The Thanksgiving that almost wasn't: Tales of turkey feasts that took an unexpected twist

Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2012, 11:19 am
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By Sarah J. Gardner,
Tomorrow afternoon, families and friends will gather together to sit down to a Thanksgiving feast. Whether the meal is humble or grand, there is sure to be something noteworthy on the table.
Maybe it will be mashed potatoes that couldn't be any better. Perhaps a supremely succulent turkey with just the right gravy. Or tomato juice dripping from the ceiling.

Yes, you read that correctly--for all that goes right about Thanksgiving, sooner or later something is bound to go wrong. And when it does, it becomes the stuff of family legend. You may not remember how many pounds the turkey weighed three years ago, however delicious, but you're sure never to forget the year grandpa's teeth had to be retrieved from the plumbing.

Recently, we asked readers to write to us with their mishaps from Thanksgiving past, and many responded generously. Here you'll find some of our favorite fiascoes from this annual feast. Hopefully your own meal this year will come off without a hitch--but if you have a little mishap of your own, laugh and remember you're in good company!

The bird that made a break for it

Thanksgiving 1967... I was an 18-year old newlywed of two months. Wanting to impress my new in-laws with my culinary skills, we hosted Thanksgiving dinner for them and my husband's three younger siblings.

All was going well until it was time to pull the turkey out of the oven. Our older stove had an unsteady baking rack, which, regrettably, I momentarily forgot. As I pulled it out, the rack tipped forward, allowing the bird to fall out of the roasting pan. I watched aghast as the hot turkey slid across the kitchen on the freshly-waxed linoleum floor. Adding to my panic, my in-laws were just then pulling into our driveway, so I knew we had to act fast!

As I lifted the turkey off the floor with potholders, my husband wiped it off with a paper towel before returning it to the pan. He then quickly wiped up the grease streak on the floor as best he could, just as his folks were ringing the doorbell.

They never questioned if something had occurred to make us appear flustered. And, of course, we were too embarrassed to tell them for fear they wouldn't want to eat a turkey that had just been on the floor!

Dinner proceeded without further incident, although I don't remember the details except that my mother-in-law was kind in her compliments of my first attempt at hosting a family dinner. Through the years I've often thought back to that Thanksgiving. And it still brings a chuckle when I think how hilarious we must have looked trying to catch that turkey, literally, right out of the oven!

-- Ginny Applebaum, Colona

A matter of gravy importance

Mom prepares Thanksgiving Dinner every year for our family of 26 and has for the last 60 years. She sets formal tables throughout the house, no paper, no plastic. I help in the kitchen, another brother buys the turkey, another brother carves it, another brother buys the oysters, we all take our part.

Mom cooks lots of food and a big kettle of potatoes to mash, so the gravy is important. Last year Mom asked my sister-in-law to make the gravy, as she was down in her back and wanted to sit for a while before we served.

My sister-in-law stepped up to the plate, saying Mom had taught her how to make perfect gravy when she married my brother. She made it in a crock, and true to her word, it turned out great! She picked up the crock and carried it to the sink where I was standing with the gravy bowl ready for her to pour it.

Oh no! The crock slipped out of her hands, hit the rim of the sink, and a piece popped right out of the crock. Gravy was pouring down the sink, and both of us were trying to catch it with our hands, an impossibility. All the good gravy gone!

My sister-in-law cried, feeling so bad. Mom looked shocked. I said, "It's gravy, we'll live." My niece ran to the store for chicken broth to make fake gravy, and we were all thankful to be together with Mom for another Thanksgiving. We said we'd tell this story for years, now I'm telling it to the newspaper!

Mom's secret to perfect gravy: Vigorously shake water, flour, and ice chips in a container, add to boiling meat drippings, stir until smooth. Add more liquid as needed.

-- Sue Brown, Moline

Attack of the killer tomatoes

Thanksgiving Day was the highly anticipated day when our high school football team played their arch rival. I played trumpet in our marching band. It was my senior year, and joy of all joys, our team won the BIG GAME that year! But the even bigger thrill of that day was knowing that everyone was waiting for me to get home from the game so we could all sit down together to Mother's fabulous Thanksgiving dinner.

The year was 1938 and our country was slowly crawling out from the horrid, dark days of the terrible Depression. Thanksgiving dinner had extra-special meaning that year.

With excited anticipation, I hurried into the kitchen, but instead of everybody waiting for me to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, my mother was standing on a step-stool holding a wet mop and swabbing down the ceiling, which was covered with a pattern of red, dripping splotches over half of the kitchen ceiling.

My eyes followed the red splashes down the walls, tiny, red rivulets flowing down the windows, then over the sink, the cabinets, and yes, even down on the floor--but the most heartbreaking sight was the poisonous red spray over half of Mother's meticulously-set Thanksgiving table!

My mother had opened a can of her home-canned tomato juice. It had spoiled, and as she opened it, the jar of juice had literally exploded. To this day, 74 years later, any mention of tomato juice jogs my memory to that fateful Thanksgiving Day and I just cringe!

-- Marion A. Ackley, Moline

Mum's the word

My dinner gone wrong happened last year, 2011. I had everything ready when my family arrived. We put the food on the table and enjoyed our day. Then, in the evening, when I went to heat some leftovers in the microwave--there was the stuffing!

I had worked all morning to make my special stuffing that everybody loves. No one mentioned it was missing, thinking I might not have made it this year, since I was 80 years old and it was difficult for me to prepare the meal.

I promise I'll have it this year! (Oh, yes--I froze the stuffing and we enjoyed it another time.)

-- Phyllis Butterfield, Geneseo

Turkey, what turkey?

A few years ago, our granddaughter invited us to her home in Fort Worth, Texas, for Thanksgiving, and also to attend the Bears' and Cowboys' football game. We decided to get the turkey and dressing ready for baking at a low oven temperature while we were gone.

When we got back from attending the game, we raised the oven temperature so the turkey and dressing could finish baking. We prepared the rest of our meal for serving. We got ready to carve and serve the turkey and it wasn't done enough to carve.

As it was now nine p.m., we served the rest of the meal without the TURKEY.

-- Ruth Ehlers, Rock Island

Be careful to keep your teeth

First, I must start by saying that I am a very good cook and can easily prepare a meal for a large crowd. So, my story has nothing to do with the cooking of the meal, but the people eating it.

It was a normal Thanksgiving at my house, about 30 relatives and friends were invited. On this particular Thanksgiving, my dad, Charles, was not feeling well and was on medication that tended to upset his stomach. When it was time to eat, my sister, Cheryl, being the mother to everyone, fixed my dad's plate and got him seated at the head of the table.

After a while, Dad excused himself and went to the bathroom. We all knew he wasn't feeling well, so just waited for him to get back to the table. We heard him coughing in the bathroom and my sister, being the mother to everyone, went to the bathroom door and asked, "Dad, are you all right?" As dad exited the bathroom, Cheryl took some tissues that dad had in his hand and flushed them.

Back at the table, we're all eating and conversing again, and my niece, Missy, excused herself to go to the restroom. She comes out and says "Uncle Kevin and Aunt Sue, the toilet won't flush."

At the same time, I was looking at my dad and asked "Dad, where's your teeth?" Dad says with a mouthful of food and no teeth that "they were in the tissues that Cheryl took from him!"

So up gets my husband, Kevin, and goes to the garage for some tools and into the bathroom he goes. Pretty soon the toilet is sitting outside the bathroom door and here are Dad's teeth lodged in the base of the toilet. In the meantime, I start boiling bleach water to disinfect Dad's teeth, because he said that we were not throwing them away.

Dad got his teeth back, the toilet was replaced to its spot, and Thanksgiving was continued as planned. So as you see, I don't need a "Pop-Up Turkey Timer" but a "Super Duper Plunger," and a good laugh would be nice! And in case you're wondering, I have not changed the names to protect the guilty!

-- Sue DeDobbelaere, Taylor Ridge


Local events heading

  Today is Tuesday, Oct. 21, the 294th day of 2014. There are 71 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The weather is discouraging for our great Democratic rally tomorrow, but never mind that. Let our Rock Island people show they can make a big procession themselves, rain or shine.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Apparatus arrived for drilling an artesian well on the premises of George Warner's Atlantic Brewery.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The German army continued its attacks on the allies line near the Belgian coast.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The farm home of Mr. and Mrs. Gus Zachert northwest of Buffalo Prairie, burned to the ground.
1964 -- 50 years ago: WVIK-FM, noncommercial educational radio station at Augustana College, will return to the air tomorrow. The station operates at a power of 10 watts at 90.9 megacycles on the frequency modulation band. The station is operated with a staff of 92 students.
1989 -- 25 years ago: An avenue of lights, 13 Christmas trees strung with more than 44,000 sparkling lights, will expand the Festival of Trees beyond the walls of RiverCenter in downtown Davenport in mid-November.

(More History)