If You Give a Mouse a Swimming Pool...
My mom loves Thanksgiving. She grew up in a parsonage far away from her grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They could never get home for Christmas so they always invited the whole family to come the 700 miles to their home in Wisconsin for Thanksgiving. Every year at least some of them came. It was always an early Christmas. As a kid, her Thanksgivings were presents, cousins, and good things to eat.
She tries hard to recreate that atmosphere at our house every year. She cleans, shops, and bakes for days on end. We always have extended family with us and often close friends. Early on I learned to hate Thanksgiving. It always meant a lot of work and sleeping in the living room. But this year I had a school writing project to gather family memories of holidays. Since I procrastinated, I ran out of choices, so I threw myself into my mom’s version of an ideal Thanksgiving. We went to the library and brought home Bon Apetit and Martha Stewart magazines.
We finally settled on a menu: Arugula Salad with Oranges, Pomegranate Seeds, and Goat Cheese; Porcini-Rubbed Turkey with Shiitake-Madeira Gravy; Artichoke, Sausage, and Parmesan Cheese Stuffing; Fennel-Scented Mashed Potatoes; Roasted Root Vegetables with Thyme and Marjoram Vinaigrette; Cranberry Sauce with Roasted Shallots and Port; Honeyed Chestnut Corn Bread; and for dessert, Pumpkin and Pecan Semifreddo with Caramel Sauce.*
It was, to put it mildly, a bit ambitious. Things started going wrong right away. First of all, my mom’s youngest sister had a baby in Ohio the day before Thanksgiving. Our whole family was recovering from the flu and we were advised to stay home. Everyone else headed to Ohio. We had a refrigerator full of artichokes and arugula so figured we’d wipe our noses and forge ahead. We’d just have to have Thanksgiving without them.
We got up early on Thursday morning and collected the turkey off the back porch where it had been soaking in a vegetable broth brine (Martha Stewart special) all night. We found more than the turkey. A mouse had climbed in for a swim and never got out. My mom screamed at the sight.
“Do we have to throw the whole thing away?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Get it away,” she said, pointing at the mouse.
“Can we get another turkey in time?”
“No. This will be okay. I’ll rinse it off with hot water. The turkey is going to cook to 175º. There won’t be any danger of bacteria or anything.”
“It’s kind of gross.”
“I know. Don’t tell anybody.”
So that was the deal. We laughed about it and enjoyed the secret. We cleaned the turkey, which we began calling “Mickey,” and brushed it with oil. Mom slipped a few rosemary sprigs inside and set it on the roaster. Martha is against stuffing inside the bird. The magazine said that dries the bird out so we made the stuffing in a Dutch oven. My mom peeled potatoes and I roasted shallots for the cranberry relish. The pies and other dishes had all been made the night before. We covered everything in plastic wrap, set it on the porch, and got cleaned up for church. Just before we left Mom put the turkey in the oven.
The sermon was the lepers again. One returned and gave thanks. After church, we shook the pastor’s hand and I gave Molly a quick, pretend kiss in air by her cheeks, European-style, and we raced home. I didn’t have time to tell her about the mouse.
We tied on our aprons and got to work as soon as we got home. Mom set the boys to wash off the china and set the table. Dad checked the temperature on the turkey and got ready to carve it. Mom slipped the pies into the oven along with the carrots and cornbread to warm them up. I was putting ice into glasses.
Dad always cuts the turkey right down the middle in the roasting pan. It opens up like a book. He then carves half of it at a time on the cutting board. All of us were crowded into the kitchen, bumping into one another, doing our jobs. We all noticed Dad stop breathing and looked to see what was wrong. The turkey was open and nestled in the rosemary was a very well done mouse. Apparently, mice don’t swim alone.
It was our first ever vegetarian Thanksgiving. Not only were we missing turkey, but the recipes from the magazines hadn’t turned out either, including my cranberry relish. John got two cans of cranberry sauce from the pantry and slopped them into a bowl, their ribs etched in the gelatin. We ate that instead, and everyone declared it was the most delicious cranberry sauce ever.
The mouse stuffing will certainly be legendary in our family. I am sure we won’t forget this Thanksgiving. Without turkey on the table the elaborate side dishes and decorations seemed silly. We swore that next year we’d keep it simple and forever have cranberry sauce from a can.
After dinner, the boys did the dishes and Mom and I went to watch the parade. She was quiet.
“You okay, Mom?”
“Well, it didn’t work according to plan. I wish Grandma was here.”
“Yeah, me too. But I am glad we’re still all here. The boys aren’t in California or Iraq. I have a new nephew. Anyway, the best part of cooking is the planning. I loved looking at Bon Apetit and picking the dishes with you. Besides, that leper healing always gets to me. It puts things in focus.”
“They wouldn’t have thrown away a turkey because of a mouse,” I said.
“No. They wouldn’t have. We really are fortunate. We have so much. We live in America. Our church teaches the truth. And how is that we express thankfulness to God? By making pigs of ourselves?”
“Yeah. I don’t like to think about that,” I said.
She went on, “The Samaritan leper who returned gave thanks in a different way. He returned to Jesus. He recognized the most important thing. He surely missed his family and was looking forward to a reunion feast, but first He came back to worship Jesus. I am glad we did that today and hope we always do. Besides, it is not like we don’t see Grandma all the time.”
My mom was right. The most fun was planning that crazy menu and looking at the magazines. And no mouse stuffing or missing family can take away the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and His presence for us in the Holy Communion.That really is something to be thankful for. We don’t need turkey. We need the Bread of Life. And we’ll always have our true families with us in heaven.Thanksgiving isn’t about turkey or even family. It is about giving thanks by receiving what Jesus gives.
Mom has started preparing for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. She is looking at magazines and planning a menu. And I am wondering—if Thanksgiving isn’t about turkey, then what is Christmas not about?