60: It Takes a Village

60: It Takes a Village

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

It Takes a Village

You can always tell a real friend: when you’ve made a fool of yourself he doesn’t feel you’ve done a permanent job.

~Laurence J. Peter

I got up at the crack of dawn that morning. I expected about thirty people for Christmas dinner, and the meal would consist of a twenty-pound turkey with all the trimmings.

Though the house was clean, dessert was made, and everything was cut, diced and sliced to make the cooking chores go as smoothly as possible, I still had a lot of work to do. My husband, son and I had opened our gifts from each other the night before knowing that this day would be a hectic one.

I wrestled the huge bird out of the refrigerator, dragging it to the sink. As I rinsed it, I noticed that the legs resisted my tugs. It was still a little too frozen to stuff, but I guesstimated that an hour defrosting in my cool office would thaw it completely and keep it safe from the curious cats gathered around my ankles sniffing at the air.

I placed it on my desk and shut the door. Then I busied myself with other assorted tasks, setting my timer so I wouldn’t forget the main dish. I threw the tablecloth and placemats I planned to use into the wash, and gave the carpet another once over when I noticed some glitter from the previous evening’s gift exchange clinging to the fibers.

The timer went off as I finished layering the scalloped potatoes in the baking dish. I wiped my hands, turned on the oven to preheat, pulled the stuffing out of the fridge and went to retrieve the turkey. As I placed my hand on the doorknob, I heard a loud belch come from behind the door and my heart sank.

I knew what I’d find even before I saw it. Intent on banishing the cats from the room earlier, I didn’t notice the dog lying in the warm rays of his favorite morning sunbeam... in the office! I had closed him in with the turkey. I never heard the sounds of his feeding frenzy over the noise of my appliances, or I might have saved the main course. Unfortunately, now, it was too late.

What was left of it lay on the floor resembling the carnage of a wildebeest slaughter by lions in the Serengeti. My dog, Jack, sat licking his lips next to it. He had the grace to look slightly ashamed, but I knew that, deep in his heart, he thought the transgression was well worth any consequence.

I only needed to point to the area of his doggy bed. He slunk by me, head bowed, while his grotesquely engorged belly swayed from side to side. I knew he’d be okay after eating that much. A similar past experience with an entire ham left me feeling pretty confident that he’d expel what he couldn’t digest. I could only hope that happened long before my guests arrived.

I approached the remains with tears in my eyes and with some concern. A quick inspection told me two things — the first, that there would be no danger of Jack suffering any mishap from bone shards or splinters, and the second that I couldn’t salvage even a wing. Every bone was intact, yet the turkey was picked clean. The rib cage could have been used in a veterinary anatomy class, there was so little meat left on it.

What was I going to do? It was Christmas. There wasn’t a store open anywhere, and even if there was, any replacement I’d manage to get would be frozen solid. I had less than seven hours to come up with an alternate plan, and I knew nothing in my own freezer would suffice.

At that moment the doorbell rang. I answered it to find my neighbor and friend, Amy, standing there with a platter of brightly decorated cookies.

“Merry Christmas!” she sang, and I promptly dissolved into a lump of quivering hysteria.

“Oh my goodness!” she cried, pushing past me. She dumped her tray on my kitchen table and pulled me close. “Talk to me,” she demanded. My husband and son, having heard my meltdown, rushed into the room from downstairs.

I couldn’t speak. I could only make incoherent, choking sounds as I led them to the office to point to the carcass. The cats were circling it, trying to find even a tiny overlooked morsel. My husband shooed them away and immediately discarded what was left. From the other room we heard a gagging splashing noise and I knew Jack had relinquished his feast.

“I have thirty people to feed!” I sobbed. “I can’t possibly cancel now,” I wailed as my husband scurried off to clean the mess.

Amy patted my back gently, deep in thought. When she spoke, it was with calm firmness.

“You leave everything to me,” she murmured. “Keep getting the other stuff ready. I’ll call you in about an hour,” she assured me.

She whirled around and charged towards the door, averting her eyes from the deposit my husband was cleaning. “Trust me and don’t worry,” she called over her shoulder. “Oh, and spray some air freshener!” she advised before she disappeared.

She called right on time. By then, I had calmed down enough to put the finishing touches on some side dishes and made sure the meat pies were thawing in a safer place.

“Okay, problem solved,” she announced. “We’ll be there about four. Don’t stress anymore,” she said, and hung up without further explanation.

As promised, she showed up with two other neighbors, Sarah and Judy, grinning from ear to ear. She carried a huge foil-covered roasting pan. The other two juggled large chafing dishes. They all walked in as I stood there gaping.

“Ta-da!” Amy exclaimed dramatically, pulling the wrapper off the pan to reveal orderly piles of turkey parts.

“What on earth?” I gasped.

Everyone chipped in,” she explained. “All our friends up and down the block donated a leg here, a wing there, until we managed to pretty much come up with a whole turkey and then some,” she said, pointing to the extra three drumsticks and two breasts.

“I made gravy,” Sarah proclaimed, pulling out a gigantic jar from one of the food warmers.

“And I brought stuffing, in case you didn’t make any.” Judy offered.

I was speechless. The food smelled delicious and was still steaming, so the girls set up the chafing pans and filled them.

“Keep everything warm,” Amy directed. “It’s all cooked and the dishes will keep the turkey moist until you’re ready to eat. Just tell everyone you sliced it early. “We’ll leave now before your company gets here. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas — and thank you so much,” I whispered, hugging them all. “You have to tell me who contributed so I can thank everyone else too,” I insisted through happy tears, waving goodbye.

As they drove off, my first guests pulled into the driveway. My husband put his arm around me and winked at my son. Thanks to the kindness of friends and neighbors, and polite guests who never questioned the various flavors and extra turkey appendages, our Christmas went off as planned.

~Marya Morin

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