It was in the year 1967 that I had the greatest Thanksgiving Day ever. Our dining room table was overflowing with scrumptious food, and our house was packed tightly with close family and friends. Outside, snowflakes fell gently atop the windowsills while inside, festive, holiday music filled the air.
Johnny Mathis…it was always Johnny Mathis playing on our living room stereo for the holidays. My Mom and Dad loved Johnny Mathis, I can almost hear him singing now:
“It’s not for me to say…”
It could have been Halloween and Johnny Mathis would still be playing on the stereo, but I didn’t care. Everyone that I wanted to be there had already come, and it seemed like nothing could ruin the day. Thankfully, it had been a very good year for my Dad’s construction business – so we were all going to have the feast of a lifetime.
I remember that it was about an hour into the party when things began to get lively. My Uncle Johnny, who was a grave-digger and a helpless alcoholic began to get wired. He callously leaned over to my Aunt Kitty as she walked past him and said, rather nonchalantly, “Hey Kitty baby, want to take Johnny’s little pony for a ride?”
Me and the other kids giggled.
My Aunt Kitty did what she would always do when Uncle Johnny got nasty with her. She would stare in his face, grin, and then say something demeaning like, “From what I heard slob face, your pony took its last ride a long time ago!”
Me and my cousins laughed hysterically in his face. “Get lost you little, rotten bastards!” he screamed at us while spilling half his drink on the floor.
Yes, we had a very big family and a very dysfunctional one, and holiday functions were more like a remake of “Shootout At The O.K. Corral.” If one of my uncles were not getting drunk and fighting the other, or making fools out of themselves, one of my aunts were sneaking away into the bathroom to throw up or gulp down assistance from one of their mother’s little helpers.
Oh well, what can I say? It was in the 1960’s, and the world was in the midst of a sex and drug-fueled, revolution.
Hunting…I remember that topic vividly. The sport of hunting was all that my uncles and my Dad were talking about that day. My Uncle Hank, who was a New York, Nassau County cop, and an avid hunter would always bring over his hunting guns and show them off to my Dad and the other men. They would sit there for hours talking about hunting and arguing over the intricacies of the Remington model 760 .308 Caliber hunting rifle.
So it was only a matter of time, and then a few drinks later that things began to get real interesting.
Just as my Mom and two of my aunts were beginning to bring out the turkey, my Uncle Hank began to show my Dad how to properly hold a deer rifle. My Dad, who was not a very good shot, had asked Uncle Hank to give him some tips on how to aim better and line up a more accurate shot.
“Hold it up higher, Joe, and make believe you are aiming for that picture of your wife that is on the wall right behind the dining room table.” Both my Dad and Uncle Hank looked at each other and laughed, deviously as if it was a private, inside joke just between the two of them.
“That’s it, Joe. Now take a deep breath and hold it right before you make believe you are going to pull the trigger.”
As everyone in the room watched my Dad took a deep breath, held it, then counted slowly to three. “One…two…”
Just then, and without warning, my Mom came walking out of the kitchen, leaned over and began placing the 35-lb turkey down on the dining room table. At the same moment, my Dad pulled the trigger and then an excruciating, loud, ear-piercing shotgun blast filled the entire house.
He wasn’t supposed to pull the trigger, but he did.
“Oh my god!” My mom screamed. Everyone ducked, and then suddenly, the 35-lb, Butterball turkey exploded into the air in a thousand pieces. There was turkey meat flying everywhere…white meat, dark meat and little clumps of brown stuffing. Some of it was even hanging from the ceiling and was stuck to the patio doors and windows.
“Oh my god…oh my god!” my Mom screamed again, hysterically. “HE SHOT THE TURKEY! HE SHOT THE FUCKING TURKEY!”
At first there was silence…total and panicked silence, and then, everyone exploded into laughter. My Uncle Hank began to pat my Dad on the back. “Congratulations, Joe, you got your first kill. You just got your first kill!”
My Dad just stood there bewildered for a long moment, shocked then looked cautiously at my Mom, and said, “Are you okay, honey?”
My Mom just slouched down onto one of the dining room chairs. She put her face into her hands and began to cry. “I worked for hours basting that turkey,” she said to my Dad, “and now you killed it!”
Wait a second. I was confused. I could not understand what she was crying about. Why did she say he killed it? Wasn’t it dead already? Did it not just come out of the oven where it was cooking for hours?
“It’s okay Dottie,” my Uncle Johnnie said to her from across the room, slurring his words even more now. “It lived a good life. It’s at peace now! We’ll go out in the woods and shot another one for ya.”
In the background and slowly ebbing its way into my vibrating ears, was the sound of Johnny Mathis singing:
“Perhaps the glow of love will grow…
With every passing day…
Or we may never meet again…
But then, it’s not for me to say…”
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
© Joseph E. Rathjen – All Rights Reserved – 2013
Joseph E. Rathjen is an Opinion Writer for 1World Online – America’s Fastest Growing Social Research Engine.