“The Thanksgiving Train Incident”"
Michael P. Nickels
“...Out of the mouths of babes..." reads the Bible. I always thought this meant that children, like drunks and yoga pants, never lie, but one Thanksgiving I learned that a toddler can also pass along wisdom with just a few short words or maybe even just one.
About twelve years ago I made one of my better decisions. My wife and I decided that we wanted to stay home for Thanksgiving. Several events prompted this decision. Firstly, the overall stress of loading up our very young sons and carting them across town to spend time with loved ones had become quite stressful.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my family very much, but my wife and I felt we had reached a point where we wanted to establish our own holiday traditions. We tried to make it clear that anyone and everyone was welcome to come to our house, but we had decided that we were going to spend Thanksgiving at home. Another contributing factor was the fact I had purchased a turkey fryer and wanted to break it in. Thankfully my parents were very understanding.
In fact, the conversation I had feared the most was the one that was the most enlightening. Pop, as I call him, had been hosting Thanksgiving for a while and I really expected that he might be upset or at least a little disappointed. It turned out to be a very pleasant phone call.
“Hey, Pop, how are you?” I began.
He always answers the same cheery way. “Hey, Mike! What's up?”
“I’m good, thanks, but I have to tell you something and I hope it doesn’t upset you.”
“Well, let’s hear it,” he said in a pleasant tone.
“Well,” I drawled , “Beth and I are planning to stay home this Thanksgiving. We bought a turkey fryer, Ashley and the boys are getting older and we just want to spend the day at home. I hope you understand.”
There was a long pause and I felt for sure he was upset. After waiting a few more seconds there was an unexpected noise coming from the phone.
“Pop, are you laughing?”
“I am indeed,” he told me still chuckling.
“What’s so funny?”
“I have been waiting for you to tell me this for the last 3 or 4 years,” he said with a laugh.
“Oh my God, yes,” he affirmed. “I had this same conversation with your grandfather about 25 or 30 years ago.”
“Yep, I did and he reacted just as I did today.”
“Did he now?”
“Yes, and I completely understand. You need to start your own traditions.”
“Well, uh, thanks for understanding, Pop.”
“No problem, son. Enjoy the day.”
I had expected that conversation to be the most challenging part of staying home on Thanksgiving. Do you believe I actually thought to myself that this Thanksgiving will be perfectly easy and stress free.
Thanksgiving morning arrived crisp and clear. Like any public school teacher, Mr. Nickels was in a state of blissful happiness. I woke up early and made a pot of coffee. Every morning I make a cup of coffee for my wife and give it to her while she’s still in bed. After that, I attacked the crossword puzzle in the Star and then read for a while. Beth came downstairs to freshen up her coffee. Our two boys, who were very young at this time, slept late that morning.
Around 10:00 Beth suggested that I start getting the turkey fryer ready. She reminded me that our daughter, Ashley, and her boyfriend (at the time), Chuck, were supposed to arrive around 12:30. Have I mentioned yet that reminding me about things is something my wife does very well?
“Don’t forget they have to be at his parents by 4:00 so we need to be on schedule,” Beth said.
“Okay,” I replied, “but aren’t you glad we don’t have that issue this year?”
“I am,” Beth said as she gave me a hug, “but we need to hurry and get things ready.”
“I am,” Beth said as she gave me a hug, “but we need to hurry and get things ready.”
This was Beth’s subtle way of telling me to get my @$$ in gear. This I did. A wise man learns to listen to the tone of his wife’s voice. In other words, a happy man knows that "if mama ain’t happy then nobody’s happy."
So I went into the garage and hauled all my shiny new turkey fryer equipment out to the patio. This included the peanut oil, the pot/tub for the turkey, the propane tank, the lighter, and all the cooking utensils needed for lowering the bird in and out of the boiling oil. I made one more trip back to the garage to grab the fire extinguisher. I’ve never had to use it, but it’s good to have it nearby just in case.
The fryer assembly went well and I had all the equipment and utensils that I would need. After pouring the jug of peanut oil into the tub I noticed the oil level was about 4 inches below the fill-line. I went back into the garage thinking I forgot to bring out the extra gallon of oil I asked Beth to get from the store. There was no extra jug of oil in the garage. So I went into the kitchen to ask Beth about it.
“Hey, Hon?” I called as I walked through the mud-room and into our kitchen. “Where did you put that extra gallon of peanut oil I asked you to get from the grocery store?”
“You never asked me to do that?”
“Yes, I did.”
“No, you didn’t.”
There was a clear note of finality in her voice. Nothing productive was going to be gained from arguing about whether or not I had actually made the request in question. Recognizing things like this is one of the reasons that I have been married to the same person for nearly 24 years.
“Any kind of cooking oil will work won’t it?” Beth asked.
“I dunno?” was my eloquent reply.
Beth shot a rumpled grin at me and I thought I heard her sigh. We then walked over to the kitchen pantry and found a quart size bottle of vegetable oil. It was only half full. It’s good to be optimistic especially on Thanksgiving.
“Will that work?” I asked. “I mean can you mix the oils?”
“Of course you can,” she said while looking at me in a way that made me feel stupid.
I took it out to the patio and poured the remaining oil into the tub. It barely raised the oil level. It became obvious to me that a Wal-Mart run was necessary. I went ahead and connected the fuel line to the propane tank and lit the burner, making sure the flame was turned down really low. I went back into the kitchen to tell Beth that we need more oil.
“Hey, Beth, I’m going to have to go to Wal-Mart to get some more oil.”
“You better hurry up,” she replied. Her voice sounded urgent. “Ashley and Chuck will be here in an hour.”
“Okay, I’ll hurry.”
Just as I grabbed my keys we heard a clunk from upstairs. We both knew what the sound was. It was our youngest son, Carson. He had a habit of throwing toys out of his bed when he woke up.
“You’ll have to take Carson,” Beth told me. “I can’t get him and Griffin dressed and ready, watch the stove and the oven, now the turkey fryer too, and straighten up the downstairs and the upstairs!”
Her stress level seemed to increase with each and every word. For a moment I almost protested, but my intelligence got the better of me.
“No problem,” I told my frantic bride.
I went upstairs and got Carson out of bed. Fortunately for me he was drowsy, but not grouchy.
“You’re going to the store with me, Kit,” I told him. I called him ‘Kit’ after the famous scout, ‘Kit’ Carson. After changing him and getting him dressed I carried him downstairs where Beth was waiting. She gave me my wallet , the diaper bag, and a bottle for Carson.
“Please hurry,” she whined.
“Don’t need the extra stress, thanks,” I thought to myself.
“Okay,” was my sole reply.
After loading Carson into the car, I drove out of Kensington Farms as quickly as safety would permit. We turned right onto Sunnyside Road. I accelerated toward the railroad crossing, but slowed down just enough to pause at the tracks. Just as I looked to my left I heard a clanging sound followed by the wail of a train's whistle, I saw the red blinking lights, and I saw the black and white striped arm slowly descend.
Before I could say, “Oh shit!” Carson spoke his first words of the day.
“Cool! Daddy, we get to see the whole thing!”
It made me smile and then it made me laugh. I looked into the rearview mirror and I could see my little boy grinning from ear to ear.
Can you guess the one word he uttered that made the difference? Can you guess the one word that was dripping with joy, wisdom and gratitude?
The word was “we.” My son taught me the simple significance and the value of being together. I’m sorry to say that over the years I periodically forget this, but every Thanksgiving this memory returns. I smile gratefully and say a quiet humble thanks for that train and the cooking oil I forgot to buy.
Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!
A younger version of my now 16 year old son would like to wish you a very safe, happy & politically correct Thanksgiving.