The celebration of the holidays is not without its challenges. It usually involves too many relatives, packed like sardines and sweating because grandma likes the heat set at approximately 8 million degrees.
Maybe it's the mix of liquor and the challenge of catering to too many tastes and dietary requirements. Maybe it's the frayed nerves and the numerous rugrats underfoot. Whatever the case, celebrating the holidays can turn downright unholy at times.
Xpress caught up with a few people willing to tell their most humiliating, disgusting, in-law-estranging tales. Here they are, in all their glory. We hope that you may be able to learn by their mistakes — or, if nothing else, laugh at their foibles. Except for Stephanie Morgan's story. There's nothing funny about burn-victim face.
— Mackensy Lunsford
“I have two. Here's the first one:
About 17 or 18 years ago, I had a then-boyfriend to Thanksgiving dinner at my mother's house. He dissed my mom's gravy as being ‘too Yankee-fied.’ She had dinner all beautifully laid out on the dining-room table. Fueled, perhaps, by anger at the jerk-off's comment, she opened a bottle of champagne with rather too much force. The cork flew up, slammed into the chandelier, broke it, and glass rained down endlessly onto our food, ruining every bite. Big fun.
And here's the second:
Our son's first Thanksgiving happened when he was just five weeks old. I was feeling post-partum-y and not up to cooking dinner for our big extended family that includes lots of exes, steps, etc. So we took what I thought was the easy route and invited just my husband Scott's mother over, along with her current husband (number four), L.B. Both of them are vegetarians, dyed-in-the-wool old hippies, and we went out to J&S Cafeteria for dinner so they could avail themselves of all the side items. If you've ever been to J&S you're aware of the demographic — conservative blue-hairs all the way, and on Thanksgiving it's packed to the gills.
Over the candied sweet potatoes, Scott and L.B. managed to get into a loud argument about exactly when Ken Kesey's literary power started to decline and the role that certain hallucinogens played therewith. All the forks in the restaurant stopped, all eyes and ears turned toward us to watch them banter. Cafeteria MSG is a dangerous drug!”
— Melanie McGee Bianchi, freelance writer, contributing editor, Carolina Home + Garden
"A few years ago, my youngest sister came up with a unique way to handle the Halloween candy challenge. About a month after her marriage, she and her new spouse were invited to Thanksgiving dinner with the in-laws. She offered to bring dessert.
My sister has always been, well, creative, in the kitchen. When considering how to impress her new in-laws, she had a moment of culinary inspiration — she decided to make a candy bar pie.
She took all her leftover Halloween chocolate bars — Reese’s, Butterfingers, Snickers, Kit Kats — and tossed them into a double boiler. Once melted, she poured the candy goo into a store-bought Graham Cracker crumb crust. She topped the confection with Cool Whip and popped it into the freezer.
As dinner at the in-laws ended, my proud sister presented her candy-bar pie with a flourish. 'I wanted to be cute and creative,' she recalls. 'And the presentation was excellent.'
Unfortunately, the pie was not.
It had hardened to a rock-like consistency. 'You could kind of gnaw around the edges,' my sister says. 'And to my in-laws’ credit, they pretended to like it.'
Unlike the indestructible candy bar pie, my sister’s marriage crumbled several years later."
— Anne Fitten Glenn, aka Edgy Mama, aka Brewgasm
"There was an occasion when my grandparents were looking after someone else's dog and, just before service while no one was watching, the dog — Nutmeg was her name, I think — jumped up on the dining room table and ran off with a most delectable roasted leg of lamb.
As the story goes, my dad and his brother had to restrain my grandmother, who went chasing after the dog with a butcher knife."
— John Watters, freelance writer
"The night before Thanksgiving, two of us decided to take my dog and go hiking up on Roan Mountain. A hailstorm kicks up, and it's so bad that we can't have the tent out in the open. It's so thick, we can't find the shelter on the Appalachian Trail and we're just getting pummeled with hail — big hail that hurts.
We have to use ropes to pull back the branches of a tree, clear the area, move the tent into the tree, build a barricade in front of us out of other branches, then release the ropes and lock ourselves into the tree — two grown men and a big dog. We woke up Thanksgiving morning freezing and in a four-inch pile of hail.
We finally get out — much worse for wear — and hike down the mountain to the car. We get lost without realizing it on the way home. We turn a corner and are in downtown Bristol, Va., realizing we are going to be a few hours late for Thanksgiving dinner back in Asheville.
On the way home, we're coming down what was then 19/23 in northern Madison County where there's that big grade, and we get pulled over doing 95 in a 65 [mile-per-hour zone] with a bunch of beer cans and a half-drank bottle of whiskey in the back seat. Fortunately, we weren't drinking that day. OK, the driver wasn’t.
We tell the cop the story … even the part about ending up in Bristol and being late for dinner. He writes us a ticket for 19 over — the legal limit before he has to arrest someone. It was a $465 ticket, I think.
When we finally arrive home, we're greeted at our friends' apartment by a middle-aged professional soul singer from Philadelphia who is dating my friend's mom. It was just surreal after coming out of a hail storm and in such rough shape.
So in 24 hours it goes from ‘Hell yeah, let's go camping!’ to a speeding ticket, late for dinner, covered in welts with a bunch of ruined gear.
But it was actually pretty fun.”
— Sean McDonald, Jute Networks
"I think it was '98. My parents were in New York City and they were coming back late in the evening on Thanksgiving day. We were planning on not having a Thanksgiving dinner that year. I decided at the last minute to surprise them. I just decided that I would try my hand at cooking, having never cooked anything much more than a frozen pizza. I bought everything: candied yams, a turkey, probably green beans and mashed potatoes, if I remember right. I had no idea how long the turkey was supposed to thaw. Apparently, it's much more than a half a day.
I ran hot water over the turkey in the sink while I cooked everything*, then I put the turkey in the oven. Once they got home, we started preparing to eat and, cutting the turkey, realized that only about the outer two-and-a-half inches were cooked. I think we ended up cutting around the edges and actually eating some turkey.
The rest of the meal was good."
— Jason Shope, Xpress webmaster
*Editor's note: When Xpress casually mentions to Shope that he could have killed someone by serving a turkey that had been thawing for only a couple of hours under hot water, Shope replies, "How?! Could it have exploded? Oh. You mean with poisoning. Both of my parents were nurses, and so was my grandmother, so I figured we were somewhat safe. If we did get food poisoning, we'd probably survive."
“I made the mistake of taking the Amtrak train from Florida to Baltimore one Thanksgiving. The 12-hour return trip took 25 hours when our engine broke down. Thankfully, I was traveling with almost a case of beer in my duffel bag. I just parked myself (and my luggage) in the dining car, and made plenty of friends.”
— Eric Seeger, WNC Magazine
"My mom was horrified when, one Thanksgiving, she returned to the dining table and the ham was gone. Our thieving Doberman Pinscher had lifted it. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the same thing happened the very next year! The dog was definitely in the doghouse, but at least we still had the turkey."
—Melissa Cain Smith, WNC Magazine
"I was working as a wilderness counselor down in Florida. My group was having Thanksgiving dinner in one of the tents we had painstakingly built from pine trees and vinyl tarps. I was the cook that night, responsible for getting everything off the fire and to the table after everyone else was seated. I was carrying a boiling pot of gravy to complete the offerings. It was hot that night (it was Florida). A co-counselor went to swat a big moth from the table. His hand came up under the pot I was holding.
Gravy went all over my face. I went screaming to a giant washbasin of water meant for after-dinner dishes. I ended up in the emergency room, smelling of campfire and dressed in camos. The doctor diagnosed eight burns, some third degree.
Prescription: burn cream and "stay out of sunshine.” Well, the next day we left on a canoe trip — for 10 days. Burn-victim face ensued. I didn't know at that time if I would have a normal face again. It changed my perspective. Luckily it wasn't just before the prom."
— Stephanie Morgan, stephaniesid
“My Thanksgiving Disaster story doesn't involve cake, it involves turkey. As I was a vegetarian for 15 years, I didn't have any experience roasting a whole turkey. The first year I hosted family Thanksgiving at my home after my son was born, I waited until Thanksgiving day to buy the turkey, and the only one available was frozen. Needless to say, we didn't eat Thanksgiving dinner until 10 p.m. They were very gracious, but I didn’t feel like a very impressive hostess. I've gotten much better since then.”
— Jodi Rhoden, Short Street Cakes
This was 2000. I was visiting my sister-in-law and brother and they had just had twins. I volunteered to help with the Thanksgiving meal. I came down with the flu, so I was trying to make Thanksgiving dinner with a 102 degree temperature. I was completely delusional. It was this completely chaotic atmosphere where we had these infant twins screaming, I'm trying to cook a meal with a 100-degree temperature, and that's when I forgot to take the innard bag out of the turkey. I thought I had, but I guess I was just not with it.
I made this great stuffing and went ahead and stuffed the turkey. Of course, when we started pulling the stuffing out, out came this plastic bag. It was like something out of a science fiction movie. It was just kind of gross.
—Leah McGrath, Ingles Dietitian
To set the scene here, Hector Diaz and some friends were drinking — heavily it seems — at a friend's property. They had the bright idea to grab some BB guns and mow down some wild turkeys.
"We got like, maybe seven birds, so each one got to take a bird home. I took my bird home, put it in the hot water, pulled out all the feathers, I cleaned it up and marinated it.
The next day, I'm very happy. I tell my family, 'Guys, we're having wild turkey for the first time. Papa caught a wild turkey!' It was a big deal.
I went in my back yard and made a big hole. I pour the charcoal in there, I get my fire ready, I put the bird on some nice iron stakes. I'm inside making my sides, cooking my turkey, telling my family, 'Guys, this is so good! This is happening! It's amazing.'
It was a little breezy that evening. All the leaves and everything was dry. Very pretty evening, but a little breezy. I said to my wife, 'Sweetheart, I'm going to start the potatoes, open a bottle of champagne, let's celebrate!' All of a sudden, I look out the window and see a little smoke, more smoke than normal coming from the turkey. When I got there, one of the ashes from the hole had hit the ground, the wind blew it, and it had started to burn the yard. I tried to put it out with my feet, but it was spreading fast because of the wind. I went back to the house to get the hose, and by that time, I hear sirens. Half of the yard was already burning, little by little, like a prairie fire.
I look back, and the fire department's ready with a big hose, and they start spraying. Everything. The fire, the turkey. All the smoke came pouring out, and my wife and kids were just laughing.
When I looked again, my turkey was gone. Burnt turkey. I picked it up and showed it to my family and said, 'we're not having turkey.' I look at the fire department, and they say, 'Hector, I'm sorry. Here's a ticket for $175.'
The neighbors next door came with a big turkey though, and shared it.
Really though, I don't recommend wild turkey. It's really not healthy, in my opinion. You don't know what they're eating. Those things are funky."
—Hector Diaz, chef, restauranteur, personality
— Send your food news to Mackensy Lunsford at firstname.lastname@example.org