden hose would have been futile. In abject frustration, I moved on. “So what’s wrong with the turkey?”

A painfully long beat passed. I braced myself for whatever.

“It’s not all there.”

I gazed at the turkey. Aside from the resting on the ground with a garden hose inches away, the thing looked okay. “What do you mean ‘it’s not all there’?”

“It’s not all there. Look at the other side.”

I walked around the turkey for a look at the other side. And gasped and muffled my laughter.

The twenty-four-pound Butterball turkey that only hours before held such promise lay there with a gaping hole where a drumstick should have been. It looked as if a gator — or something — took a huge-ass bite of it.

My mom lay the blame on her dog Jasmine, who indeed slipped out of the house and onto the patio while she and my brother “set up” the turkey for its demise. The Dachshund-Yorkie mix dog weighs only nine pounds, so I don’t think she was able to inflict that much damage. But there are feral cats in the neighborhood. I think one or two of them may have slipped into the patio and absconded with the drumstick.

Thank God for the stunt turkey He provided which sat chilling in the non-freezing freezer. I prepped and cooked that one instead. (See below.)

By the way, we never found the missing drumstick.

Be thankful.

Love one another.

The stunt turkey of 2016, by Clay Rivers

Clay Rivers

Writing from the intersection of race, faith, and equality. Join the conversation, but you have to bring your own espresso.

Clay Rivers

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Author, art director, actor, and optimist. Writing about equality, faith, and racism. Let’s chat over espresso. Books available at amazon.com/author/clayrivers.

Clay Rivers

Writing from the intersection of race, faith, and equality. Join the conversation, but you have to bring your own espresso.