By Diane Walters
I’m a slob! Right now the dishes are piled up in every square inch of my ten-foot kitchen. They are on the stove, in the stove, on the counter, in both sinks and in the dish drain rack; they are stacked two and a half-feet high on the kitchen table, and there are probably a few on the floor. What does this have to do with Thanksgiving you ask? I’ll get to that in a minute.
“Are you going anywhere for Thanksgiving?” my friends ask me. “You’ve got to go somewhere, to be with someone for Thanksgiving! You can’t stay home alone.” I give a wry smile to the phone and say, “I’ll be fine! Don’t worry about it.” I know, though, that they don’t understand how some people can actually have fun being alone on Thanksgiving.
First of all, I live in paradise. Deep in the autumn Ozark’s forest, the leaves are off the trees; the winter birds are arriving in large flocks daily and can clean out my three pound feeder by nightfall. Goldfinches, red sparrows, nut hatches, titmice, small black and white woodpeckers with splotches of red on their tiny heads (the big ones, like Woody, will arrive later on) and proud, comical, bright red cardinals with their sweet, dainty, light brown mates, share the winter’s forest with me. Frisky weather I call it – just chilly enough for a fleece jacket.
The leaves crunch, crunch as the 16 paws and two feet shuffle through them on the afternoon walk to the creek. There is a clear view in this holler all the way up the sides of the hills, and the dogs strain the leashes, grinning wildly in a pant, when a squirrel skitters across the leaves and up a trees – chattering his obscenities at us for disturbing his most serious business of nut hunting. Our creek is babbling its usual tune as the murky, leaf-soaked water rushes under the bridge releasing its crest on the other side to a smooth gentle ripple. As we stroll back to the cottage, thoughts of wonderful food tantalize me with eager anticipation and excite the dogs as they pick up on my unusual energy today.
It’s rare that I have enough energy to cook. It’s rare that I have enough energy to do anything. I think that is what people don’t understand when I say, “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine on Thanksgiving alone.” Some days it is work to just walk downstairs/get dressed/make a sandwich. Too many years have passed on and old achy bones from severe arthritis prevent me from doing much. There are days when a little bit is all I can manage in a day’s time. This day, however, is wonderful! The dark dreary days with mist, fog and rain are gone. The sun is out. It’s crisp. It’s dry. It’s a low pain day! And I . . . get to cook! And! Better yet . . . today, I can cook!
The leaves crunch, crunch as I tell the dogs, “And, we’re going to have turkey today, and mashed potatoes, and bread, and popovers and spice cake to eat – it’s Thanksgiving and we’re going to have FUN!” The screen door squeals as it’s opened. All four dogs lie down, well away from the kitchen and they are very good because they know, mama’s cookin’. No one makes a peep all day; and I make this recipe and that one, giving our little earthy smelling country cottage a new breath of sweet-smelling goodness. After the turkey is in, we go out for our usual “get the goodie” game. I throw square dog biscuits into the yard for the three dogs to hunt. Goldie, my yellow lab is actually in worse shape than I’m in with her achy bones. But, that doesn’t stop her from a game of catch. She can catch any kind of toss I give her. Her talent is so impressive the other dogs have watched over the years with jealous wonderment until they could stand it no longer and had to learn the trick themselves. Still, no one can beat Goldie’s quick eye as she snaps those biscuits out of the air without so much as moving a muscle.
The warm air hits us in the face when it’s time to retreat inside to tackle phase-two of the big Thanksgiving cook-off. “Oh! Does that smell good!” I yell, when the aroma of hot bread and roasted turkey tickles our noses. “It’s going to be a good Thanksgiving!” Again, the dogs lumber off to their “spots” to lie down and wait for dinner. No one even makes a peep.
I can’t believe this is happening! The bread is done (that’s for tomorrow), the potatoes are boiling in the pot; when the turkey is taken out, the popovers go in the oven and the gravy will cook down. I’m actually going to finish the whole dinner. The oven! Oh! The oven! I haven’t had an oven for eight years here. When I moved in, there were two four-foot propane cylinders that my gas oven ran on. It was wonderful. It made the best pizza and beautiful loaves of round rustic breads. The first bite lent to crusts which were golden, crisp and crunchy, then gave way to the soft, buttery warm dough on the inside. It was to die for.
Then, all the propane companies in the area changed their policies all at once. No more would they come to fill the four-foot cylinders. I’d have to put in a big tank; but, they won’t come down here for a big tank to run my little oven. “Lady! There’s no sense in putting in a big tank when you only have to fill it every 20 years for a little oven. It’s a loss for us to do that.” That left me with a hot plate, microwave and a small toaster oven. I can’t begin to tell you how tired I got of crock-pot chicken, crock-pot turkey and crock-pot beef roasts. This year, while searching online I learned that they made double-sized toaster oven – and the price wasn’t too bad.
Not only, was I cooking today, I was cooking in my brand new oven for the first time in eight years! Roast turkey! This beauty sits on my counter top and I watched through the glass door as the turkey roasted and the popover popped. It was magical. The smells actually matched the wondrous sights of the crispy, brown turkey skin and the golden popover as they cooked.
Finally! It was ready! We were ready! The dogs all piled around. (Actually, they were inching their way in the kitchen the closer I got to finishing dinner.) They, of course, got their kibble and a few bites of turkey and a little piece of popover and a teaspoon of potatoes. The chow hounds were so excited about the unusual fare that I was actually able to enjoy my dinner alone.
Sated, I mused at past holiday celebrations. The cooks racing around in a frantic panic to finish everything in time, “Did I burn anything? Did I remember everything? Where are the olives? Is the cranberry sauce in the bowl? Don’t bother me now – I’m making the gravy! Don’t you dare step into my kitchen!” Everyone tried to dress up, arrive on time, bring the appointed dish. After a few drinks, the bickering would start. By the time everyone was seated at the table, half of the friends and relatives weren’t speaking any longer. Grace was said, plates were passed and everyone gorged. After dinner, mumbles went around the room that everything was delicious, plates were cleared, parcels packed and people went home – grumpy, over-stuffed and tired.
I, on the other hand, laughed and played with the dogs, had a lovely walk through the woods on a crisp fall day, fed the birds and cooked a magnificent leisurely meal (in my brand new oven) that I won’t forget for a very, very long time. I didn’t have to rush anywhere. I didn’t have to dress up. I didn’t have to force small talk with people I didn’t know. I’m in an old t-shirt and dirty old tennis shoes.
A little while ago, I walked downstairs and looked at the horrible mess. Yes, I’m a slob! I’ve learned to live with this two to four hours a day I’ve been given and most of the time it doesn’t bother me. I’m on my own time schedule and I adjust the best I can. It will take me a few days to clean up everything again. And, that’s okay. The fun, the food, the unusual gift of motion today was worth far more than a messy kitchen. As I reached the last step, I panned the kitchen. Dishes are everywhere! It’s a nightmare scene of chaos. All I could do was laugh. I laughed at the mess. I laughed, because I still felt like that little girl coming inside with mud on her pretty dress, on her mucked-up shoes, on her hands and face, as she proudly walks in to her mother with her hands outstretched holding her first mud pie. I laughed because I knew I wasn’t going to clean it up today. I laughed at how relaxed and happy I was. I laughed, because “Thank God – I am still able to make a mess in the house and not stuck in a room some place with bare walls, painted pea green or sickly yellow, lying there incapacitated and helpless.” I laughed remembering how the turkey looked when it was almost done in my brand new oven. And, I laughed at all the fun we had today. I certainly have a lot to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving holiday.