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The Art of Undercooked Turkey

A Paean to My Stepfather Stanley

My stepfather, Stanley, was a large man with a totally bald head, long before it was stylish to be bald. Stanley, a friendly soul with a twinkle in his eyes, had dark rings around his eyes, making him look a bit like Uncle Fester. At Thanksgiving, cooking the turkey was Stanley’s job. My mother made the stuffing and the cranberry sauce and the potatoes and the pies and everything else but the turkey, that was up to Stanley. Unfortunately, Stanley had a tendency to undercook the turkey each year and you don’t want to know what rare turkey tastes like. But nobody had the heart to tell Stanley that, yet again, he muffed the turkey so we ate it and were thankful to have Stanley with us. I don’t think any of us got sick from the rare bird. I remember asking for seconds on stuffing or roasted potatoes or the cranberry sauce, although I would have liked my mother to serve the sauce with the whole cranberries and not the jelly-like sauce. But seconds on turkey, no, I don’t think that ever happened. And I have no idea why Stanley didn’t realize that a pink turkey was a rare turkey.
Then many rare turkeys and many years later, Stanley was sitting in the kitchen chair, probably talking to my mother and smoking his ubiquitous cigarette when he just keeled over without a sound and died, I was told, leaving a burn mark on the linoleum as Stanley’s last mark on the world. I don’t know how old he was, how long he was married to his first wife or how many years he and my mother were together or where they first met but I do know they were mostly happy times for both of them. Stanley left a lasting mark on me, my mother and I expect many others. He didn’t do much, having been retired from the insurance business for many years, I think. He read books voraciously and was a fixture on the living room easy chair, a book on his lap, a cigarette in his hand. Funnily enough, I think Stanley was basically pretty dull, although he laughed easily, was well read, mostly mysteries, and he and my mother liked to watch intelligent TV as BBC’s “The Forsyte Saga” and the comedy of “Mr.Bean” and “Faulty Towers.”
He just seemed to enjoy a quiet life with as few unpleasantries and inconveniences as possible. I don’t have a clue about his background, his ethnicity, any brothers or sisters. He was Christian, but not a practicing Christian, which was surprising because my mother was quite a devout Jew. Stanley’s son and daughter in law were very religious but equally dull and we referred fondly to the three as “The Dullards.” I think Stanley’s grandson died of a drug overdose but he never spoke about it. Come to think of it, my mother was pretty dull also but I guess she was a product of the depression years when it was hard enough to keep a family together and fed and that was enough excitement. And I would think that my mother had enough difficulties, emotion and tragedy in her life, that Stanley’s boredom was probably just what she needed.
Stanley didn’t speak much but he did cough a lot and when I would spend the occasional nights back home, I remember being in bed, about to fall asleep, and recoiling upon hearing his deep, wet cough that seemed to last for hours. Stanley was simply a kind man and he was so joyous to have met my mother who had been a widow for many years. I can’t imagine them fighting, squabbling maybe over what show to watch but I can’t even picture either showing any anger to each other, annoyance yes, because my mother got annoyed at a lot of things, but anger, no.
They were a very good combination, sometimes I think a better pairing than my mother and father had together but that’s just my impression as my mother would never say a bad word about my father after she was left widowed for so many years. I am grateful for having known Stanley and especially for having known about the great happiness he brought to my mother and god knows, she deserved happiness after losing her first husband, my father, and battling cancer three times, I believe. Undercooked turkey was a small price to pay for such profound happiness between the two of them. I do wonder how Stanley would have handled the criticism if we simply told him the turkey should be cooked more.
I don’t mourn Stanley’s loss or my mother’s death for that matter because I know how selfless they both were and I can so easily see the smile on his face and the look of contentment with my mother. Those memories are worth the price of the admission, any day.
I would like to share these memories with my sister and brother but I don’t do the thoughts justice in spoken words. Hopefully, they will both read this and memories of Stanley will generate the same warm feelings for them as they did for me.

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Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer

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Phil Garber

Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer

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