… I WAS 18 WHEN I COOKED my first Christmas dinner.  Correction . . . almost cooked it.

I had never roasted a turkey before, and was a bit flummoxed Christmas morning when I realized I should have defrosted my bird in the fridge for three days PRECEDING the big day.  Nevertheless, I was full of hope that my teeny tiny bird . . . it was just the two of us that year, for we were 1,000 miles away from family, and my new hubby had not been released from active duty for the holidays. Anyways, I was hopeful that my miniscule turkey would defrost oh-so-quickly in warm water. (This was back in the days before you could simply nuke it.)

So I found a good, sharp knife and looked for a way to free my hard, icy gobbler from its plastic wrapper. Finally, I decided to slice the wrapper directly underneath the wire prong that clamped the plastic shut at one end.  But wow — that plastic was tough!  OOMPH!  I gave it my all – and sliced the bag clean through, all the way through to the pointy finger of my left hand.

Which I also sliced clean through . . . well, almost.  (The bone got in the way.)

For a nano-second, I stared in horror at the open contents of what used to be my finger – marveling at how I could distinguish skin from muscle, and muscle from tendon – and was that really what a freshly-naked bone looks like? Suddenly, the contents of my finger turned pink, then red, and blood spurted out – all over my hand, my frozen turkey, and my sink full of warm water.

“YOUCH!” Pain seared through my hand like electricity, and my whole body reacted in a wave of panic.  I grabbed a dish towel, raced to the bathroom, threw open the shower door, and shoved my bloody mess into the face of my naked, soapy, dripping new hubby. His surprise gave way to horror, and then loving concern for his bride.

Soon, I was rocking back and forth on the toilet and snuffling . . . while my naked, soapy, dripping new hubby ransacked the medicine cabinet, desperately searching for first aid supplies. Anything to stop the bleeding.

Aside from some Popeye Bandaids and a bottle of Bactine, we were criminally negligent in the first aid department. “Put pressure on it!” he hollered, loped into the bedroom, perched on the bed, pulled on jeans, and shoved sock-less feet into work boots.

So I abandoned the towel and clamped onto my pointy finger like it was a cow’s udder and I was trying to get milk. “Ow!” I hollered. “That hurts!” But I hung on for dear life, while my now not-so-naked new hubby found another dish towel, tore it into strips (gosh, that man was strong) and bound my finger up tight, like it was a leaky hose that had to stop leaking.

“You need stitches,” he announced and slid his down jacket on, over his soapy chest. Then he fetched my long dress coat, threw it over my negligee (we were newlyweds, remember?) and away we raced to the ER, which was only a few blocks away. He in his work boots without socks, and me in my slippers . . . also without socks. In 30 degree weather.

Four hours, seven stitches, and a gigantic horse pill full of codeine later . . .  we limped back home, exhausted. Adrenaline and panic do not make for a good breakfast. But we did find some interesting news, back home in the kitchen. Abandoned in water (albeit bloody) for four hours, my teeny tiny turkey was already half-way defrosted!

Oh, goody.

My new hubby cleaned up the kitchen, while I crawled into bed for a much-needed nap. We had tomato soup and grilled cheese for dinner.  Well, Merry Christmas.

I don’t recall what happened to the turkey.

In fact, I will never know what happened to that turkey.  Except that it lives on in perpetuity, in my brain, forever stuck in a half-frozen state (or half-thawed . . . depending upon your point of view), lurking just beneath the surface of my skull, ready to flap out without warning and elicit bloody memories of my novice cooking days of yore. . . .

Before my new hubby’s mother taught me how to cook. Before children arrived and home became the center of everything. Before we stopped counting the days and started counting the months and the years, instead.

Before, before, before. . . .

Before 40 years of marriage, totaling 80 golden turkeys (one at Thanksgiving and one at Christmas – do the math!) that we shared with a house full of kin. Before a multitude of parent-teacher meetings, Little League games, high school basketball, graduations, weddings, careers, and grandkids. Whew!

And now? All I have to do is show up at one of my kids’ homes for the holidays and sit down to a beautifully-prepared meal. Ta-da! No cleaning, no shopping, no cooking, and no mad dashes to the ER. (A bit boring, actually). And that’s why I always offer to bring pies . . . just so I can cook a bit.

Funny how things can change – and always do! But that turkey . . . my very first turkey . . . will live on forever, timeless, in my brain.  And like clockwork, he chimes up every Thanksgiving and every Christmas. “Gobble, gobble?”

“Remember me?!”

Kind of an odd Ghost of Christmas Past – don’t you think?  Because this is just the kind of bizarre fabric out of which our lives are woven.  With memorable events – the good, the bad . . . and the gobblers.

Happy New Year, ya’all! (We’re having ham.)

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