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Grumpy Old Turkeys, Cranberry Sauce and Distance— But Not Mariah

Updated: Nov 30, 2019

Me. A selfie, taken just before my grand epiphany

Here we are again, on the cusp of the holidays. Usually, without fail, it’s my favorite time of the year, but this November I’m not exactly filled with glee… yet. It’s 70-something degrees as I write this and the sun is shining brightly— all in all, a beautiful day. Thanksgiving is upon us and I’ve gotta get busy!

So, what’s the problem?

Oh no! Could it be that I’m becoming one of those Grumpy Old Turkeys that I dread (!!!) dealing with?

I certainly hope not, but as I prepare my make-ahead dishes for which I fought the multitudes of shoppers in order to get the last bag of cranberries in a ten-mile radius, I’m just not feelin’ it. Tuning into the Christmas music stations doesn’t help; if I hear Mariah Carey scream, All I Want for Christmas is You one more time, I may chew my arm off.

I need an attitude adjustment, quickly!

What is a Grumpy Old Turkey?

One of my all-time favorite movies is Grumpy Old Men. The antics and crabbiness of John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon) and Max Goldman (Walter Matthau) can keep me laughing for a couple of hours every time, regardless of how many times I watch it.

(Click the arrow to view clip)

The problem with this is that grouchy people are only funny in the movies. When you run into negative, mean-spirited, angry, antagonizers in real life, they aren’t hilarious. At all.

They don’t want kids on their lawns. They argue with waitresses, salesclerks, bank tellers, and anyone else who dares offend their fragile sensitivities. Don’t even think about crossing them.

Those Grumpy Old Turkeys walk among us. You know the ones — they are experts at pushing every button you have, and then they blame you for “losing it” when you've finally had enough. They try to bully or guilt you into doing things you don’t want to do. They want life— and you— on their terms, period.

And while that may have worked in our 30s and 40s, I think it’s safe to say that by the time a Baby Boomer hits their fifth or sixth generation, they’ve developed a stronger sense of self-respect. Manipulations that once worked like a charm, don’t fly anymore.

We expect better.

The holidays bring out the best in some; the very worst in others. Family members are expected to bring their most civil selves to the table. Sometimes that happens, sometimes not so much. In those cases, Norman Rockwell probably looks down on our Thanksgiving festivities and thinks, “Apparently, I missed something. I’ve got this all wrong.”

Truth in a tune

I love music, mainly because it never ceases to amaze me how song lyrics can easily and accurately relay words that are so difficult to actually say. I can’t be bothered with the confines of specific genres. My playlist reads like an eclectic nightmare for anyone who’s a diehard country or rock-music-only lover. Nope, not me. I have a nerve-wrecking playlist of everything from Hank Williams to Nirvana, Dean Martin to Gaga (but not Mariah), with a real penchant for independent artists. It comes as no surprise then that I’d trip over the alternative Southern-rock’s Drive-by Truckers oddball song, The Thanksgiving Filter,.

It's all about dysfunctional family gatherings.

While I totally get that this song will not reflect everyone’s sentiments, it does give me a good laugh because it depicts what at least one guy notices about the table of people who are forced to be together when they’d rather be just about anywhere else on the planet. Written by Patterson Hood in 2006 and released in 2011, the song references a now out-of-date political rivalry, but the cardinal-rule is more relevant today than ever: STAY AWAY FROM THE TOPIC OF POLITICS!

(Lyrics excerpt)

So put the food on the table and Papa say a blessing They're cutting up some turkey and gobbling some dressing My aunt's praising Palin and my niece loves Obama My uncle came to dinner wearing his pajamas

Thank God for the filter that enables some distance From the screaming and crying, and the needs of assistance You wonder why I drink and curse the holidays, Blessed be my family, 300 miles away

Don’t ever discuss religion, money, current affairs, family affairs, love affairs, gun control or uncontrolled kids at a holiday table. The weather— stick with the weather. It’s always a safe topic and if you live in Texas, you’ll get a brand-new perspective every three or four hours, so the conversation should stay fresh!

Keep in mind that those who are seated at your side no matter how irritating they are, may not be around to fill that seat next year.

(Lyrics excerpt)

Grandmother's wheelchair is sitting in the corner We all sure love her but the little ones avoid her 'Cause she's gray-haired and wrinkled, and her burden looks heavy Ninety years of survival can look awful scary

Papa's building something and has since history But what he's building is still a mystery It's big and it's twisted, and shaped convoluted It don't have a function but you better salute it

Just take it as it comes, and b-r-e-a-t-h-e. Then pack up, go home and rest because Santa Claus is coming to town— soon.

And you'll have to do it all over again.

Menus and memories

I am very happy to say that my immediate family, for the most part, enjoys each other’s company. This could be because I’ve declared our home to be a Drama-Free Zone, particularly during the holidays. Non-negotiable.

We are having a traditional meal with a bit of a Cajun flair because our family has very diverse appetites. It’s a bit different from the holidays I remember as a child. In the words of Erma Bombeck, “I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.”

“You can tell you ate too much for Thanksgiving when you have to let your bathrobe out.” Jay Leno

Our special days were spent in a whirlwind of travel in order to get from one place to another so that no one would be offended. It was rough, and I never had the opportunity to stay home and prepare Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners for our household because we had to get up early and hit the road every holiday. But it had its good points, as well. We ate turkey and all the fixings until the sight of any kind of poultry would send us running to the nearest Sonic for a junk-food fix of anything-but-turkey. And there is something good to be said for the hustle and bustle of trying to fit it all in.

These days, I’m pretty much “open” and up for suggestions about when and where we celebrate. Fortunately, the kids opt to come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And I love it. Both my sons and their wives are excellent cooks and they are willing and able to bring dishes to help with the preparations. (That’s something to be thankful for!)

The house will be filled with delicious aromas of slowly simmered chicken stock for the gravy and dressing, freshly baked pecan pies, and all the usual, traditional trimmings. I have a favorite recipe that I drag out every year from a Southern Living's Annual Recipes cookbook, 1988, and it's a welcome change from the canned cranberries with the upside- down labels.

It's easy, delicious and there's no upside down can to contend with! Not to mention, it needs to chill for eight hours, so it's a perfect make-ahead dish.


Cranberry Relish

1 orange, unpeeled

2 cups fresh cranberries

1 cup diced, unpeeled apple

1 (8 oz) can crushed pineapple, unsweetened, drained

1/3 cup sugar

Quarter and seed orange and place in food processor. (Do not peel.) Pulse until coarsely ground. Place into medium bowl; set aside. Pulse cranberries until coarsely ground. Add cranberries and remaining ingredients to processed orange; mix well. Cover and chill 8 hours.


Did you know that the cans of traditional cranberry sauce, regardless of the brand, are intentionally sealed/printed "upside down" so that the air bubble will be at the bottom of the can? A knife inserted between the can and the jelly will activate the vacuum. The sauce/jelly will slip out easily, eliminating the need to open both ends. (You're welcome!)


Before it's too late

As I set the table this year, I’m reminded of how much has changed over the past year. We’ve lost close friends and family members; November has hit me particularly hard. And although it’s an annual harsh reality-check, it’s always a cold, hard, sobering fact to realize that the older I get, the more folks I have to “delete” from my address book and Christmas card list because they are no longer with us.

Next week, I will travel to Lubbock for the memorial service of Carroll, my friend for over 35 years. Recently, we reconnected because she wanted to say “goodbye.” She was very ill and wanted to reconnect one last time. While once we were neighbors and very close friends, time changed everything. She moved away and distance eventually caused us to not see each other as much, and then finally not at all.

While we never had a cross word, those miles between Carroll and me kept us far enough apart to dissolve the closeness we once shared. Trust me, nobody wants to receive the “final goodbye” call. By then, it’s too late to make up for all the lost years borne of something as simple as geographical distance.

I think of Carroll's family and how there will be an empty seat at their table this year, and I think of all the friends I know who are battling an illness, financial hardships or family issues that seem nearly insurmountable.

And I realize I have no right to be grumpy. None at all.

The blue-mood lifts

As I sit here, penning this post, Alexa’s Holiday Traditions has smiled down on me by playing Dean Martin’s apparently-no-longer-boycotted Baby It’s Cold Outside, immediately followed by the Eagles' Come Home for Christmas. (And I haven't had to suffer through Mariah Carey's vocal gymnastics for quite some time now!)

During the course of listening to two of my favorite seasonal songs, all the things and people in my life for which I am truly grateful seemed to make themselves known. It became crystal clear that I’m blessed beyond measure and thankful for all the positive things we’ve been granted in 2019.

Me. Selfie, taken right after the grand epiphany

I no longer felt grouchy. I was ready to get on with it, with a genuine smile.

Thank goodness, I was no longer among the card- carrying Grumpy Old Turkeys. The last thing the world needs is one more.

The holidays are stressful. Hallmark movies put every bit as much pressure on us to have a “perfect” celebration as Rockwell did on his very best day! Nobody’s life is that flawless. Make the best of whoever is at your table this Thanksgiving and Christmas, and pray you'll get out with minimal emotional scrapes and bruises.

We can grin and bear it, find humor in it, eat the turkey, Turducken, Tofurkey (Tofu turkey) or whatever other dietary-restricted or calorie-laden food we are offered, with a smile on our face; or we can gnash our teeth in frustration and go home with a raging migraine.

The choice is ours.

That said, if there are those in your life who simply “suck the air out of your room” — those who are more than garden-variety irritating— let go. Some people are simply easier to bear from “300 miles away.”

Yes. Unfortunately, there are rare circumstances where distance—whether geographical or emotional— is the only solution.

But if there’s someone important in your life who you’ve unintentionally lost contact with, look them up. Don’t wait, because when you're halfway into that final “goodbye call,” it’s too late.


Then rent yourself "Grumpy Old Men" or turn up the Christmas songs (but not Mariah's) and brew some hot apple cider— "hard," if you so desire. There are only four full weeks left IN THIS DECADE. Live every second to the fullest.

And while I’m preaching, remember this: eat the pumpkin pie first.

Because, sadly, you just never know…

May God bless each and every one of you,


For a more traditional, appropriate song, click to enjoy Mary Chapin Carpenter's Thanksgiving Song


In loving memory of Carroll Jean Roesler (10/21/52 — 11/2/19)

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