On Thanksgiving, we always had two turkeys.
My father carved the one my mother cooked. My Uncle Allan carved the one my grandmother cooked.
During the dual carving, family members would interact restlessly in anticipation of the feast.
My grandmother’s sister Aunt Emma, an imposing white-haired woman always dressed in a plain black dress and sensible black shoes would corner someone, usually my sister Shawn, and lecture them on the merits of Christian Science faith.
Aunt Emma’s husband, Uncle Giff, would be surreptitiously knocking back my grandmother's best booze. He didn't think anybody noticed, but it would become apparent during dinner when he would slurringly expound on ultraconservative political viewpoints seemingly chosen specifically to annoy my father.
Emma and Giff's daughters Aunt Jessie and Betty Dean would be there, too. While Betty Dean was quiet, Aunt Jessie was boisterous. We kids delighted in her fun-loving style, but she was the constant the target of disapproving looks from her sister and mother. For example, Aunt Jessie would tell my cousin Bobby and me outrageous (and obviously fabricated) stories about Cousin Helen, such as various reasons for the horrifyingly large weeping sore between her right eye and the bridge of her nose.
Cousin Helen was pushing 90 years old and had been for as long as I could remember. On Thanksgiving, she dressed in her church clothes from when she was in her twenties. Even wedging her frighteningly swollen feet and ankles into shoes, that presumably fit pre-edema. The most interesting thing about Cousin Helen was that she was not related to us.
That's a story for later.
Back to the turkeys.
My dad was a master carver. Proud of his skill. He would slice and carve with precision and arrange the impossibly thin slices of white meat and uniform pieces of dark meat on a serving platter.
When my mother would pick up the platter, he would say with great pride, "That's just half the bird. With a sharp enough knife I could feed the crew of a destroyer with just one turkey." If my sister and I were in earshot, that was followed by a quick lecture on the importance of proper carving. They always ended with the same piece of advice: "Make sure the bird is rested after it comes out of the oven. And you need a good knife. And it has to be well sharpened before you start. With a sharp enough knife I could feed the entire New York Jets with just one turkey."
Next to my dad, Uncle Allan was in charge of the turkey my grandmother had cooked. And he approached it like he lived his life, looking for fun and sharing that fun with anybody and everybody nearby.
So while my old man was wielding his knife with the meticulousness of a surgeon performing a liver transplant on a world leader, my uncle was hacking away to get meat separated from bone and onto a serving platter as quickly as possible so the feast could begin. Often, with a smile and a wink, he'd flip a small piece to any kid who came close. "Bobby, catch this in your mouth."
Both platters were brought to the sideboard, one looking like an offering that would grace the cover of "Bon Apetit" magazine. The other looking almost like someone had put a small explosive charge into the poor bird and set it off. Both alluring in their own way.
When the festivities were over, we'd drive home. A totally intact half-turkey on the backseat between my sister and me. We'd stay silent as my dad grumbled about Uncle Giff's political leanings and Uncle Allan's mangling of my grandmother's turkey using language we knew we shouldn't hear much less repeat. If my mom could move him off a Giff rant, he would mutter angrily about having missed the football game on TV.
One year, the day after Thanksgiving, as my father was carving the leftover turkey for sandwiches (and telling us how, with a sharp enough knife, he could feed our entire elementary school including janitorial staff), it occurred to me that we had brought home half a turkey. And my grandmother had sent other guests home with plates piled high with turkey and side dishes.
"Why do we bring a second turkey to Thanksgiving? We didn't even need one," I asked my mom.
"Well," she said with a quick glance to see if the old man was in earshot, "Your father would get so upset every year watching your uncle carve the turkey. So I told your grandmother that we needed more leftovers for the family to take home and started to bring a second turkey."
She knew how to keep the peace. And my father's blood pressure under control.
I don't think she ever told my grandmother or my father the whole truth.