It seemed like a good idea at the time.
My husband and I had been married for just over three months, and were living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment a few hundred miles away from our families. We were busy—he was finishing up graduate school and I was working odd hours at a local television station—but we were making our first home together, and we were so happy.
Maybe I felt a little overconfident, still basking in that honeymoon phase. Maybe I just didn’t think it through. Either way, for my first Thanksgiving as a married woman, I volunteered to not only cook a meal with all the trimmings—I invited my in-laws to join us.
Which, as you might imagine, included my mother-in-law.
Who, as you might also rightly guess, is a darn good cook.
No pressure there, new daughter-in-law.
Clouded by my newly-wedded bliss, I made a plan.
Prepare side dishes ahead of time—check.
Unbox the wedding china and serving dishes—check.
Crack open my brand new Better Homes and Gardens red and white checkered cookbook—check.
Unfortunately, there was one wild card: the bird.
I’d selected it carefully at the grocery store earlier that week, my new husband humoring me as I pawed through a freezer full of shrink-wrapped Butterballs, looking for one that spoke to my soul. I’d thawed the winning candidate slowly in the refrigerator, and when Thanksgiving morning dawned, I unwrapped it, cleaned it meticulously, and slid it into the oven on a satisfied note of triumph.
I’ve got this.
When my in-laws arrived a few hours later, the hearty scent of slow-roasting turkey greeted them at the door with me. They gushed. We hugged. I swelled.
It didn’t last long.
As my husband and his parents settled in to the living room a few feet away, I confidently grabbed the baster and opened the oven. I squeezed the bulb—and looked in horror at the liquid I’d just drawn up. It was pink. Pink!
Something was terribly wrong.
My mind raced, arriving at two unthinkable options: cry or ask my mother-in-law for help.
Suddenly, a light bulb flicked on in my racing brain. I closed the oven door, grabbed the phone off the counter, and hurried into the bathroom. Cheeks flushed in shame, I dialed the number my husband and I had laughed over when we’d unwrapped the turkey hours before. 1-800-BUTTERBALL.
I was calling the turkey hotline to save Thanksgiving dinner.
A cheerful voice answered. “The juice,” I rasped urgently into the receiver. “It’s pink. It’s the first time I’ve cooked a turkey . . . and it’s PINK.”
I paused to take a breath, waiting for the peals of laughter and devastating news this stranger was certainly about to deliver.
“Oh don’t worry! That’s a very common problem,” she clucked instead, no hint of the horror I felt. “Did you remove the neck from the cavity before you placed it in the oven?”
“Well of course I removed the n—”
I faltered. Oh. OH. The neck. Had I even been aware I had to fish that thing out of that slippery beast first? “Um . . . what if I forgot? It might still be in there?” I chewed my lip worriedly.
I could feel my in-laws breathing on the other side of the locked door.
Blessedly, the Buterball turkey lady gently assured me all was not lost. “Just take it out now and cook the bird a little longer,” she advised. No one would be the wiser. Thanksgiving dinner, she soothed, would not be a turkey-less feast.
It would, however, be accompanied by a heaping side of humble pie, serving size: one.
And guess what? She was right. I whispered my profuse thanks, smoothed my apron, righted my wrong, and served that turkey dinner with no one the wiser.
But now, more than a decade after that anxious phone call when so much of my confidence as a new wife and daughter-in-law was riding on a misbehaving turkey in my tiny oven, I wish I could talk to the woman from the turkey hotline again.
We would laugh together at the absurdity of it all, at how I’d panicked over something as trivial as a turkey when my table was filled with so much love, acceptance, and support.
I’d thank her for talking me down from the edge of fear, for coaching a new wife through a silly but harrowing moment in her early marriage.
I’d even boast a little about how I’d made pan gravy from scratch, earning points with my new mother-in-law that boosted my confidence in my fledgling domestic abilities.
But mostly, I’d say thank you. Because whether she knew it or not, that woman—that voice of reason—saved my first Thanksgiving.
And I am forever grateful.