It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where things first went wrong with this year’s Moore family Christmas dinner. Perhaps with the installation of the new double oven in November. The slow tightening of the hinges on the door from the kitchen to the backyard. The annual airing of Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas special, which inspired Mindy’s elaborate centerpiece this year. The additional help that Jenny provided in preparing the Christmas dinner. Or perhaps even further back, to the year the Bumpuses moved in to the farm next door and started their kennel, with their ever-growing population of rescue dogs and other animals.
Though all the facts and details contributing to the disaster will take a few months to sort out, my understanding of the specific events of Christmas Eve are as follows:
Marsha awoke that morning at 5:30 am, as she did every Christmas Eve, to begin preparing the for the evening meal. She checked on the turkey, thawing in the refrigerator. It had been thawing for three days, hopefully sufficient for the massive twenty-two pound bird. Satisfied that the turkey would be ready by noon to place in the over, she turned her attention to the many other dishes on her list. Breakfast and lunch would be do-it-yourself today; all her attention would be on the annual dishes for the evening’s festivities. It was a familiar pattern she followed every year, with one major variation this morning.
At six o’clock, Jenny heard her mother in the kitchen and bounded down the stairs to join her. “What are you doing up, sweetie?” Marsha asked. “Go on back to bed, you don’t need to be up for a while now.”
“I’m here to help you.” Jenny replied. “I want to do my part in the Christmas dinner. I can help too.”
While Marsha knew this would likely increase her workload, there was no way she was going to turn down this prime bonding opportunity with her baby. “Grab an apron,” Marsha said. “And do exactly what I say; we have to be precise.”
Marsha knew the dressing needed to be finished first, to ensure that it would be ready in time to stuff the turkey and get it in the oven for ample baking time. She had already pulled out her large mixing bowl and most of the necessary ingredients. She also knew that mixing the stuffing would be an excellent entry level task for Jenny to work on. Besides, Jenny had helped her several times before, with family dinners throughout the year. Plus, Marsha knew this year’s menu was going to be ambitious, and she could use the extra hands. Besides, the stuffing at this point was basically prepared, it just had to be finally all crumbled together and put in the bird. What’s the worst that could happen, she thought.
With this in mind, Marsha put Jenny to work.
“Your mission, your most important mission, is to get this stuffing ready and mixed so we can fill the turkey and get it in the oven. Here’s a bowl big enough for all the ingredients, and most of what you will need to mix. Take these to start and mix them together as you can. Let me know when you think it’s done and I’ll tell you what else to add. I’m going to start working on the cranberry salsa.”
So Jenny began mixing the pre-prepared cornbread pieces and sausage crumbles. “I’m ready for more,” Jenny gleefully announced, after what seemed like an eternity of stirring and crumbling to her. “Okay” replied her mother. “Now get the celery, onion, and kernel corn to mix in.”
No Marsha knew that she clearly said “kernel corn,” referring, of course, to the small amount of roasted corn kernels prepared the day before, just like the pre-cooked celery and onion. And had she not been as focused on the cranberry salsa as she was at that time, she might have noticed that Jenny had grabbed the popcorn kernels from the cabinet instead of the refrigerator. As it was, Jenny’s substitution went unnoticed until much later in the day. Jenny mixed in the corn kernels, celery, and onion, and announced to her satisfaction that she was through.
“All done?” her mother asked.
“Uh-huh” replied Jenny. “What’s next?”
“Well, would you like to keep working with the stuffing?” Marsha asked. “You could go ahead and stuff the mix in the turkey if you’d like to try that. That would be a big help.”
And so, Marsha pulled the turkey from the refrigerator and set Jenny to stuffing the turkey. And as Jenny worked, Marsha turned to the sausage balls, wassail, and brie. Once the turkey was completely stuffed, Jenny and Marsha worked together to set it in the pan, ready for the oven. The bird then went back in the refrigerator to wait for a couple more hours at least.
By now, it was eight o’clock and the rest of the family had begun to stir. Jenny continued to help her mother in the kitchen with various other little tasks. John, Mindy, and Peter each came through in turn, grabbing a quick breakfast and turning to their tasks for the day. John headed out for much needed, last-minute Christmas shopping. Peter would be spending the day over at the Bumpus twins, Billy and Blake, scouring the woods for hidden adventures and generally avoiding their parents for the greater part of the day.
Mindy, however, would be focusing on her masterpiece – this year’s centerpiece.
Taking inspiration from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, this year’s work was to be a twisting, spiraling creation covering the table in Seussian design. Mindy knew every inch, every placement of the dishes on the table, and planned to fill every available spot. It would be her crowning achievement. A masterwork in paper-mache, garland, and tinsel. And significantly bigger than anything she had ever attempted, incorporating platters for several of the dishes and four candle-holders on the corners.
By ten o’clock, Marsha moved the turkey into one of the double ovens. The other oven would be in continual use for the various other dishes, but the turkey now had a dedicated oven all to itself. Here again, had Marsha been a little more familiar with the new oven or a little more tech savvy, she may have been able to set the to delay the start time for two hours and then cook for six hours. And had she not been so busy the rest of the day, she might have noticed that the oven for the turkey instead delayed the start time for six hours and then began cooking for two. Again, a fact that would be noticed much later in the day.
By three o’clock, John and Peter had both returned home, John haggard from the Christmas shopping experience and Peter dirty and disheveled from his adventure in the woods. He even had a few of the Bumpus dogs follow him home, much to his father’s chagrin. And though, it took all of the morning and most of the afternoon, Mindy was putting the final touches on her centerpiece. The Whos would be proud. Marsha and Jenny had just placed the last of the hors d’oeuvres on their settings. Everyone was ready to start cleaning up and dressing for the feast. The extended family would be arriving in just a few minutes.
This year, the assembled crew would be a little smaller than in previous years. Joining the immediate family would be John’s mother Margot Moore, his brother James Moore and his wife Jill, Marsha’s father Bill Beecham, her sister Elizabeth Lane and her husband Jefferson, as well as their children Alex and Nora, and finally, Marsha’s uncle Dudley Beecham. Uncle Dudley was the first to arrive, bringing spirits with him and heading straight to the wassail to help give it a little lift. “Everything is hunky-dunky,” he said after preparing it to his liking. By 3:40 pm, the rest of the family had arrived and was engaged in lively conversation in the living room, ready for the commencement of the festivities. It was at this time that the turkey oven actually turned on to start preheating, unnoticed by all the celebrants.
By four o’clock, Marsha, Jenny, and Mindy started moving the hors d’oeuvres to the dining table, carefully arranging within the massive centerpiece. By 4:05 pm, everything had been assembled and all that was left was for Mindy to light the candles on her masterpiece.
At that moment, the deafening boom of a cannon blast roared from the kitchen, shaking the whole house. The turkey shot out of the oven, rocketing through the air and heading straight for the corner of the kitchen. It ricocheted off the corner, landing on the floor, and splattering all over the kitchen. In the commotion, Uncle Dudley spilled his wassail over the dining table at the same time that Mindy lit a tendril of the centerpiece instead of the candle. The alcohol soaked centerpiece and table went up in a flash, with smoke soon filling the whole room.
John was first to burst in the kitchen, looking for the fire extinguisher in the cabinet under the sink. In his haste to rush in, he stepped on a bit of the debris from the turkey, causing him to slide directly into the island, knocking off the next courses directly on top of him. As the fire alarm starting sounding, Alex and Peter then rushed in to open the kitchen door and let the smoke out. From there, Peter was able to make his way to the kitchen cabinet and bring the fire extinguisher in to his grandfather Bill.
As Bill started extinguishing the fire, the Bumpus’ dogs that had followed Peter home then rushed in through the now open kitchen door, lapping up bits of turkey on their way through the kitchen and into the rest of the house. James and Jefferson started chasing after the pack of dogs, running after them upstairs, downstairs, and through nearly every room in the house before they were able to corral the out the front door.
With the table fire now extinguished and the smoke thinning out, John closed the kitchen door. The family began to survey the disaster before them. The turkey had been blanketed over nearly ever surface in the kitchen. The Moores would be finding bits of turkey and stuffing in the kitchen for weeks. The hors d’oeuvres had been flash burned to a crisp and John was wearing most of the next courses.
As they stood and stared at each other in utter disbelief at the series of improbable and unfortunate events, they noticed John formulating a plan in his head and after a brief pause, they heard him utter the phrase that would now be forever etched into their memories.
“All right! Everybody upstairs! Get cleaned up! We are going out to eat!”