Our First Thanksgiving: You’re So Lucky You Weren’t There

Blogger’s note: This is one of my first and one of my favorite posts from 2007. It is, unfortunately, true. — RBP


Talk about bad. If the Pilgrims had shown up to the first Thanksgiving dinner we cooked, they would have taken the first ship back to the Old Country. They would have swum, if necessary, and we native Americans could have kept the whole continent to ourselves.

It was 1972. My then-boyfriend, now-husband, and I were living in an apartment complex in St. Petersburg, Florida. The place had all the charm of a 1950s Soviet-bloc tenement.

We weren’t very popular. All the other residents were at least 105 and they suspected us of 1) being hippies and 2) being unmarried — both of which were true.

The apartment’s managers, a seethingly hostile couple in their later years, especially disliked us. They suspected that we were behind the posted note in the elevator that read: “Are you fat?  Do you live on the second floor?  If so, you may be ineligible to ride this elevator!  Please see me immediately.”  Then we’d signed the apartment manager’s name.

It was a harmless prank, we figured. Something we’d all get together and laugh about — except for the small problem that the apartment manager, a real sorehead, wasn’t speaking to us, as usual. This, we assumed, was because he had just posted a new rule on the trash chute outside our fourth-floor apartment: “Don’t put glass bottles in this chute!”

When we were bored, when we were feeling rebellious (which happened rather frequently), we occasionally left one of our empty gallon-size Cribari wine jugs dangling on a string secured by the trash chute’s door. The next person who opened the chute unloosed the bottle and it hurtled four floors downward, loudly crash-landing in splinters a few seconds later.

But, anyway, that’s just background. It was Thanksgiving and we were far away from our families and we weren’t very popular in our Soviet-bloc neighborhood. If we were going to cook a proper meal, we needed to rustle up some guests.

We found them on the second floor, a young Japanese couple who spoke almost no English. They’d never heard of Thanksgiving before, but they were elated to be invited anywhere for dinner. They said they could come.

So, we went into action. We bought a turkey. We bought packaged dressing. We bought canned green beans and a pre-made pie and a gallon jug of grape Cribari.

By the time our guests arrived, we’d already shoved our still-frozen turkey into the oven (with the little package of gizzards still intact in the interior). Being charitable, it might have smelled good, but who could tell?  The Japanese couple turned out to be complete nicotine junkies who sat and chain-smoked the entire time. They also repeatedly tried out what appeared to be their entire English vocabulary on us: “Smoke like a chimney!

Which was just as well, I suppose. They sat and smoked and we began to panic, prodding a turkey that still had crystals of frost on it. We managed to successfully heat the green beans and deplete the Cribari bottle. But we were growing more and more panicked as the hours began to pass and we began to snipe at each other.

“I thought you knew how to cook Thanksgiving dinner!”

“You know I can’t cook!”

“Smoke like a chimney!”

Finally, we hauled the turkey out of the oven. It was barely warm. We managed to peel off a few not-entirely-raw pieces and cover them liberally with a brown runny substance we called gravy. In fact, we covered as many things as possible with the “gravy.”

When we served them their plates, the Japanese couple stared with a combination of horror and extreme politeness. “This is a traditional American meal,” we told them — one of the biggest lies and most unadulterated slanders I’ve ever uttered in my life.

They put out their cigarettes and somehow managed to eat everything we’d served them, which is more than I could say of my boyfriend and me. (I seem to recall we slipped out for a hamburger after the meal was over.)

At any rate, owing to our guests’ enormous tact and diplomacy, we avoided an international incident that day.  We toasted a lot with the Cribari, planning to leave the bottle hanging by a string if we managed to finish it off.  The Japanese couple smoked even more — presumably to clear their palates — and drunkenly screamed, “Smoke like a chimney!” every chance they could get.

If they got salmonella or food poisoning, they never let us know.

(Copyright 2007 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read The Ballad of the Sick Husband

8 comments… add one
  • What a great story, Ruth. I’m pretty sure we had a similar experience in our early days, but I’ve no doubt wiped it from my memory.

  • bonehead Link

    Great story Ruth, thanks!

  • So funny! I can just picture you two, with your guests. Thanks for sharing.

  • So funny, Ruth! Wish I was there. What a scene. I’m trusting the subsequent Thanksgivings were a bit…less fraught? Happy Thanksgiving to you.

  • It was just turkey sushi to them!

  • I love bad Thanksgiving stories and yours is really bad. (Bad in a good way.) On my first Thanksgiving alone I made a lovely little dinner for one, just so I wouldn’t feel so miserable. I roasted a mini turkey breast, couldn’t stand the smell of it, and threw it in the trash. So I ate stuffing, drank wine, and tried to think of things I was grateful for. I was grateful that Friday was trash collection day. Oh, well. . . .

  • Chris Link

    Enjoyed this story. I wasn’t in the US in that time frame so don’t recognize this particular wine. I am wondering if it was red, white, chilled or with ice. I also wonder how many people have left the little “package” inside the turkey. Hope this year’s event won’t require extra gravy.

  • Haha! What a great story.

    You got me with that amazing headline. And you’re funny.

    I was just wondering if you’ve ever written fiction. Funny fiction. Then I saw your sidebar with your books. Going to check them out now.

    darlene 🙂

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