The Year Our Thanksgiving Went To the Dogs

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My mother takes Thanksgiving seriously. It could be because her birthday falls right around then,but I think she just really likes the holiday–the cooking, the decorating, and most of all, the family gathering around the table. She does a great job and with her intensive planning, it all goes smoothly and there are no surprises.

…at least as far as she knows.

It all began in the traditional Thanksgiving way. After watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade at our house, my husband and I piled our three children and one year-old Goldendoodle into the car for the short drive to the grandparents’ house. The Goldendoodle had entered that exuberant adolescent stage that is cute only for someone else’s dog. We had very little left in our house that she had not tried to chew, including shoes, toys, furniture, even part of the dining room wall, but the kids couldn’t bear to leave her at home alone and promised they’d help keep an eye on her.

This year was special. My brother, nearly 40 and never married, had invited his new girlfriend to meet the family, so mom had gone all out cooking and decorating the dining room table with seasonal gourds, a variety of turkey and pumpkin shaped candles, and several families of tiny pilgrim figurines.

After the initial introductions, the kids and dog began running crazy circles through the house. The adults had just begun a polite get-to-know-you conversation with the new girlfriend when my younger daughter returned pushing a doll in a toy stroller, the dog trailing merrily along behind. The girlfriend began asking her questions about my daughter’s “baby,” charmed by her responses.

Suddenly I noticed the dog had a pilgrim in his mouth. My husband, by now aware of what was happening, discretely lured the dog into the kitchen for a pilgrim rescue operation, which proved to be only partially successful, the pilgrim having lost his hat and part of his left foot in the process.

When we sat down to eat, we realized that my six year-old son had rearranged the entire table of decorations, gathering all of the remaining little pilgrims into a pile by his plate. During dinner he proceeded to put on a show of the first Thanksgiving, with pilgrims singing and dancing their way across the table. Urged to eat his green beans, he ignored us all, fully immersed in his musical reenactment. My brother glanced nervously at his girlfriend, but she seemed amused, and the conversation turned to world events, and inevitably, to politics, with the singing pilgrims as background music.

I don’t need to tell you that the discussion soon became heated with the mention of the upcoming election, and voices were raised that drowned out the happy pilgrims. To escape the intensity of the raging political debate, my oldest daughter and I made eye contact across the table and almost simultaneously said, “I’ll go get more turkey!” Walking into the kitchen, we were shocked to find all 50 pounds of our Goldendoodle on the counter, her mouth hovering just above the turkey platter.We panicked. My mother is a patient woman, but not a fan of big dogs, and certainly not of creatures that do not have good manners. We couldn’t decide if she’d had a chance to actually eat any of the turkey.

The voices from the dining room kept getting louder, and food seemed to the be the best option to defuse the tension, so we looked at each other, nodded, and carefully turned the turkey around on the platter, to bring back to the table, making it less likely, but not impossible, to eat the part that the dog hadn’t eaten. No one seemed to notice. Over dessert, the tiny pilgrims began spewing forth their political opinions, which added comic relief to what could have been a very stressful situation. And Emma, unpunished for fear of disrupting the day, promptly went to sleep under the table, confirming our suspicions that she had indeed partaken of the turkey.

My mother called later that evening and we talked about what a great holiday it had been. She was pleased that the girlfriend seemed to have a nice time, and especially noted how well the dog had behaved. I said nothing.

This story has a happy ending. The Goldendoodle has matured and learned some holiday manners, and the girlfriend is now my sister-in-law, and a very lovely one at that. But my mom still doesn’t know about the turkey…at least until now.



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