It's Not a Hellish Holiday Unless Someone Pukes

Joyce Wilden of in Melbourne, Florida contributes her cautionary tale involving the collision of booze and turkey.

With our parents long dead, the Thanksgiving holiday is rotated between each of the six siblings in my family. When it came my turn some years ago, I wondered how to tear the men away from the football games and get my hyper-responsible female relatives to loosen up and have fun. Each year always seemed a repeat of the last, with men watching football and all the Thanksgiving food responsibility falling to the dutiful women.

It started innocently enough with a game of Guesstures, a Charades-like parlor game, and a bottle of wine. The men lost interest and quickly returned to football, while the women (myself, two sisters and two sister-in-laws) continued to drink wine and play. The turkey was safely roasting in the oven and all was well. When we discovered the bottle of wine was empty, we decided to open a second, since everyone was having such a wonderful time.

I am not a very capable cook and I realized with dismay that the older sisters were becoming unable to help me. One sister-in-law yanked open the oven door and pulled out the rack to check the turkey, sloshing the turkey "juice" out of the pan, igniting my oven! Amid the chaos in my small kitchen, someone grabbed a large box of baking soda and threw it onto my flaming turkey. With the fire out, I cleaned up the bird as best I could and set about getting the rest of the dinner ready. Luckily, one sister-in-law was relatively sober and the two of us worked to get dinner on the table while the other ladies watched and giggled.

As we sat down to dinner in my too-small dining room, the men eyed the group with suspicion. It was all right that the males had been drinking beer during the football game, but having the women loopy would not stand. Grumpily, they sat down to eat. Bowls were passed, turkey and mashed potatoes were served up and hot rolls buttered. Outside the French doors of my dining room, the afternoon sun shone on the tall pines in the backyard.

My brother nudged my sister-in-law who had dozed off, chin on her chest. She woke up and continued eating. The other women gabbed and laughed and were uncharacteristically over loud. We all watched in amazement as the same sister-in-law nodded and drifted off again, then fell slowly forward into her mashed potatoes. My brother awakened her sharply, embarrassed and disturbed, while she wiped mashed potatoes off her carefully made-up face.

My oldest sister then suddenly stood up, knocking her chair backward, and started toward my French doors. In the space of 30 seconds, she was through the doors and into the backyard. She hastened to the nearest pine tree, extended an arm for support and threw up in full view of everyone at the dinner table. My turn at hosting Thanksgiving had turned into a full-scale disaster.

While the older sister was helped back inside, the sleepy sister-in-law had was dispatched to a bedroom to nap. Moments later, my brother-in-law called out my sister's name and announced, “We’re leaving.” The exodus began and all the siblings, spouses and assorted relatives gathered up their belongings. "I’ll drive," quipped the older sister, her equilibrium restored. Despite this attempt at levity the mood did not lighten.

When we closed the door on the last of them, my husband and I turned to each other and tried to make sense of what had just happened. To this day, I consider it an amazing social experiment. Holidays are days of tradition, of routine, of expected foods and expected behavior. We turned the holiday on its head. And when the guardians of the holiday tradition are removed from the equation, things fall apart.

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