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Why I Skip Thanksgiving


That fateful day in 1621 is remembered so that we may give thanks for all of our blessings. Believe me, I am grateful every day for all that I have, but I have found other ways to "celebrate" this holiday. I'm sure if those pilgrims and Native Americans had repeated the feast year after year, stress, negativity and family dramas would have eventually become part of the scene. I hear many stories from friends and clients: There's the annoying, brother-in-law, who wears sweats and dirty shoes to the table you spent days decorating, Uncle Harry, who is sloshed before half-time of the first game, Aunt Martha, who greets you with, "I see you put a little weight on this year".

Before I stopped cooking turkey dinners in 1988, I used to go all out. I set a gorgeous table. I put out elegant appetizers. I made a beautifully browned turkey, delicious stuffing, wonderful side dishes, and pumpkin cheesecake. I did mounds of greasy dishes, and ended up with turkey soup and a bad headache.

Just two or three Thanksgivings with my ex-mother-in-law cured me of participation in this holiday ritual. The first year, I had a number of guests, had done as many food items ahead as possible, and had put in the turkey for an early afternoon dinner. The guests were happily eating appetizers and drinking cocktails, when I noticed that lovely turkey/butter scent was no longer coming from my kitchen. There I found a COLD oven, with a "pre-salmonella" temperature uncooked turkey sitting there. No, it was not broken, my MIL had somehow turned off the oven! I whipped up a couple unplanned hors d'oeuvres, and we ate three hours later than planned. Thank goodness we had plenty of liquor! All she said was, "I don't know how that happened." That was also the year she put my beautiful red cashmere sweater in the washer and dryer and it came out looking like something between a potholder and a lap blanket for Barbie!

The first year we lived in the Bay Area, we had moved into our beautiful new home 10 days before Thanksgiving. I worked day and night unpacking TWO moving vans full of stuff into our spacious house. Everything was decorated, my fabulous kitchen was organized and looked like a magazine spread. When my MIL arrived the night before Thanksgiving, I gave her a kitchen tour. I showed her where everything was, and how to work the oven, microwave, and dishwasher. She knew I had done most of the cooking and baking already, and asked if she could "please put in the turkey and make the mashed potatoes and gravy" so I could "relax". I agreed. Since it was just the three of us for dinner, I bought a turkey breast instead of a large bird. The stuffing and side dishes were done ahead, and just had to be heated, so I thought, "Sure, why not!" We discussed what time to put in the turkey breast, and I preheated the oven.

My husband and I had one large painting left to hang in our bedroom. MIL said, "I'm going to put in the turkey, ok?" I said "Sure, do you need anything?" thinking "butter, salt and pepper are out, and the roasting pan is next to them on the counter. She can't mess that up." WRONG.

Fifteen minutes later, when I returned to the kitchen, smoke was pouring out of the oven, and as I entered, the smoke alarm went off. My husband was right behind me. I opened the oven door to see the turkey breast in a PLASTIC zip lock bag with NO PAN, and melting plastic oozing on to my brand new oven element. I screamed. My husband stabbed the smoking, melty, object with a meat fork and carried it to the sink. I turned on cold water, and peeled off the "plastic coating" in one quick pull (like removing a band-aid quickly). We looked at each other. MIL remained silent. What the ____ was she thinking? I believe she eventually said something about thinking it was an oven roasting bag. Did it SAY oven roasting bag??? Even if one could accept this lame excuse, the roasting PAN would have been nice. I washed the turkey breast, started over, and we opened all the windows to get the nice "chemical smoky scent" out of my new home.

A while later, I returned to the kitchen to make mashed potatoes. She said, "I will do the potatoes." Would YOU want this woman in your kitchen at this point? I glared at my husband behind her back. He took me aside to the living room and said, "Please let her help. It makes her feel useful." Her "feeling useful" was how come I still didn't have a new red cashmere sweater! By then she had found my largest soup pot, and filled it with water to boil potatoes. I took out a more appropriate pot, saying, "There are only three of us." She said, "My son loves them, and we'll have leftovers." She grabbed a ten pound bag of potatoes from the pantry. Whatever... I'm sure that is when the scotch came out of the bar.

I noticed she was throwing potatoes...LOTS of them, into the boiling water. I asked quietly, "Don't you peel them first? and cut them?" She said, "It is easier to peel them when they are cooked." News to me. By then, I really didn't care much about dinner. I figured a bowl of cranberry relish alone in my room would be fine. I took out butter, and a large serving bowl, and was just putting the blades in my hand mixer. As she was pouring out the water from the huge pot of potatoes, she asked where my hand masher utensil was. I told her I didn't have one, that I used the hand mixer. I turned two steps to the fridge to grab the cream, when I heard the mixer. No milk, no butter, just potatoes flying around my new kitchen wallpaper. Did you know potatoes can make it to 14 foot ceilings? She was fumbling with the ON/OFF slider on the mixer. How hard is THAT? Unplug the damn thing, moron! More potatoes were flying past my head.

I walked out of the kitchen. I stayed in my room. This was the beginning of my PTTD (Post Traumatic Turkey Disorder). I solemnly vowed, I would NOT cook another Thanksgiving dinner, NOR would I ever let her "help me" cook again. I spent an hour trying to figure out HOW she gave birth to a Mensa member. My husband did a great job of cleaning the ceiling, walls and windows. She never said a word about the potatoes or took any responsibility for the TWO kitchen disasters that day. She always said, "Palma is a wonderful cook." Apparently, it is 20 years later, and she STILL occasionally says "Palma is a wonderful cook" in front of her new daughter-in-law. Hehehe.

Since we have no family members in California, we alternate years between spending Thanksgiving with friends in the Bay area, where I send flowers, and am a pampered guest, or taking a long weekend in Las Vegas. This year it will be Vegas. I do not have to watch football. Friday shopping day is MY sport, and I no longer dread this holiday. It is a safe bet, there will be no turkey on my plate.

I will admit to craving some stuffing, so I whipped up just a tiny bit with some dried cranberries and apricots, and stuffed two chicken breasts. We had them with roasted butternut squash baked with olive oil and a little grated parmigiano. We were so eager to eat, I forgot to take a photo of the inside of the chicken!


Happy cooking this week to all those who celebrate a traditional Turkey Day!

Comments (14)

I love your story! Have a wonderful time in Vegas where I know you will have fabulous meals and fun shopping!

Oh my that story is crazy!! Sounds like quite the MIL... I feel so bad for you, even though it is a long time ago - and I totally understand that you don't do traditional Thanksgiving dinner anymore!

sandi @ the whistlestop cafe:

Thanks for the laugh!
I too suffer from PTTD, but for different reasons.
I'd run away to Vegas if I could!


Palma, I feel traumatized just reading your stories of your ex-MIL and turkey.

You are wise to hit the road for the holiday, have a wonderful trip!!


What do you mean no family in California? You have us... your slowtrav family!

I'm gonna invite you for Thanksgiving sometime and.... roast some pork.


I couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry at your story!
Thanks for sharing it with us! Gives us something else to be thankful for -- no MIL like Palma's former MIL!


Palma, I too have some post- traumatic-first-set-of-inlaws-shock which I have really buried. Maybe I should just let it fly. One scene has to do with Champ, the family dog, sitting on a chair at the dining room table and eating dinner with us off of a plate. Ok, maybe I will just keep it to myself. Enjoy your holiday in the way you best want to!! :)


Oh Palma, my blood pressure just went up 10 points! I could feel your frustration. How you must have dreaded her presence.

Wonderfully told story, though I'm sure not so wonderfully lived through! I too would stay far, far away from Thanksgiving with experiences like those!


Yikes! Now I understand why you go away for Thanksgiving every year!

I hope you and Brad have a great time in Las Vegas, with some big wins too!

WOW! Those are definitely some bad turkey day memories!!

Hehehehe, sounds like my ex-mother in law! She could not cook worth a crap! Family dysfunction always has a way of rearing it's ugly head on the holidays! That's why I'd rather wait till Friday and go therapeutic shopping!

Palma, your exMIL sounded like a piece of work. I enjoy Thanksgiving only because it seems to bring friends together that I haven't seen in a long time. I personnaly could take or leave the turkey, my favorite is the mashed potatoes and gravy. I'm a carb girl at heart.

Enjoy your holiday in Vegas ~ happy shopping!!

Terry (teaberry):

Wow. She needed the boot! What an obtuse person. Good riddance.

And happy Thanksgiving, Palma & Brad.

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