This story is the true story of my mother’s family’s 1953 Christmas. Mother has told this story, backed up word-for-word by my grandparents, every year and I decided it would make a good holiday story to share with readers.
The year was 1953: Eisenhower was elected president and my mother’s family was celebrating Christmas with elation! 1953 was also the year that her family’s Christmas Dinner became the Christmas that shall live in infamy.
The coming Cold War was about to look luke warm compared to this night!
Every year my Grandmother "Nanny" cooked Christmas dinner. Nanny’s holiday dinners were feasts of stuffed turkey with all the trimmings. My grandfather "Pop" hunted every holiday dinner: turkey, pheasant, and quail. But the stuffed turkey with all those succulent trimmings was the juicy Christmas prize everyone waited to devour. But the Christmas of 1953 was going to be different and memorable.
That Christmas Eve, after Pop hunted the turkey, my Aunt Alice insisted she cook the turkey so Nanny could "focus on those wonderful trimmings you cook like no one else."
Suddenly the family holiday tradition was broken: Aunt Alice roasted the Christmas Turkey.
Family’s never break holiday dinner traditions set up be women unless they have some deep desire to commit suicide. You see, women, who have their holiday traditions taken from them, especially the dinners, turn into unforgiving rabid beasts who will forever despise the other woman stealing any dinner from the Queen Bee of the holiday dinners. There can be nothing less than death by hate-roasting that holiday dinner usurper!
Naturally Nanny insisted she cook her prize turkey! After all, Christmas feasts were her specialty! Everyone who knew my grandmother knew she would fight for what belonged to her, and that was done with a very polite "I’ll kill you" if you if you try tone and smile.
Nanny considered every dinner her specialty, and no one interfered unless they wanted to die young-and painfully.
Aunt Alice wouldn’t hear of it. Aunt Alice told Nanny that the turkey had already been brought to her home for her to cook, because "you work so hard every Christmas Mary. You go all out for us all, please let me help you out this year."
After a lot of insistence, and some never forgotten words and stubborn pride being broken like a tugged wishbone off a cleanly picked bird, Nanny reluctantly gave into allowing Aunt Alice cook the Christmas turkey.
On Christmas Day the dinner was laid out like a smorgasbord of diabetic/cholesterol delight: Mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes buried in marshmallows, roasted vegetables glistening with melted butter, cranberry sauce, relishes, gravies, mouth-watering baked breads and pies. Oh it was a feast to behold! And there, in the center of the dining table, on a giant platter, lay the big, fat, roasted and stuffed turkey.
That particular year the turkey was larger than ever and smelled better than all years past. Pop outdid himself hunting, and Aunt Alice outdid Nanny with her roasted turkey. And Nanny outdid herself with unmentionable words mumbled under her breath.
All the relatives were present at the dining table, enthusiastically eating the Christmas dinner. But one family member, who had been missing since the day before, did not show up at the table: Nanny’s giant, fat, five-year-old white female pet goose named Mr. Peepers.
Now my grandmother adored that goose to obsession. Mr. Peepers lived in the house, and that goose had her own bed-a doll’s bed, a living room chair, as well as a high chair for eating at the dinner table. Nanny bathed Mr. Peepers daily in the bathtub as if the goose were a child, and dressed the goose in bonnets, ruffled dresses and diapers. On holidays Nanny dressed Mr. Peepers according to the occasion. This particular year Nanny made Mr. Peepers a red velvet dress with matching bonnet trimmed with white ermine fur.
Nanny had searched all day for her beloved pet, but Mr. Peepers never appeared. The big fat goose was nowhere to be found. Dinner was ready and Mr. Peeper’s highchair, in place at the dining table, was empty. Nanny called for the goose to come to the table but Mr. Peepers did not appear.
"Elliot," Nanny asked Pop, "Have you seen Mr. Peepers? I’ve looked for her since yesterday and I can’t find her."
Pop, focused on eating and nonchalantly replied: "She probably flew south for the winter. That’s what geese do."
"Elliot," Nanny said impatiently and annoyed by Pop’s flippant reply, "Don’t be ridiculous. Mr. Peepers has been with us five years and she has never flown away. Why would she suddenly fly south now?"
Pop shrugged his shoulders and ignored Nanny’s question and continued eating.
Something else was wrong: My grandfather, a man who lived to eat everything he hunted, was eating everything but the Christmas turkey. "I ate too many of your meat hors d’oeuvres," was Pop’s answer.
My Grandfather eat too much meat? Pop could never get enough meat. Pop lived for meat, he hunted everything and anything, meat was his favorite food. He ate meat with everything, and he ate meat three times a day!
Furthermore, Aunt Alice, who insisted upon cooking Nanny’s traditional Christmas dinner turkey, wasn’t eating any turkey: "I picked all day while cooking the bird. I don’t want to over eat, I’m trying to diet."
My Aunt Alice looked like a human toothpick; she was always trying to gain weight. It was that bizarre answer that tipped off my 13 year-old mother Lei Loni, who suddenly realized Aunt Alice and Pop were both lying about something. And that’s when the Christmas of 1953 became the day that really lives in infamy.
My mother had devoured her first portion and began eating a second helping when she looked down at the gravy-coated turkey on her plate, then looked up toward Pop and the empty high chair where Mr. Peepers should be sitting, and my mother knew! My mother looked at Aunt Alice, who realized her niece was on to something and gave my mother a wide-eyed warning that said "shut up and eat your turkey." My mother’s eyes began to well-up with tears and her lips quivered as she realized exactly who was on her plate: "Mr. Peepers!" my mother whispered aloud, pushing her plate away and hung her head and began to cry.
Nanny, clueless to why her child was crying, asked Pop: "Elliot, what’s going on here; why is Leinie crying? Something’s wrong! Elliot! What’s going on here?"
Pop began shoveling food into his mouth faster than a 600 pound pie-eating contestant. The game was up. Pop was caught! He looked across the table to Aunt Alice, but the "dieter" was hauling mashed potatoes in her mouth like a woman who hadn’t eaten in weeks.
That’s when Nanny began to realize why Mr. Peepers wasn’t present at the dinner table.
"Elliot, where is Mr. Peepers? Elliot! What-have-you-done!"
Pop knew he would never be able to talk his way around this situation. It was better to just come clean and accept the calamity that awaited him. Pop reached out and took Nanny’s hand in his and calmly said: "Mary, I have a confession to make. Now you’re not going to like it, but I didn’t have a choice. There weren’t any turkeys in the woods this week, so…I caught a goose instead."
"What goose, Elliot?" was Nanny’s jaw-grinding question. And like a fool who had completely lost his mind, Pop laid his head right on the executioner’s guillotine: "Mary… dear…you ate Mr. Peepers."
Nanny looked at her empty plate, the plate of turkey she had eaten! Then looked over at the empty high chair. Very calmly, with all the dignity she could retain, Nanny stood up and faced Pop: "You… hunted my BABY? You killed Mr. Peepers?"
That scream was the second shot heard around the world, and it still reverberates throughout the Berkshires to this day. But Nanny’s fury was far deadlier than the first shot that began a revolution for independence. For my grandfather there was no independence, not even parole, only a life sentence known as my grandmother Mary.
Nanny was furious, she was screaming at Pop who continued trying to explain the lack of turkeys in the woods that year. Pop forgot excuses were always useless in the face of Nanny’s fury.
Everyone at the table pushed their plates away horror–with the exception of both my great-grandfathers, two avid meat-eaters who continued eating Mr. Peepers with gusto and telling Nanny: "Mary, you should consider goose every year for Christmas Dinner. This is the best bird by far!"
"Oh my God!" was shockingly echoed by relatives around the table.
My mother and her brothers began sobbing loudly: "Daddy killed Mr. Peepers!" "We ate Mr. Peepers!"
Oh, the evening was going from bad to worse.
"Now Mary," Pop said trying to calm Nanny, "it’s not my fault. I can’t help it if there weren’t any turkeys in the woods, and besides, Mr. Peepers was a goose, birds are meant for dinner."
Explaining the "Massacre of Mr. Peepers," as Nanny referred to the incident, was pointless. Nanny was not in a state of mind to hear Pop’s "pathetic reasoning for hunting my baby for dinner when your father owns a grocery store Elliot! Your father sells fresh turkeys every holiday! Why didn’t you go hunting for turkey in your father’s store if the woods were out of turkey!"
"Daddy was sold out of turkeys!" was Pop’s begging reply.
"That’s true Mary, I was sold out of turkeys, Elliot didn’t have a choice but to get the goose," my great-grandfather foolishly answered before realizing what he had said.
So Great-grandpa knew about Mr. Peepers! And he didn’t tell his daughter in-law (or my great-grandmother) what her husband did to her pet? Well he would suffer his own plight for an entire week by sleeping in his store since he would be forbidden from sleeping in his house. As for Pop, his misery had only just begun.
"So that’s your excuse for killing Mr. Peepers!" Nanny yelled, "Your father was sold out of turkeys, the woods were empty! There aren’t any turkeys anywhere! What else are you hiding Elliot? I suppose next you’ll tell us all that you shot Santa Clause when he came down the chimney last night, because Santa broke into the house! Where’s Santa Clause Elliot; buried in the backyard!!!!!!!!!"
The very thought of Santa stuffed like Mr. Peepers caused my mother and her brothers to wail in hysteria: "Daddy killed Santa?!"
"No I did not kill Santa Clause!" Pop yelled. "I shot Mr. Peepers!"
That reply went over like the Hindenburg on New Jersey.
Children cried, adults clenched their lips and grabbed their chests horrified. My family had eaten the family pet! Christmas became a funeral! My Grandfather was a "goose murderer!"
Eisenhower himself couldn’t fight a battle like this. Even General Patton would have known enough to surrender and put his own gun to his head.
Nanny, who could take down an eight point buck with her clenched right hook, picked up the big bowl of mashed potatoes and dumped the potatoes onto Pop’s lap, and then, without warning, Nanny hit Pop across the head with the bowl, knocking him off his chair and onto the floor, calling Pop a "son-of-bitch goose-murderer!"
As to Aunt Alice, well, she was "an accessory to murdering Mr. Peepers and lousy cook!"
Great-grandpa simply received a scathing look that said "You betrayed me!"
Then Nanny reached across the table and picked up the platter with Mr. Peepers’ remains and carried the goose to the kitchen.
Next, Nanny went to the living room and took Pop’s priceless nineteenth-century humidor off the shelf where Pop displayed his expensive Cuban cigars and hurled the cigars into the blazing fireplace. Then Nanny took the humidor to the kitchen and gently wrapped Mr. Peepers’ remains in her pink satin blankets and placed the goose inside the humidor that was now a coffin.
That Christmas Nanny held a funeral for Mr. Peepers on the hill behind the family house and demanded Pop, a country singer, play his guitar and sing "Wayfaring Stranger" to Mr. Peepers if he didn’t want to "Go Down In The River To Pray."
From that day forward Nanny forbid turkey at the Christmas dinners. Pop was only allowed to hunt pheasant and quail for Christmas. My mother’s family wouldn’t experience another Christmas turkey until my mother and father married and my relatives spent odd-year Christmas’s with Dad’s parents, who also hunted everything, but knew enough to shut up about everything they hunted.
As for Mr. Peepers, her portrait was placed over Pop and Nanny’s fireplace in solemn remembrance of the Christmas that shall live in infamy.
This piece was originally posted on the author’s blog.
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