Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Will There Be a Turkey Fire? Or Will Something Else Happen This Thanksgiving?

Boing Boing reports that Underwriters Laboratories won't certify turkey fryers because they're too prone to starting fires.

One of many Thanksgiving stories our family remembers each year revolves around the Turkey Day when, even without a fryer, we nearly managed to burn down my brother-in-law's house. Most of us evacuated in a cloud of smoke, while my brother-in-law Mike hosed the bird down with a fire extinguisher.

Then there was the Thanksgiving when one of my ex-sisters-in-law decided that she would become a vegetarian. Even if one acknowledged the validity of her choice, Thanksgiving was an odd day to kick off this new regimen, of course, and there was some good-natured ribbing directed at her.

But soon my other ex-sister-in-law started riding the new vegetarian fairly mercilessly about it. Her roasting went on for the rest of the day. After several hours, the conversation got less than good-natured. (It's all on videotape.) As I recall, the entire discussion was lubricated by a might too much Cold Duck. We could have used a referee to send the two to their respective corners, but no one volunteered for that thankless job.

That same year, when our children were nine and six, Phil, the oldest, spent a good deal of the day tormenting his sister, Sarah. This intensified in the midst of the chaos of extended family members leaving the house at the end of the day. Fed up, Sarah bit Philip on the chest. His whelp could be heard three states away!

Maybe the most celebrated of our Thanksgivings was the one on which my wife bought a brand new TV at Meijer's at 6:00 that morning. By way of background, you should know that, at the time, we had a set that I insisted was still perfectly functional, even though the On-Off switch had broken off and it could only be turned on by sticking a screw driver into the hole left where the switch once was. Also lost was the remote control. So, moving from channel to channel meant surfing with our hands on the set, through every cable offering every time you switched stations.

But I was adamant. The set worked. We didn't need a new one.

My wife saw an advertisement for an early Thanksgiving Day sale at Meijer's and decided to make a surreptitious pre-dawn buy. She drove our 1986 Nova, which was just a Toyota with a Chevy Nova logo slapped on it, to the store. It was a small car and after she'd made the purchase, she realized the new TV set wouldn't fit into the trunk. She had to take the set back into the store, come back home, get our other car, take it to Meijer's, load the set, and bring it home before I woke up. Complicating her mission was the fact that our garage, with its noisy door-opener, was directly below our bedroom. In spite of the hurdles, she got everything done while I slept.

I'm not known for getting angry. But when my wife asked me to go to the garage with my brother-in-law and bring in the item she'd purchased that morning and I saw what it was, I fumed. Her family said that they had never seen me angry before.

Today, I can say that while I wasn't keen on my wife's strategy, I was in the wrong to have resisted replacing the old set for so long. My brothers-in-law love telling the story of the Thanksgiving TV. They bring it up every Thanksgiving.

When we were much younger, my brothers-in-law and I liked to play an annual Turkey Bowl on Thanksgiving Day. All the males in the party were joined by folks from the neighborhood for this football game. And it wasn't that sissy tag stuff, either. We played tackle football. No pads. No helmets. No talent. No sense.

One year, my wife's cousin-by-marriage, George, joined us for this athletic extravaganza. He made it through the whole game. But later that night, unable to breathe, George asked his wife to take him to the hospital. There, it was learned that George had broken several ribs during our game. George never played in the Turkey Bowl again.

The rest of us didn't have sense enough to take this a sign. Another year, the kid brother of a friend of my brother-in-law, Dan, played with us. I was a substitute teacher at the time and this kid had been in one of the classes I taught the week before. He was a mouthy kid at school and he continued his mouthiness during our game. He issued a steady stream of insults and taunts my way, which I basically ignored for nearly an hour.

But finally, Dan, as passive a guy as you'll ever meet, but powerfully built, had had enough. On the next snap, he put a fierce block on this kid, knocking him on his backside. With the kid still on the frozen ground, Dan told him, "Shut up or I'll kick your kidneys out!" "Kick his kidneys out?" I asked between giggles. I laughed so hard at that, I couldn't breathe.

One Thanksgiving gathering was held in rural northwest Ohio, where we lived at the time. The turkey was so hideously bad that I immediately took it to the burn barrel for summary re-execution. Twenty three years later, the memory of that bird's bad taste still elicits squints.

And then, there was the time a few years back when my wife told our extended family members that there were a few shrubs in our backyard that needed trimming and asked if they wouldn't mind bringing chainsaws and other equipment for a short family work detail. None of us had any notion of how big a project my wife had in mind. Nine pick-up truckloads later, I told her on behalf of the rest of the group that that was the last year she was to be in charge of our Thanksgiving social activities.

I wonder what stories we'll tell about tomorrow?

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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