It seemed like a good idea at the time.
My husband and I had been married for just over three months. We lived in a cute little one-bedroom apartment a few hundred miles away from our families. We were busy—he finishing up graduate school and I working odd hours at a local television station—but we were making our first home together, and we were happy.
Maybe I felt a little too overconfident, still basking in that “honeymoon phase.” Maybe I just didn’t think it through. Either way, for my first Thanksgiving as a married woman, I volunteered not only to cook a meal with all the trimmings—I’d invited my in-laws to join us.
Which, as you might imagine, included my mother-in-law.
Who, as you might also rightly guess, is a darn good cook.
No pressure there, new daughter-in-law.
I made a plan. Prepared side dishes ahead of time. Unboxed the wedding china and serving dishes. Cracked open my Better Homes and Gardens red and white checkered cookbook.
But, there was one glitch I didn’t count on: the turkey.
I’d selected it carefully at the grocery store earlier that week, my new husband humoring me as I pawed through a freezer full of shrink-wrapped Butterballs, looking for one that spoke to me. I’d thawed the winning candidate slowly, and when Thanksgiving morning dawned, unwrapped it, cleaned it meticulously, and slid it into the oven on a satisfied note of triumph.
I’ve got this.
When my in-laws arrived a few hours later, the hearty scent of slow-roasting turkey greeted them at the door with me. They gushed. We hugged. I swelled.
It didn’t last long.
As my husband and his parents settled in to the living room a few feet away, I grabbed a baster and opened the oven. I squeezed the bulb—and looked in horror at the liquid I’d just drawn up. It was pink. Pink! Something was terribly wrong.
I figured I had two options: fix it, or ask my mother-in-law for help.
I closed the oven door, grabbed the phone off the counter, and hurried into the bathroom. Cheeks flushed in shame, I dialed the number my husband and I had laughed over when we’d unwrapped the turkey hours before. 1-800-BUTTERBALL.
I was calling the turkey hotline to save Thanksgiving dinner.
A cheerful voice answered. “The juice,” I rasped urgently. “It’s pink. It’s the first time I’ve cooked a turkey…and it’s pink.”
“Oh don’t worry! That’s a very common problem,” she answered kindly. “Did you remove the neck from the cavity before you placed it in the oven?”
“Well, of course I—,” I faltered. The neck. Oh no. The. Neck. Had I even known I had to fish that thing out first? “Um…what if I forgot? Is it ruined?”
She gently assured me it wasn’t, told me to remove it now and cook the bird a little longer, and no one would be the wiser. Thanksgiving dinner, she soothed, would not be a turkey-less feast.
Thankfully, she was right.
Now, almost a decade after that anxious phone call when so much of my confidence as a new wife and daughter-in-law was riding on a misbehaving turkey in my tiny oven, I wish I could talk to the woman from the Turkey Talk-Line again.
We would laugh together at the absurdity of it all, at how I’d panicked over something as trivial as a turkey when my table was filled with so much love, acceptance, and support.
I’d thank her for talking me down from the edge of fear, for coaching a new wife through a harrowing moment in her early marriage.
I’d even boast a little about how I’d made pan gravy from scratch, earning points with my new mother-in-law that boosted my confidence in my fledgling domestic abilities.
But mostly, I’d say thank you. Because whether she knew it or not, that woman—that voice of reason—saved my first Thanksgiving.
And I am forever grateful.
This post also published on 11-25-15 on Bison Booties