Howlings / The turkey thief
How was your turkey on Thanksgiving? Was it moist and delicious? Was the skin nice and crispy? Did the leftovers last through the weekend?
Well, good. Glad you enjoyed it. I'm so happy for you. Me, I didn't get any turkey. While you had thick brown gravy dripping out of the side of your mouth (and really, turkey is just a delivery system for the gravy to begin with, right?), I stared at my turkey-less plate and wondered how Thanksgiving had gone so wrong.
But I knew what had happened. There was a thief in our house, and I had opened the door. Literally.
To set the table (figuratively, of course, because I'd never be allowed to set the actual Thanksgiving table; I am the bizarro Martha Stewart, the evil nemesis of interior decorating, table linens and place settings everywhere), this year's Thanksgiving for my family took place in the Berkshires at the lovely and immaculate home of my in-laws.
For those of you who haven't been to my in-laws home (and, based on the affability of my father-in-law and the current booking rate of their social calendar, all of you should get to visit by the end of 2012), the home is just short of museum-quality clean. I'm talking a suburban house version of Disney World here, where trash gets mysteriously swept up before it hits the ground and glasses and plates are cleaned before you're done using them. In particular, the finest of our country's hospitals can't match the cleanliness and sterility of their kitchen. They wipe their countertops so often and with such fervor that the marble is wearing into sand from the friction. Forget Corian, they'd work through that stuff like it was putty.
Anyway, our family is made up of myself, my lovely and gorgeous wife (see, I've learned my lesson about spouse-related adjectives in my column), two kids and an extremely large dog named Chauncey. Chauncey is a Goldendoodle whose legs kept growing far past the point of normalcy. He's the Elle MacPherson of canines, pretty much 90 percent leg and taller than those ponies you see at second-rate country fairs. My wife, who never owned a dog as a child or really wanted one, suddenly had a beast living within her walls.
But for Thanksgiving, we all packed into the car for the ride to Massachusetts, dog included. I'm not sure if Karen asked for her parents' permission to bring Chauncey, but probably not. He hasn't been formally appreciated at their home since the Great Basement Urine Disaster of 2008. To neat freaks, an oversized dog isn't quite as warm and cuddly as they are to the rest of us. But he's family to The Wolfes, so he deserved his spot at the Thanksgiving table (or at least under it).
Thanksgiving Day was beautiful. There was a chill in the air, which only made the warm house more comfortable and cozy. Holidays in my wife's family are rarely left to chance, so everything for the day had been impeccably planned. Again, you have to understand the organizational power of this family. They dream in color-coded filing systems.
So when it came time for dinner, the expectations were high. Mellow jazz was piping through the house, and the carving tools had been set in their place (probably for days). The stage had been set to their vision of what The Perfect Thanksgiving needed to be. You know that famous Rockwell painting of the Thanksgiving meal, with Grandma and Grandpa serving the turkey at the head of the table, adoring family members smiling up at them at the site of such majesty? That's what my in-laws were going for, a modern version of a Saturday Evening Post cover (only Jewish).
Tradition holds that my brother-in-law carves the turkey, with active assistance from his parents. The three of them huddled over the turkey, examining it with the scrutiny of modern art critics.
They moved into action. My brother-in-law cut into one side of the succulent bird, removed the treasured breast meat and placed it on an adjacent platter. They then turned back to the turkey to resume their work. At that same exact moment, I opened the front door to bring Chauncey inside from his "business trip" (well, how else do you want me to describe it in a family newspaper?).
You know where this is going.
Chauncey, without pause or hesitation and with remarkable agility, pulled a stealth end-around behind the backs of my distracted in-laws, grabbed the gigantic cut of breast meat off the platter, and bolted. Thus began a house-wide chase worthy of a Jack Benny episode.
I managed to corner him and chase him into the garage, the half-eaten turkey breast hanging from each side of his mouth (this was a big turkey). I was going to let him finish off his loot in isolation, until my wife chastised me for "bad parenting." We then somehow managed to pry what was left out of his mouth and threw the chewed and saliva-covered remains into the garbage.
My in-laws were not amused. Their dream Thanksgiving ruined, my father-in-law restrained himself and only muttered a few choice expletives under his breath, while my mother-in-law e-mailed her lawyer to remove me from their will.
I was mortified and embarrassed. While there was more than enough turkey left for the meal, I felt responsible for the missing breast and didn't eat any, lest anyone in the family not get enough for themselves. Chauncey ate my share. Bad dog.
But in hindsight, I'm not really angry at Chauncey. He's a dog that has been reduced to eating the same hard pebbles of petrified food for every meal of his existence. How can you blame him for wanting his piece of the feast? I can't even keep my paws off a bowl of Ruffles, and we expect a deprived dog to resist temptation? How is that fair? Where's the Thanksgiving spirit?
And despite the short-term agita he may have caused, Chauncey's thievery has given us a story for the ages. Even my in-laws have come around, laughing the good laugh and telling their friends about the night our crazy dog stole their turkey. It took a few days, but perspective has arrived.
Although now that I think about it, we haven't been invited back yet. They have a really nice house. Can anyone watch my dog for the holidays?
Michael Wolfe's "Howlings" column runs monthly in the Westport News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.