Though it is only Tuesday, today is the day I start working on the turkey. I’m writing from the café at Whole Foods Market in Birmingham where I called last week to reserve my bird: free range, fresh, never frozen. “I want one of those birds who spends all day running and playing and sitting on the couch eating ice cream every evening watching Andy Griffith reruns,” I told the woman who took my order over the phone.
“A happy turkey,” she responded. “That’s all we have.”
I’m picking it up early today because I like to brine the bird before I cook it. Brining, which means soaking it in salt water, prepares the bird. The big-breasted white turkeys we all buy these days are not the most flavorful of birds, to be honest. Brining helps them retain their moisture and gives them some flavor.
Here’s what I do: I take two big Reynolds turkey-sized browning bags and put one inside the other. Then I mix a gallon of water, 1 cup Kosher salt, 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, and a handful of black peppercorns and stir it until the salt and sugar are dissolved. I then stand the bird bottom side up in the bag and pour the brining mixture over it. Seal the bag tightly and refrigerate or, if you’re working with limited refrigeration space, put it in an ice chest and pack with ice. Close the lid and leave it alone until tomorrow morning at least (eight to eighteen hours). (When I open the bag tomorrow, I have a second soaking for my turkey you can find here.)
I guess the brining is on my mind because I’m having a hard time getting ready for Thanksgiving on a personal level. Though I’m happy to get to be with both sets of parents, I’m in the wrong town, I’m shopping in the wrong stores, and it’s too damn hot.
A Boston friend who also just moved from the Hub but who is back for the holiday, left voicemail for me this morning saying cheerfully, “It’s snowing! It’s snowing!” I know he was working to reconnect, since this is the first Thanksgiving we have not shared together in many, many years, yet his sentimental elation was not helpful for me. I was standing in a hot kitchen wearing shorts and a t-shirt, trying to figure out how to get dinner ready when I can’t use my front porch as a refrigerator. I need to go soak in something to get ready for our shared day of gratitude. I need something to help remind me that life is flavored with much more than grief and uncertainty in these days, because I know it is. I just can’t taste it.
And so I’ve been sitting here stewing in Whole Foods, posting a few more recipes (see the post below) and working hard to taste the gratitude. Actually, it’s less work than it is simply cleansing my palette, if you will. I’m getting to spend some good time with my father-in-law, whose Alzheimer’s is progressing steadily. This may be the last Thanksgiving that he knows who I am and we are here together. Last night, a couple who are my some of my in-laws’ truest friends came by to visit and to see us. They brought their nineteen-year old granddaughter with them who is mentally handicapped because of chemotherapy she received as a baby. She is full of joy and spent most of the evening looking at me and laughing.
My mother-in-law, Rachel, was amazing with her. At one point, she asked if I would get my guitar and sing for Hailey. I sang a couple of songs and then her grandfather asked if I would play and sing her favorite song, “Amazing Grace.” I started to sing and she began to sing along in her own way. Regardless of my pace, she sang a couple of words behind me the whole way, adding powerful punctuation to the end of each line. When we finished, she laughed at me again and said thank you.
It’s easy for me to get the turkey ready for Thanksgiving Dinner. I know what I’m preparing it for and how to prepare it. I don’t always know how to get ready for life. For all the love that has infused the Brasher household over the years, they were not prepared for Alzheimer’s. All nine months of her mother’s pregnancy could not have prepared Hailey’s mom for, well, motherhood as it is incarnated at her house. For all the weeks that have passed since we said we were moving to Durham, and all the boxes packed, and all the things passed on to others, and all the dinners and cards and hugs and goodbyes and smiles and tears and miles, for all that has been and all that will be, I don’t much know how to get ready for what is to come except to keep singing:
through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come
‘tis grace that brought me safe this far
and grace will lead me home
I don’t imagine the dinner the first pilgrims shared so many Novembers ago looked anything like the spread I’ll stretch out in a couple of days anymore than I think the dinner was much more than thanksgiving for not being dead yet. We’re a week away from joining another band of pilgrims in Durham with much more for which to give thanks than our ancestors. As I look at the days ahead, I can’t see any farther around the bend than they could, so I will follow the same path, tracing their footsteps through the forest of faith. They were faithful because they soaked in the Spirit, allowing God to infuse them with grace and gratitude to sustain them for the journey.
Maybe I can be ready for Thanksgiving after all.