Here’s hoping that you had a happy Thanksgiving. The Williams clan collected, as they do each year, at our house to see one another, to talk about family members who didn’t come, and to savor the festive fare prepared by my lovely wife, Grace. These times together are memorable milestones in a family’s history. This year’s gathering was made a little more memorable than most by the introduction of a new (to us, at least) technology in Thanksgiving turkeydom: the fried turkey.
Some weeks ago, I suggested that we try this new turkey technique. Grace replied, “We’ll see.”
“We’ll see” are two innocent-sounding words that Grace uses a lot in place of “no (fill in the word of your choice) way,” or in this case, in place of “Are you crazy? You’ll burn the house down!” Still, I took her “We’ll see” as an approximate approval (big mistake) and bought a turkey fryer, the chrome and brass model—guys love chrome and brass. When I confessed what I had done, Grace reluctantly agreed to let me fry the turkey for this year’s banquet.
It was then that I noticed two other words printed on the package: “assembly required.” Those are two words that strike fear into the hearts of most men, MIT grads excluded. Six hours and two trips to Lowe’s for tools later, I got the darn thing assembled. Grace suggested that we give it a trial run to ensure that things would run smoothly on the big day. I countered that they didn’t need to do a trial run of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Grace closed the discussion by reminding me that they didn’t do a trial run of the Hindenburg either, and as far as she was concerned, it was my parade.
On Thursday morning, my turkey fryer and I were ready to go. The fryer sat by the garage (Grace wouldn’t allow it closer to the house), glistening in the sun. I donned my “Boss of the Sauce” apron, then patted the turkey fryer and gave it a pep talk. “This is it, girl.” Men seem to always address exotic machinery in the feminine gender. I filled her with peanut oil and turned her on to the recommended temperature.
At the appointed time, relatives began to descend on the household. Kids played in the yard and raced throughout the house. The ladies assembled around the kitchen island with last-minute preparations. The men encircled the turkey fryer, looking intently at the new contraption. I imagined that this was how it might have been a hundred years ago when another small group of pioneers gathered on a hilltop in Kitty Hawk.
“Think she’ll fly, Dalton?” asked my brother Mark.
“Better point her into the wind,” added brother-in-law Tom.
It was nearing time for the inaugural fry. After fetching the turkey from the kitchen, I noticed that the fryer temperature was now far beyond the point at which I had set it. Cousin Ronnie saw me looking at the dial and spoke up.
“Turned her up for you, Dalton. Can’t fry nothing less you get it good and hot!”
Cousin Ronnie had worked a spell in the fast-food business; so, I figured he knew frying. You have to respect experience.
I gently lowered the turkey into the vat. It sank below the surface, bobbed back up, then turned its neck into the wind and began to fry. The group around the fryer exploded into applause. This moment of excitement was followed by each of us standing there, hands in our pockets, watching the turkey bubble. We weren’t sure what we were watching for, but if and when it did happen, we’d see it. The conversation turned to weather and then stalled. Slowly, the pioneers peeled off to watch football until no one was watching the turkey.
They say a watched pot never boils. I guess the corollary could then be that a pot not watched will boil. I’m here to tell you otherwise. Actually, it doesn’t boil. There is another term for what happens next: flash point! I looked it up. It is the lowest temperature at which the vapors of a volatile oil will ignite. It is also the point at which all holy hell breaks loose!
“Dalton, your bird’s on far!” yelled Ronnie. There wasn’t time to tell him that it was actually on “fire,” although “far” was not an inappropriate word either. The flames shot up about eight feet and were broiling the bougainvillea.
“Get a blanket,” someone suggested.
“Not a good one!” cried Grace from the back door where the ladies had congregated to watch the conflagration.
“Douse it with water!” yelled Ronnie. Before anyone could stop him, Ronnie had the hose on the fire. Ronnie apparently hadn’t done too well in high school physics (nor had I, based on my lack of knowledge of flash points). The addition of water to the brew caused an eruption that I can still see if I close my eyes—which is what I did then, too. When I opened them, the flames were higher than the garage and beginning to envelop lawn furniture.
I don’t know who called the fire department. It was probably Grace; she always knows the right thing to do. The firemen arrived with a hook and ladder, a pumper, and an EMS van. The kids and the men were quite impressed—all that chrome and brass. The firemen took charge immediately and hit the blaze with a sea of thick, pink foam. The fryer was buried under a pile of the stuff. As the smoke began to clear and the foam pile evaporated, Ronnie began to hum Jim Morrison’s “Light My Fire.” When a young fireman shot him a stare, Ronnie stopped. Then the fireman turned to me with a look of disdain as if he were thinking, Didn’t pay attention in physics class, did you?
I peered into the scorched cauldron. The turkey was nowhere to be seen, probably sunk to the bottom like the H.L. Hunley submarine.
“There she is,” hollered one of the firemen. The turkey had breached like Moby Dick. The fire captain, who looked and talked a lot like Gregory Peck, harpooned it with a grappling hook. In all the excitement, I didn’t notice whether or not he had a wooden leg.
After the firemen departed, the men gathered around to offer condolences and cheer me up.
“Sorry it didn’t work out, Dalton,” offered my brother-in-law Tom.
“You gotta be a professional to drive one of them babies,” added Ronnie.
I, on the other hand, envisioned a vegetarian Thanksgiving and everyone trying to be nice and saying it was okay that way. So, you can imagine my surprise when I found the table set with a roasted turkey and a honey-baked ham.
Grace told everyone, “Dalton insisted on a backup plan in case of rain.”
It was a fib, but one for which I was thankful. Grace is amazing.
After the blessing, Travis, Ronnie’s boy, declared, “This is the best Thanksgiving ever. Next year, can we fry a turkey again?”
Before I could reply, Grace smiled and said, “We’ll see.”
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