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My First Thanksgiving Disaster

Autumn in New York

Autumn in New York

Measuring Up To Mother-in-Law

Oh, there were other Thanksgiving disasters, to be sure, but that first one will never be forgotten by any of the participants. It all started when I got married at the age of 19.

So many things started then, but what's relevant here is that I became a DAUGHTER-IN-LAW! It's not that my in-laws were ogres. It's just that my mother-in-law was so intimidating. She excelled at almost everything. She bowled a 275, she was president of the Ladies Guild. She could drive a tractor, knit a sweater or whip up a family dinner for 16 at the drop of a hat. She was definitely a hard act to follow!

Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?

Did I mention that my husband's name is Bill, Billy to his family? So, of course, my theme song whenever I walked into a family gathering was, "Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?" I couldn't. She could. Probably in the twinkling of an eye, too.

Cooking My First Thanksgiving Dinner

By the time our second Thanksgiving rolled around, I had an infant and had gained some confidence in my homemaking abilities. I had helped my mother cook. I could read a cookbook. So far, we had eaten at least 103 meals at my in-law's, but I had never invited them for a meal. I girded my loins...what the heck are loins, anyway...and invited both sets of parents and my siblings for Thanksgiving dinner. I could easily handle dinner for ten, right? Right!

We had a nice apartment in an older house out in the country. The kitchen was small with older appliances, but there was a nice big living room with plenty of room to set up a big table. I spent most of the week before Thanksgiving cleaning and polishing, baking pies, making homemade rolls, making cranberry sauce, getting out the little-used wedding china and crystal. I spent the night before Thanksgiving chopping celery and onion and bread cubes for stuffing. I wanted everything to be perfect.

Thanksgiving Day Dinner

Thanksgiving day dawned clear and crisp. I was up with the sun stuffing the turkey, making the corn pudding, and fixing the sweet potatoes while directing Bill on how to peel the white potatoes, change the baby and set up the table and chairs. By noon, the turkey had been in the oven for hours, the mints and nuts set out in little dishes, the table was set and the whipped cream whipped. Whew! It was all going like clockwork! I would prove myself at last.

At 2pm my parents and siblings showed up with the in-laws close behind. We exchanged hugs and kisses, hung the coats and settled everyone down for drinks in the living room.

The First Hint of a Thanksgiving Disaster

My mother-in-law sniffed the air, "The house looks so nice. How come I don't smell the turkey cooking?"

HUH??? It must be cooking. The oven has been on since 9am. The stove was warm, everything else was cooking. Dinner was going to be perfect.

Then my Mom chimed in, "When did you put the turkey in, it doesn't smell like it's cooking?"

O.K., let's take a look. The two mothers and I troop into the kitchen. There were the potatoes bubbling along, the sweet potatoes ready to pop in the oven, other vegetables ready to go. There in the oven a partly cooked turkey sat happily in a lukewarm oven - an oven with the elements burned out!

Oh, no, NOW WHAT??? Give me credit, I didn't cry and I didn't run.

The Thanksgiving Turkey That Wasn't

This is how the turkey was supposed to look...too bad it didn't!

This is how the turkey was supposed to look...too bad it didn't!

Mother-in-law Saves the Day

Mother-in-law saves the day, wouldn't you know? She yanked that bird out of the oven, got out the cutting board and a sharp knife and pulled out the pressure cooker.

PRESSURE COOKER? Oh, yeah! So she hacked that beautiful bird into chunks, threw it in the pot with some juice and stuffing, popped the lid on and cooked that bird good! and fast!

There was no beautiful browned turkey to carve at the table that day, but everyone said it was tender and juicy. Yeah, pressure cooking a turkey does that. In my eyes, my beautiful dinner was ruined, and I had failed despite all of my hard work. But somehow during the dinner, we all started laughing about the disaster, we ate and talked and played with the kids and had pumpkin pie.

Six of the people who were at dinner that day are gone now. But I can still see them laughing around my table that fateful Thanksgiving day, and I am thankful for the laughter and love that we shared. And it sure did make a great story for years to come!

copyright ©2010 Stephanie Henkel


Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 25, 2012:

Hi Denise - Well, if I had planned on flaming marshmallows, I might have have had some chocolate bars and graham crackers handy! Seafood seems like a very appropriate Thanksgiving feast for North Carolina. I'm sure you enjoyed it!

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on November 24, 2012:

Flaming marshmallows! Ha ha. I think you should have tossed some Hershey chocolate bar on that with a graham cracker or two! We had a nice, quiet Thanksgiving, thank you. J is gone for the long w/e to visit his maternal grandmother and mom and dad. My friend and I cooked seafood, since I had already cooked our Thanksgiving dinner early. :)

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 24, 2012:

Hi Denise - My mother-in-law's approval was important to me, and that cooking disaster was embarrassing even though it wasn't my fault. But we laughed over it many times in later years. Like you, I had some pretty bad cooking disasters while learning to cook. Unfortunately, I still have them now and then as evidenced by the flaming marshmallows on the sweet potatoes this Thanksgiving! :) Thanks for stopping by and hope you had a happy Thanksgiving!

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on November 24, 2012:

I have never read this story, Stephanie, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I can relate. My first cooking disaster was a roast that shriveled to nothing b/c it was burnt so badly. The whole kitchen was smoking and my (ex) never let me forget it. He'd tease me today if I was in communication with him.

Great story and I can understand wanting to get that approval by a strong woman like your m-in-law. I'm glad all turned out well and it is a fond memory. Cheers, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 23, 2012:

Jools99 - You are lucky to have such a sweet mother-in-law! Our spouse's mothers can be intimidating if they are even the least bit critical. My mother-in-law was a very "take charge" kind of person. That particular Thanksgiving, she did end up saving our dinner, and I was thankful that all turned out well.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 23, 2012:

Teaches12345 - Looking back at that day, it does resemble a sitcom! But it did turn out well, and it still makes a great story. Thanks for stopping in to read and comment!

Jools Hogg from North-East UK on November 23, 2012:

Stephanie, interesting hub. I have a wonderful mother-in-law but she never, ever cooks Christmas lunch - they always either come to us or one of her other sons' homes. My first Christ,as I was very on edge, thinking I needed to get it right but my in laws are such sweeties, even if it was a disaster they would probably say it was delicious :o)

Dianna Mendez on November 22, 2012:

This could be an episode from Everybody Love Raymond! How funny, but glad it turned out well. You have a great way of handling those little hiccups of life.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on September 05, 2012:

Janine Huldie - I did learn a lot from my mother-in-law as she really could do so many things well. Wisely, she didn't rub in my mistakes...It can be intimidating to a young wife to have to live up to near perfection. :) Thanks for commenting and sharing!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on September 05, 2012:

Tillsontitan - Isn't it always the way? When you so want things to be perfect, the disasters happen! My mother-in-law was incomparable, and I learned a lot from her - that was my first lesson in dealing with a cooking crisis! :) Thanks so much for the read and comments!

Janine Huldie from New York, New York on September 05, 2012:

Stephanie, this was such a wonderful story and as a daughter-in-law could imagine how you felt when your turkey wasn't cooked. Your mother-in-law sounds like mine. She is a wonderful woman, but the jack of all trades and just so perfect. Don't get me wrong I love her to pieces, but she truly is so good at everything she tries, so I can totally relate to that part of your story. Voted and shared too :)

Mary Craig from New York on September 05, 2012:

There isn't a woman alive who doesn't have a horror story about cooking, especially when you have a houseful and you're trying to impress. At least it wasn't that you forgot to turn the oven on! I love the way you write, with your incomparable mother-in-law, and "can she bake a cherry pie"...great hub.

Voted up, funny, and interesting.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on July 17, 2012:

Kathleen Cochran - It sounds like you have a few great stories of your own cooking mishaps. Thanks for sharing some of them! Gosh, you must be brave trying to cook a turkey over charcoal for a crowd! Isn't it wonderful how our families never forget our embarrassing moments? Thanks so much for stopping in to share some of yours!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on July 17, 2012:

John Sarkis - Cooking a Thanksgiving turkey is definitely a production that can go wrong, but, luckily, we can usually salvage a meal. I've never had to cook another turkey in a pressure cooker, though I have had some pressure cooker disasters...I don't give up, though! :) Thanks so much for your comments!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on July 17, 2012:

Josh3418 - Glad you enjoyed my Thanksgiving story, Josh! My mother-in-law was a formidable woman, and could certainly deal with any kitchen crisis with one hand tied behind her back! Looking back on that day does make me smile, though it wasn't so funny at the time...

Thanks for stopping in and for your comments!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on July 17, 2012:

Sunshine - Thanks for stopping in again, and thanks for the share!

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on July 17, 2012:

I see there are so many comments - because we've all been there. My family will never let me forget one of their first visits after I married. We'd just finished the nice meal I'd fixed for Sunday dinner, when suddenly I yelled, "The baked beans! They're still in the oven!" We had them for dessert.

I once kept a half dozen fellow Army families waiting for Thanksgiving Dinner for four hours! It was the first time I tried doing the turkey out on the grill with charcole. Unbeknowst to me, the lid didn't fit tightly because I'd bought too big a bird. Wish I'd known about pressure cookers that day! We've all been there and we all have families who never let us forget! Great idea for a hub.

John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on July 16, 2012:

Hi Stephanie, and what a great hub this one is.

Your mother in law sounds great. Cooking a turkey is one of the most difficult things to do in my point of view. My first turkey was a nightmare, yet my family said I did a great job with it; I'm very hard on myself! Pressure cookers are great! When my Mom makes black beans and rice, she uses the pressure cooker to tenderize the beans and it works out great.

Great hub - voted up


Great hub

Joshua Zerbini from Pennsylvania on July 16, 2012:


This is hilarious, sorry it is at your expense though. Your introduction was crafted with clever words. I enjoyed your introduction of your mother in law. I would not want to pick a fight with her. I am glad you are able to look back and laugh though, that is always a good thing!

Thanks for sharing and have a great night!

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on July 16, 2012:

One of my all time favorite Thanksgiving hubs! :))

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on June 01, 2012:

Vellur - She did come to the rescue that Thanksgiving, and we ended up having a wonderful time. Thanks for stopping in to read and comment!

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on May 31, 2012:

Your mother-in-law seems to be superwoman who came to rescue you that day. Glad you all had a good time in the end. Great write.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on May 31, 2012:

Thanks, Sunshine! This story seems much funnier now than it did at the time! My mother-in-law was quite a woman and I was lucky to have her in my life for as long as I did. She definitely saved the day on that fateful Thanksgiving! Glad you enjoyed the hub - thanks for your comments!

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on May 31, 2012:

How did I ever miss this masterpiece?!! Your mom-in-law sounds like superwoman! We could all learn a thing or two from her. I've heard about many oven elements burning out on Thanksgiving, you just never think it would ever be you! LOL!

Outstanding hub. I enjoyed how you told it!:)

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 19, 2011:

Silva Hayes - I guess it's payback! :) Thanks for sharing your story! I'll bet even the Pilgrims had some funny stories to tell about that first Thanksgiving!

Silva Hayes from Spicewood, Texas on November 19, 2011:

I too have a Thanksgiving disaster story that wasn't funny at the time but became funnier as the years wore on. Our first Thanksgiving away from my mom, we were stationed in Alaska and I invited about 10 people who were also far from home. When my husband started carving the turkey, I had left the bag of giblets inside it (my mom didn't stuff the turkey; she cooked the dressing in separate pans, so that's what I did). So I was mortified. Why is it always the turkey that sabotages us?

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 17, 2011:

Gryphin - The story of this Thanksgiving is a lot funnier now than it was then! But I agree, my mother in law was an ingenious woman, and her quick thinking saved the day! Thanks for your comments, Gryphin!

gryphin423 from Florida on November 17, 2011:

Such a great story Stephanie, we all have those kinds of moments. The air conditioning in our house went out during my June wedding. So, a houseful of relatives from up north who were not used to the heat. What can you do but laugh and move on? Thanks for sharing and your MIL sounded like an ingenious woman who helped solve the problem and did not criticize, now that's a great woman!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 17, 2011:

Wordscribe - Well, at least I haven't poisoned anyone (yet) with my various Thanksgiving Disasters! ...unlike my sister whose Ladies group served up ptomaine poisoning one year with their turkey stuffing... thanks for your comments ...now what about that green bean casserole?

Elsie Nelson from Pacific Northwest, USA on November 17, 2011:

Honestly, I don't know what loins are either. Anyway, a wonderful story and something that would totally happen to me. What is it about the damn turkey that always ruins the day, anyway? Interesting about the pressure cooker, who'da thunk? Anyway, thanks for sharing, there are many of us who feel quite intimidated by the talents of the mother-in-laws, no doubt. I won't even mention the green bean casserole I made one year.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 17, 2011:

Millionaire Tips -We can laugh about those first Thanksgiving disasters now, can't we? I learned a lot from my first experience, and I'm sure you did too! Thanks for stopping by!

Shasta Matova from USA on November 17, 2011:

That is a great story - and a great lesson, that a pressure cooker and a smart mother in law can save the day. Our first Thanksgiving, we didn't get a turkey. It was still frozen when it had been put in the oven, so parts were done and other parts were still ice.

Dawn Conklin from New Jersey, USA on October 06, 2011:

Great hub Stephanie! I think all of us have had at least one kitchen disaster-I have had mine too. At least you can say it was the oven :) I bet if that happened now you would probably be annoyed at the moment but then handle the problem but I can only imagine when you are younger, just married and the first time having the in-laws for dinner!! Glad it all worked out.

Sondra from Neverland on October 06, 2011:

Haha! I felt so bad but I couldn't help laughing :) I have had several Thanksgiving disasters...but they've all worked out in the end - like your dinner did. Now I actually look forward to cooking our dinner!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on October 06, 2011:

DzyMsLizzy - I have a little history of appliances sabotaging me! You're right, it all did end well, and the important part, being with family, is what mattered. Breaking with tradition is good sometimes, too! Have fun with your Thanksgiving pizza party- it will certainly be more relaxing for the cooks! Thanks for stopping by to read, comment and vote!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on October 06, 2011:

Oh my goodness! You can take comfort in knowing it was the oven that sabotaged you, so you did not fail one bit.

I would have been up that well-known creek; I don't own, and never have owned a pressure cooker. ;-)

In the end, though it sounds as if a great time was had by all; there was plenty to eat; it was delicious. And that is what it is all about--being happy being with family and friends--what the food looks like, or the menu itself is secondary.

This year, in fact, we're breaking the whole turkey-hassle mold entirely, and having take-and-bake pizza for our Thanksgiving dinner, and it's going to be a marvelous, laid-back, relaxed and fun day!

Great story--happy ending. Thanks for sharing! Voted up, interesting and (sorry) funny--things like that are always funny in retrospect, right? ;-)

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on October 06, 2011:

Moonlake - My mother-in-law saved the day with her quick thinking, and the pressure cooked turkey was just fine. I went on to have some successes and a few other disasters in my cooking career... :) Thanks for stopping by to read and comment!

Marellen - I always enjoy retelling this story as it did have a happy ending. Mmmm...turkey, suffing, sweet potatoes... I still make those traditional foods on Thanksgiving. Thanks for commenting, Marellen!

Charlotte - Glad you enjoyed my story. I'm not sure about being a "great Mother-in-law"...that might be debatable depending on who you ask! Haha... Thanks for coming by to read my story and to comment!

Charlotte B Plum on October 06, 2011:

Wow I really enjoyed reading this, what great memories! I am sure you make a great mother-in-law - love your sense of humor!

marellen on October 06, 2011:

My mouth was watering reading all the other fixing you had with that darn bird. Great story and one you will never forget. Thanks for sharing....

moonlake from America on October 06, 2011:

I would never use a pressure cooker..Thought they would blow up and my mother had never used one. My mother-in-law used hers all the time. She also could do anything.

We did finally use a huge one in later years for canning.

Enjoyed your story.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 09, 2010:

Hi Jaye, It seems that that Thanksgiving was only one of a long line of cooking disasters. At least that one wasn't my fault! My mother-in-law wasn't around to rescue me from most of them, so they didn't all have such happy endings. If nothing else, they make good stories to tell my daughters-in-law.

Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on November 08, 2010:

Hi, Stephanie...Enjoyed your Thanksgiving "disaster avoided" story. Your mother-in-law certainly had ingenuity! The pressure cooker was an inspired idea. Of course, it's the chaotic situations that are remembered even more fondly through the years than the times when everything was perfect. People love recalling funny things that happened "way back when...." JAYE

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 08, 2010:

Thanks for stopping by MoneyGlitch and CMHypno. Those disasters seemed more tragic at the time than they do as time passes. It's just nice to get to the point where you can laugh about it.

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on November 08, 2010:

They say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger! We've all had cooking/relatives disasters and many years later they can still make you cringe! Interesting hub

Money Glitch from Texas on November 07, 2010:

Awesome story! Everyone has shared in at least one disaster for this holiday and I agree with you in later years, it does bring back memories of those that are now gone. Thanks for sharing. Thumbs up! :)

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 06, 2010:

Hi Peggy,

Thanks for reading my hub and for your kind comments. As a Newbe, I've been so inspired by writers like you and others on HubPages and appreciate your comments so much. That Thanksgiving was truly unforgettable!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 06, 2010:

Great story about your first Thanksgiving "disaster." Somehow we always remember those more than the perfect meals and they give us cause for smiles and laughter later on in life. Smart thinking on your mother-in-law's part to use the pressure cooker! My mother-in-law made a great cherry pie with lattice crust. I tried once...burned the lattice and never tried again. We just enjoyed hers while she was still alive. Considered her to be the expert which she was at baking. This is funny and beautiful at the same time and rating it so. :-)

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