"Aim low, kids. Aim so low you can't possibly fail." - Marge Simpson
A child, 8-10 and her mother sit in living room
Dawn Summers III: Mom?
Dawn III: How come Alex's mom is cooking a turkey and a huge dinner today and we are eating McDonald's?
Mom: Ah, you want to hear the story of The Last Thanksgiving? Ok, get the Scrabble board and I'll tell it to you.
Dawn III (finishes a fry): Ok! Let me go wash my hands before touching the really nice swivel Scrabble board.
Mom: Ok. Well, it all started in 2005 with a girl named Dawn.
Dawn III: Like my name!
Mom: Exactly like your name. Now...
Dawn saw this awesome apartment and there were three things she imagined right away. The first: multi-table poker tournaments every Friday. The second: grilling on the balcony during the summer. And three, a huge Thanksgiving dinner for all the family around the dining table.
When her purchase offer was accepted, she started planning the meal... and the poker... right away.
She renovated the kitchen, got a monster $3,000 dining room set and set the guest list for the first Thanksgiving.
She would invite her mother, her mother's friend, both her godmothers and their families, her aunts, cousins and second cousins.
There would be turkey and roasts and scalloped potatoes and pasta and rice and yam…a veritable Olympic feast.
The renovations dragged through her first winter and spring and as the summer dawned, she started to worry it wouldn't be ready for Thanksgiving.
But it was!
Dawn had 12 confirmed guests by the week before Thanksgiving and she went shopping with Alex's mom and dad for groceries... at Costco.
She bought industrial sized stuffing and ginormous onions and bell peppers; she bought fifty rolls and a gallon of gravy. Alex's mom suggested that she buy a fresh turkey instead of the frozen Butterball that Dawn's Mom, Mrs. Of the West, had instructed her to get.
Alex's mom assured her that fresh was better and no harder to prepare.
So, what the hey.
She'd head off to Fairway to get the good stuff.
That Monday three of her confirmed guests unconfirmed, so she axed a couple of dishes, but still went full steam ahead to buy a 12-pound turkey and all the fixings.
Her mother, already irritated that she had not gone shopping on Saturday morning as previously planned and instead went to Fairway by herself on a weekday, was already questioning the menu.
"Is the turkey self-basting? Did you buy enough seasoning? When are you going to cook the meat? Did you cut the gizzards?"
But Dawn exuded the confidence of a hundred Irish women.
"I'm taking the day off tomorrow to set everything up, I have lots of seasoning, the gizzards are cut and I don't know if the turkey is self-basting."
Unbeknownst to Mrs. Of the West, Dawn was having the weekly game that same night. However, she had cut everything up, seasoned everything, and brined same and made sure all was left was the sticking of things in the oven.
It seemed to go swimmingly, and by the time the last of her guests left, she had sautéed the vegetables for the stuffing and made a big heaping batch.
Disappointed with initial taste tests, she added some salt to the mix. That seemed to do the trick.
Mrs. Of the West had said that Dawn should come pick her up at 8 because there were a few dishes being made out in East Coco Beach, that would need to be put into the oven at Chez Dawn.
No problem, Dawn had said before realizing that she would be going to sleep at 4 AM.
Thus, when she opened her eyes and the clock read 9:15, she sprang out of bed and dialed her mother's number.
Not sure what excuse she would be using for the hour delay, she was calmed to get the voicemail.
She left a message, hung up and rushed to the kitchen to put on the collard greens, stuff the turkey (named Chloe because that seemed like a good name for a fresh hippie Fairway bought turkey) and put it and the roast in the double oven.
She completed all these tasks by ten and called her mother again.
This time a groggy Mrs. Of the West answered.
"I've been calling allll morning!"
"Oh...why...do you need something? What'd you do with the turkey?"
"It's in the oven already. It's like ten o clock!"
"What! Wow, I overslept. But it sounds like you have everything under control, so I'm going back to sleep, come pick me up at twelve."
Dawn went to the kitchen to cut up some seasoning for the rice, when she opened up the cabinet, a bottle of olive oil fell out and shattered.
"I have a knife in my hand AND there's oil all over the floor," she thought glumly, I'll poke a hole in my throat now for sure.
She cleaned up the spill with paper towels and soap-soaked sponges and carefully picked up every piece of broken glass. Well, almost every piece. She apparently missed a shard that had slid near the fridge, but her bare heel stepped up to the plate and snatched it right up when Dawn went to get some butter.
Dawn said some bad words as she left bloody heel prints from the kitchen to the bathroom.
At quarter to twelve, she got into her car to get her mother. There was a song in her heart and a skip in her step. Everything was under control.
Her mother brought the loud next door lady along for the ride. The loud next door neighbor is loud. And she makes Dawn's mother louder. All in all, the drive back to Chez Dawn was loud.
"YES THAT WAS THE GUY FROM DOWNSTAIRS!"
"NO, THAT WAS A DIFFERENT GUY!"
Dawn was happy when she reached home and the loud could be diluted outside the confines of a car.
They dropped off all her mother's dishes and her mom went into the kitchen.
She tasted some of the leftover stuffing in the frying pan.
"OH GOD. THIS IS HORRIBLE. IT'S NOTHING BUT SALT. GOD," she spits it out.
Dawn's mother then takes the cover off the collard greens.
"Why does this look like this?"
She finds a spoon and begins to lift out the green leaves.
"Why is this so clumpy? Oh, God. Did you put the leaves in whole. You are supposed to cut them up. I TOLD YOU TO CUT THEM UP."
Years ago, Dawn used to call her mother the Yelling Lady, after a year and a half of living on her own, she had forgotten why.
"YOU SEE ME MAKE THIS EVERY YEAR. HOW COULD YOU PUT THIS IN THE POT LIKE THIS?"
Oh, yeah. It quickly comes flooding back.
Her mother dumps the whole content of the pot into the garbage.
She sends the Loud Neighbor out to buy more.
"AND I HAVE TO REMAKE THIS STUFFING. IT'S DISGUSTING."
Dawn rendered speechless, hands her the industrial sized box.
Her mother angrily cuts up new seasoning and sautés from scratch.
Loud Neighbor comes back and she proceeds to redo the greens.
She walks over to the double oven and checks on the pot roast.
Apparently, the double oven is really heavy on the double, but not so much on the oven.
The pot roast, while warmer than when Dawn put it in the oven three hours ago, is not an inch more cooked. Ok, maybe an inch.
"WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS? YOU DIDN'T CHECK TO SEE IF IT WAS COOKING? I DON'T KNOW HOW DR. JOSEPH COULD SAY YOU ARE NOT RETARDED."
(Dawn didn't really walk until she was two and a half. Tests were run. While the results were negative, the possibility of error would be raised pretty much ten to twelve times a year for the rest of her childhood. It was the first reference of her adult life, however. The two Ivy League degrees on her wall evidently deemed non-probative.)
At some point, in the pot roast fiasco, Dawn's mother spies the balcony chairs wedged around the dining room table, between two larger tables.
Dawn sees the tell-tale sign of a poker game, at the same time.
Dawn's mother, up till now, the embodiment of calm and reason, loses it.
"YOU WERE PLAYING POKER HERE LAST NIGHT? THEN YOU DON'T FUCKING CALL YOURSELF COOKING. THIS IS SHIT. THAT'S ALL YOU HAVE DONE. SHIT. IF POKER IS YOUR LIFE THEN YOU SHOULDN'T DO ANYTHING ELSE."
Dawn's mother then storms over to the bar and grabs all the decks of cards and throws them over the balcony.
She then grabs the chips off the radiator and attempts to send them in search of the cards.
Luckily, Karol's friend Pheel, did not latch the chip case, and the entirety of the case spills to the floor in a metallic clatter.
And Dawn started to bawl.
(Extending the streak of Dawn shedding tears during holidays with her mother to an impressive 23 in a row.)
The Loud Neighbor now intervened.
"MS. SUMMERS! STOP IT! YOU ARE EMBARRASSING THE GIRL! YOU CAN'T CARRY ON LIKE THIS. WHAT'S DONE IS DONE. AND NOW SHE'S CRYING."
"GOOD! SHE NEEDS TO CRY. SHE'S NOT A CHILD, BUT WANTS TO ACT LIKE ONE."
At this point, and now, you really have to listen carefully, just below the women yelling in Dawn's kitchen, but above her scraping clay chips back into the case — there, right there, if you really listen, you can hear Dawn's spirit break.
She silently cleans up the mess in the dining area, while the Loud Neighbor sweeps and mops the living room floor and her mother recooks Thanksgiving dinner.
Which, she now also finds out will be for six because her cousin is sick, her other aunt can't come cause her cousin was sent back to Iraq and a couple of other guests don't feel like going out in the rain.
The timer goes off on the turkey and her mother and the Loud Neighbor take it out. The bag is filled with water.
"I TOLD YOU TO DRY THE TURKEY BEFORE YOU PUT IT IN THERE!"
"I did," Dawn says meekly hoping to end the conversation as quickly as possible.
"THEN WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?"
"MS. SUMMERS, PLEASE! WE CAN DRAIN IT. DON'T WORRY."
"I HAVE TO WORRY.THIS IDIOT HAS PEOPLE COMING HERE IN TWO HOURS AND SHE HAS DONE NOTHING."
"I WILL DRAIN IT," Loud Neighbor says.
She proceeds to poke a hole in the bag and sends a liter of turkey oil spraying across the kitchen.
However, this time Dawn longingly eyes the slippery kitchen floor and the glistening knife blade.
Ah the sweet, sweet release of death, she thinks before she is rudely interrupted.
"GET A MOP AND CLEAN THIS UP! THIS TURKEY IS A DISASTER! I TOLD YOU: DAWN, THIS IS YOUR FIRST TURKEY, GET A BUTTERBALL. BUT NO, YOU HAVE TO LISTEN TO YOUR FRIENDS. YOU THINK YOUR FRIENDS KNOW EVERYTHING. WHERE ARE YOUR FRIENDS NOW? ARE THEY HERE TO HELP YOU FIX THIS SHIT? NO! BUT WHEN EVERYTHING GOES TO HELL, I HAVE TO BE THE ONE TO CLEAN UP YOUR MESSES."
(Ah, this is another recurring lecture from Dawn's childhood: the evils of friends. Coupled with the, "I can't believe the tests say you're not retarded," all is left is the "if you ever come back here pregnant, you'd better not come back," and "I hate junkies and drugs and if you ever do drugs I will set you on fire myself," speech to really just relive the formative East Coco Beach years.)
The turkey is drained, and left out to cool, while the roast is finally put in the top oven to begin the cooking process.
Mrs. Of the West, then made the rice and the yams.
Turns out Dawn bought the wrong cranberry sauce, and too few yams and the wrong color peppers.
But when Mrs. Of the West tasted the turkey, she said, "Oh, that's actually good."
Loud Neighbor tried a piece and said she agreed.
"Well, you did the turkey right."
"Ok, well, everything is back on track. I have saved your dinner," Mrs. Of the West commented, "Everything is fine!"
She then waved her arms, signaling that she was ready to return home.
Dawn drove her and Loud Neighbor back home. As they climbed out the car, Dawn thought it would be sporting to swerve onto the sidewalk and crash into them.
She then amused herself with the thought of driving to Atlantic City.
But whatever, the meal had been saved. She was in sweats, her face was a mess and she was covered in grease and cleaning products.
Of course, by the time she got home, her first guests had already arrived.
She threw on a suit to go downstairs and pick up her godmother and her godmother's mother.
"Lord, Dawn. You are so fat."
Dawn returns home and drinks a shot of tequila.
No sooner had the glass hit the bar, than Mrs. Of the West called to say she couldn't get a cab because of the weather.
Dawn drove extra extra slowly to the ECB, careful to avoid the gaze of holiday coppers looking for a DWI bust.
Upon return to Chez Dawn there was a flurry of excitement as dishes were put on the table and plates were set.
There, next to the turkey was the "new stuffing" and the "new collard greens" and the "cooked pot roast" and the rice and the yams and the pasta and the salad.
It was just as Dawn had imagined it.
Her godmother asked Mrs. Of the West, if she had helped Dawn make the meal.
"No. She did everything herself," Mrs. Of the West replied before Dawn could answer.
"This is so delicious, Dawn," she said.
Although, Dawn did take some satisfaction to see that the "new stuffing" went untouched, while everyone ate her original stuffing out of the bird.
The night dragged on.
For some reason Dawn ended up with fourteen pies, cakes and cupcakes.
So there was a lot of time spent "making room for" fill in the blank.
By the time they had all left and the apartment was cleaned and the fridge filled with leftovers, Dawn Q. Summers swore off family, holidays, and cooking forever.
She then started to drink bourbon to fill that space where her self esteem had been, cut off all her hair and spent the next four days in bed avoiding all contact with people.
And, so, that, Dawn III is the story of why we don't celebrate Thanksgiving.
And why mommy drinks.
Dawn III: And why grandma is in a home?
Mom: Yes. Really, it is the story of a lot of things.
Dawn III: But it sounds like it didn't turn out all that badly.
Mom: What do I always tell you?
Dawn III: Optimism is for suckers.
Mom: Yes. And what is the moral of the story?
Dawn III: Never try to do anything nice for people because people suck.
Mom: Good girl.
Dawn Summers is a writer from Brooklyn, NY.