Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I'm Thankful for my Oven

Alternate title: A White Trash Thanksgiving.

The time: Thanksgiving, 1992. I was a college student, but not your ordinary one, oh, no. Despite my insistence that I, Am, Lazy, I tend toward the type of impulsive decisions and movements that really bite me in the ass and force me to work harder than I need.

And so it was that as this particular Thanksgiving day approached, I was a 26-year-old, full-time college student at the University of South Dakota. I was divorced, with a 1-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 7-year-old. I did not receive child support, and made too much money from my 20-hour-per week, minimum-wage workstudy, to qualify for welfare payments.

To say we were poor is a significant understatment. I used part of a student loan to put $500 down on the house that we lived in. The total price on the contract-for-deed: $2,500. I was on food stamps, child care assistance, heating assistance, and every other type of assistance I could find to get me through college and DONE.

On this particular Thanksgiving, I was given a very large turkey by a local charity, along with all the basics needed to put together a good Turkey Day feast.

Except that, well, I didn't have an oven. I didn't even have a large pot to boil it in, but that was besides the point: who has boiled turkey on Thanksgiving?

I had a range, of sorts - a friend of mine had clued me into it. She found it in a vacant lot with weeds grown up around it, a 1945 model that "looked like it should work." I actually got that thing loaded and drove it home, slowly, sticking out of the trunk of my 1980 Olds Delta 88. For FREE.

I got it home and I rigged some house wiring so that it was on the same circuit as the electric dryer I'd paid $25 for that, one day, gave a huge BANG! and flames sorta, well, shot out of the back of it. Yada,yada,yada, I took the back off and found a lot of charred something, and over $15 in change. As I've said before, my life has been interesting.

Anyhoo, the range and dryer were direct-wired in to the same circuit which is kind of dangerous and definitely illegal in most places, but I was "country" so it was okay.
I could never use them at the same time or somewhere a fuse would blow, but at least I could use them. However, unfortunately once in place I found that only two of the burners worked and the oven didn't work at all, but hey! I had a stove!

Now a friend of mine had an old Coleman grill that her husband had accidentally hit with the truck, and asked if I wanted it. She swore I could cook my turkey on it, given enough foil wrapped around it. It was pretty dented and the legs were trashed, but the lid sealed and so I set it up in my front yard on cinder blocks (no, I'm not making this up) and on Thanksgiving day, 1992, I fired up the coals.

For the next 5-6 hours I tended the turkey that I had wrapped in an entire roll of heavy-duty aluminum foil. I would set a timer and go outside every 40 minutes or so in my parka and snow pants (November, South Dakota) to turn the bird and pointedly ignore any of the 200 fellow townspeople who drove by just a little too slowly to stare at that crazy woman.

But anway. My friend who swore that this would work also came by, amazed, because, well, she'd never actually done it, and was curious to see if it actually worked. There I was: occasionally turning it until juices started leaking through the foil. I guessed it must be done, and dontcha know that eventually, it was, and it was delicious. The meat was falling off the bone, it was so done. But not something I'd care to repeat. A large pan in an oven inside the house is so much more, well, civilized. But if you want to try it, more power to you.

So the moral of the story is, I'm thankful for my oven, even if I don't eat turkey any more.

PS: Animals are friends, not food (you know I had to say it.)

PPS: Now it's your turn: tell me what weird thing are you thankful for?



  1. That's one of the best thanksgiving stories I've ever read. Serious.

  2. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours GeekGirl!

  3. I'll be sure to ask for your recipe next time our stove and micro both quit and we have to fire up the grill for some holiday or 'nother...

    HAPPY THANKSGIVING! (They could only get better, right?)

  4. I bow before your culinary genius.

  5. Love the story, especially the part about finding $15 in change in back of the stove! What OTHER story is behind that I wonder?
    So what do you have on Thanksgiving? Do you eat the Tofurkey? Or just the side dishes? Just curious.

  6. I make a roast, but it's from vegetable sources. It would be hard to explain it without it sounding weird, but I form it around stuffing and cook it in one of those "oven" bags. Then green bean casserole and corn pudding, but made with silken tofu, soymilk, and corn starch as my thickeners instead of eggs, and sweet potatoes. This year I'm trying a new recipe: a pumpkin pie with a candied pecan upper crust.

  7. I'm thankful that I found your blog because I love your stories of true grit and determination. When you were out on the IMKY course and Pirate and I were fretfully watching for you to finish I assured her that you would. I knew you would. I told her that any woman who could live in a shack with 3 kids and get through school would finish an IM because I that's how you roll.

    Enjoy your oven roasted whatever!

  8. Fabulous! Way to work the situation and get the best from it.

    The only weird Thanksgiving day story I have is that I cook the turkey. This is funny because I am a vegetarian. My hubby is not and would not know how to cook a turkey if it were to save his life.

    One year a friend of ours came over, she had also never cooked a turkey. She was so grossed out by the raw bird (yes it is disgusting - I don't like cooking it at all. This is the one thing husband MUST have on the holiday.) that when I almost dropped the creature on the floor she started screaming. Apparently she thought the headless, naked, very sad and dead bird, could come back to life. I'd like to know what she was on and if she'd share!

  9. Happy Thanksgiving to you GGtI

  10. Happy Thanksgiving! I'm thankful I found your blog while I was still in New Mexico and we got to meet!


  11. happy thanksgiving, mrs. geekgirl - I'm thankful to have you in my world!

  12. Happy Turkey/Vegetable Loaf Day!

    I'm thankful for all sorts of weird things, but I assume you saw my list. :-)

  13. Joining this thankfest belatedly (just catching up since last week) and - what a great story - of all the things I admire you for, the way you handled yourself when you were in greatest need, and how far you've brought yourself, is the most inspiring and thoughtprovoking (words to remember whenever I indulge in a pity party of one kind or another!)


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