My Thanksgiving with Charlton Heston, Chopin, an English vegetarian and Mozart

Editor & Publisher

There is often something daunting about holidays which is conveyed in the fearful rhetoric we employ — “Did you get through the holidays?” “Did you pull off Thanksgiving?”

One of the great joys of family gatherings is we get to enjoy the same conversations, the same questions, the same debates and the same familial positions as the year prior.

But this year at the Reid home took some new twists. First, for those who do not know us, my wife, Melissa and I have six children together.

Despite our arguments, debates and the basic fact that I tend to repel people after a few hours, the forces of reproduction and fecundity have smiled upon us. And Thanksgiving is a time to dress and gather the children and recount all of our blessings and to enjoy each other’s company. But we are a modern American family — not some Norman Rockwell study of nostalgic harmony.


I should learn to listen

Thanksgiving started with me not listening to my wife.

I decided that buying the largest bird Publix sold would be a statement of progress and excitement.

My wife counseled me over the cell phone: “Honey; we will never eat that much turkey and whatever you do — make sure it is not frozen. — I don’t want one of your salmonella experiments.”

Unfortunately, I took that as a challenge.

I looked around: I could get a 14-pound free-range bird or a 28-pound frozen mass that rested in a dented crevasse in the bottom of the store’s deep freezer.

And while I wanted to listen to my wife, I rationalized: we have more guests than ever — my Mother and her husband, Leon. We have my 16-year-old’s boyfriend, Tom, and we have the rest of Melissa and my offspring.

I thought my wife is cautious and afraid and started thinking of turkey sandwiches all next week with homemade cranberry sauce.

As I hoisted the bird on the conveyer belt, the checkout lady made some comment about feeding an army. They asked if I needed help loading the bird.

As I walk in the door holding the turkey, which was the size of a six-year-old child, my daughter, Cassandra, and her boyfriend stand staring.

Cassandra says, “Dad, did you not get my text?”

Then I remember — Tom is vegetarian and she asked me to buy sushi for her and Tom because she is now, too, a vegetarian.

I always like to appear to listen so I told her I decided the sushi should be bought fresh in the morning.

I left the turkey on the end of the long stretch of black granite against the back kitchen wall. It was the size of a fleshy beer keg.


Shooting success

The next morning my wife was chopping apples and onion and celery for the stuffing. I had forgotten about the bird, which was still cool to the touch and felt only slightly defrosted. I wondered if there was a risk in that I forgot to put it on the fridge and instead used an innovation to defrost the mass. I wondered if the bag would seal out bacteria. I wondered if the frozen middle would maintain a cool enough temperature. Then my son, Alex, asked if we could shoot the guns in the back yard.

And that is another area of difference between my wife and I. She grew up alone with no siblings and deplores competition and rivalry and other annoyances such as guns, motorcycles, loud guitars and general chaos.

I grew up with an older brother wherein we could turn a peaceful game of tennis into a combative war.

As for guns and shooting — let’s put it this way — when my mom remarried and moved to idyllic upstate New York on 40 acres in the middle of the Adirondacks, her husband enjoyed quiet activities — cross country skiing, tai chi, walks along the pond and organic gardening.

They moved like so many to escape the bustle of Long Island and enjoy the solitude of the mountains — until my brother and I arrived for each and every vacation and summer.

We would shoot 22 rifles not occasionally, but brick after brick of ammo. We had such an elaborate gun range with targets and cans and bottles that by the end of a summer we might shoot 50 or 60 thousand rounds. Not to mention dirt bike and snowmobile races in the front yard, our garage band along with my Eddie Van Halen imitations on guitar.

So when my 11-year-old son, Alex, grew interested in World War II and weapon systems and started to grasp the strategies the Allied and Axis powers used throughout the war, he wanted to shoot a gun.

My wife protested and said she was losing her innocent son. I spoke of the intense focus and joy of hitting a target in a controlled setting.

I got the gun safe and now Alex and I shoot pellet guns and Sig Sauer air soft rifles for hours. I always make Alex step back after he hits the target to keep pushing his aim and to make him compete with himself.

While shooting on Thanksgiving, my wife cracked open the glass sliding door to the back yard and intoned:

“Honey; is shooting guns really appropriate on Thanksgiving?”

“Well that is what Israel and Hamas are doing,” I answered.

Then I remembered that it would be wise to go inside, help with the stuffing and do what my wife finds objectionable — extract the giblet bag and stuff the turkey. And I attempted to do just that.


It’s a floater…

After suffering her remarks about “It will never be ready,” “It’s probably still frozen on the inside” and “Why did you not listen and get such a large bird?” I told her how I secretly thawed the Turkey.

“Honey, don’t tell anyone, but I let the turkey float for six hours last night in the pool. I figure the water is chlorinated and it actually worked.”

She then said I was a lunatic much like my father who always accidently cooked turkey with the giblet bag melted like a plastic glove in the bird.

As I reached in to extract the giblets, it was like trying to wrestle a glacier of ice apart. I could not believe the amount of ice in the cavity. I filled the sink with hot water and wrestled and struggled. Finally, everything broke free and my culinary adventure could continue. I then rubbed the turkey with olive oil and sage and salt and pepper and stuffed it.

It is only because we have so many children that my wife affords me so much freedom to play chef.


Funeral March ensues

After the bird went in the oven, I wandered upstairs to check on my 14-year-old daughter, Ariana.

Ariana, who has blossomed into an avid piano player over the past six months, was upset and angry with her Mom.

“Mom is completely unsupportive of me,” Ariana said.

I took an extra deep breath. I have learned no tightrope is narrower than navigating a dispute between my wife and our oldest two daughters.

“What makes you says that honey?” I ask with a tad of trepidation.

Then a monologue — maybe not as long and involved as Molly Bloom’s in Ulysses — rushed forth.

“Mom just never listens and is so unsupportive and doesn’t like anything I do,” was the essence.

I worried. It was now nearing noon and I wanted a bit more harmony in the house for Thanksgiving. I thought that I had not floated that turkey in the pool all night for nothing.

I asked her specifically what happened.

“Well, I asked Mom to please turn this superficial pop song she was listening too off on the way home and she called my music ‘depressing.’”

“She called your music ‘depressing?’ What does that mean?” I asked.

Then Ariana got even more sad and said, “Mom said Chopin’s Funeral March is depressing.”

“It is not depressing,” I shot back. “It is sad and mournful and that is what makes it so interesting and powerful,” I added. “Mom doesn’t like sad music or movies — her idea of paradise is watching Frasier and ‘It’s a wonderful life.’”

Ariana came around and in fact played on her piano in her room the Funeral March perfectly.

I went downstairs and my wife asked where I had been. Then my Mother and her husband, Leon, show up and they hear the piano upstairs.

I say, “Yes, Ariana is really learning fast.”

My Mother walks upstairs and bellows to Ariana upon entering the room — “That is so beautiful, but why did you ever choose such a depressing piece of all of Chopin?”

I cringed and checked on the turkey.

Later during the meal when the English boyfriend, Tom, of my eldest daughter, Cassandra, had his vegetarian Thanksgiving plate heaped high with sushi, pesto, stuffing, potatoes and green beans, my daughter left the room for a few minutes.

That is when I told Tom I needed to debrief him on several facets of his life and I will correlate those answers with what my daughter tells me.

I told him Robert De Niro in “Meet the Parents” was my model and I wanted to test him for veracity by conducting parallel interviews.

He looked at me and said, “Really, you really want to debrief me with parallel interviews?”

I laughed and told him that the fact that he is English on Thanksgiving was enough irony for the day.


Mozart dies in living room

We ate and toasted and ate some more and grew fatigued and retired to the endless expanse of couches and sofas in the living room.

Tom and Cassandra disappeared, as young couples tend to do given the opportunity.

Then Ariana, my Mother and Leon watched Amadeus on Netflix. We battled sleep as the endless movie gave a historicized account of Mozart and his wife and jealous court musician Salieri.

I saw my wife, Melissa, escape to the bedroom and shower to relax and unwind. I saw my Mom riveted by the movie and drawing conclusions and making interpretations. Leon kept telling us what piece of music was playing in the background and Ariana took in the entire movie and then went upstairs to practice for hours.


The real Thanksgiving arrives…

My Mother and Leon left into the cold Fall night. I walked to the kitchen half awake after the movie, yet tired from the long day. I welled up with tears. Not because of any sadness or because of any pain in my gut or tragedy, but because I realized that for me and my limited life I was living a dream far better than any I could ever imagine.

My oldest daughter is doing extremely well in school, has found someone who cares about her and is respectful and smart and those alone are huge and exciting developments.

Ariana has discovered the piano and is pouring through Chopin trying to learn as much as she can as quickly as she can. And to hear the sensitivity, the finesse and the timing of Chopin come off her fingers makes my heart flutter.

Then my sons, Christopher and Alex, are my other joys. They love all my crazy rambunctious energy. They play sports, race trucks and cars and love to play soldier. But Alex, my oldest, also is in Pineview and loves the challenge and logic of math. Christo is pure four-year-old manic energy day and night.

Then Corinna, my second youngest daughter, is also learning piano and at eight years old is already turning into the most delightful conversationalist and is Mom’s helper.

Our baby, Sophia, is two and loves to sit on my lap and drink Irish breakfast tea with me out of my cup and we do that every morning.

I mention these things because these are the gifts my wife and ultimately life has brought to me. I am the winner in this equation. I bring stress and drive to the family —my wife brings beauty, grace and understanding. She is the plasma all of us swirl around and she is the gravitational force that keeps our family together.

These thoughts flitted through me as I stood in the kitchen. I turned the lights down and thought about the merits of a final slice of pie.

Then I heard a faint sound.

Slowly, sonorously, Chopin’s Funeral March played in the background. Thanksgiving was now hours past. I had seen Mozart die and my wife was asleep in our bedroom.

The final notes droned on. They actually cheered me up thinking how perfectly Ariana played them. Then depression set in.

As I looked into the dark kitchen, I saw a large oblong mountain of tin foil on the far end of the black granite counter. I suddenly remembered the last words from my wife as she headed to bed: “Honey, I am leaving it to you to rearrange the fridge and put the turkey away since you decided not to listen to me.”

A half hour later, while the house slept, I was still trying to close the refrigerator door on that stupid bird.

— Happy Thanksgiving!

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