turkeyHow was your turkey on Thanksgiving?  Was it moist and delicious?  Was the skin nice and crispy?  Did the leftovers last throughout the weekend?

Well good for you, I’m glad someone enjoyed their feast.  As for me, I didn’t get any turkey this year.  While you had thick brown gravy dripping out of the side of your mouth (and let’s face it, turkey is really just a delivery system for the gravy to begin with), I stared at my turkey-less plate and wondered how Thanksgiving had gone so wrong.

But I knew what had happened.  A turkey thief had emerged in our home for the holiday…and I had been the one to open the door for him.  Literally.

Allow me to set the table (figuratively of course, as I’d never be allowed to set the actual Thanksgiving table;  I am like a bizarro version of Martha Stewart, the enemy of interior design standards  and holiday place settings alike).  This year’s Thanksgiving for my family took place in the Berkshires at the lovely and immaculate home of my in-laws.


For those of you who haven’t been to my in-laws home (and, based on the affability of my father-in-law and the current booking rate of their social calendar, all of you should get to visit by the end of the decade), the home is just short of museum-quality clean.  I’m talking about a suburban house version of Disney World here, where trash gets mysteriously swept up before it hits the ground and plates are cleaned before you’re done using them.  The finest of our country’s hospitals can’t match the cleanliness and sterility of their kitchen.  They wipe their counter-tops so often and with such fervor that the marble is wearing into sand from the friction.  Do not allow a cup to fall out of your field of vision…no matter how high-end the beverage it may contain, an unattended piece of glassware will disappear within seconds, finding its way rinsed and inserted into the family dishwasher before you can say “Has anyone seen my Chateau Margaux?”.

Anyway, our family is made up of myself, my lovely and gorgeous wife (who has not responded well to previously used spouse-related adjectives), two kids and an extremely large dog named Chauncey.  Chauncey is a Goldendoodle whose legs kept growing far past the point of normalcy.  He’s the Elle MacPherson of canines, pretty much 90 percent leg and taller than those ponies you see at second-rate country fairs.  My wife, who never owned a dog as a child or really wanted one, suddenly had a beast living within her walls.

But for Thanksgiving, we all packed into the car for the ride to Massachusetts, dog included.  I’m not sure if Karen asked for her parents’ permission to bring Chauncey, but probably not.  He hasn’t been formally appreciated at their home since the Great Basement Urine Disaster of 2008 (followed soon after by the Great Feces Fiasco the following year, which the local press somehow didn’t cover).  To neat freaks, an over-sized dog isn’t quite as warm and cuddly as they are to the rest of us.  But he’s family to the Wolfes, so he deserved his spot at the Thanksgiving table (or at least under it).

Thanksgiving Day was beautiful.  There was a chill in the air, which only made the warm house more comfortable and cozy.  Holidays in my wife’s family are rarely left to chance, so everything for the day had been meticulously planned.  Again, you have to understand the organizational power of this family.  They dream in color-coded filing systems.

So when it came time for dinner, the expectations were high.  Mellow jazz was piping through the house, the fireplace was glowing, and the carving tools had been set in their place (probably for days).  The stage had been set for their version of what The Perfect Thanksgiving needed to be.  You know that famous Rockwell painting of the Thanksgiving meal, with Grandma and Grandpa serving the turkey at the head of the table, adoring family members smiling up at them, admiring the perfection and majesty of the moment?  That’s what my in-laws were going for, a modern version of a Saturday Evening Post cover (only Jewish).

Tradition holds that my brother-in-law carves the turkey, with active assistance from his parents.  The three of them huddled over the baked bird, examining it with the scrutiny of modern art critics.

They moved into action.  My brother-in-law cut into one side of the succulent turkey, removed the treasured breast meat and placed it on an adjacent platter.  They then turned back to the turkey to resume their work.  At the same exact moment, I opened the front door of their home to bring Chauncey back inside from his “business trip”.

Big mistake.

Chauncey, without pause or hesitation and with remarkable agility, pulled a stealth end-around behind the backs of my distracted in-laws, grabbed the gigantic cut of breast meat off the platter, and bolted.

Thus began a house-wide chase worthy of a Benny Hill episode.  I managed to corner him and chase him into the garage, the half-eaten turkey breast covered in drool and hanging from each side of his mouth (this was a big turkey).  I was going to let him finish off his loot in isolation, until my wife chastised me for “bad parenting”.  We then somehow managed to pry what was left out of his mouth and threw the chewed and saliva-covered remains into the garbage.

My in-laws were not amused.  Their dream Thanksgiving ruined, my father restrained himself from throttling me and only muttered a few choice expletives under his breath, while my mother-in-law emailed her lawyer to remove me from their will.

I was mortified and embarrassed.  While there was more than enough turkey left for the meal, I felt responsible for the missing breast and didn’t eat any, lest anyone in the family not get enough for themselves.  Chauncey ate my share.  Bad dog.

But in hindsight, I’m not really angry at Chauncey.  He’s a sentient being that has been reduced to eating the same hard pebbles of petrified food for every meal of his existence.  How can you blame him for wanting his piece of the feast?  I can’t even keep my paws off a bowl of Ruffles, and we expect a deprived dog to resist temptation?  How is that fair?  Where’s the Thanksgiving spirit?

And with time comes perspective.  Despite the short-term agita he may have caused, Chauncey’s thievery has given our family a story for the ages.  None of the perfect Thanksgivings of the past (and surely the future) will be remembered beyond a vague sense of warmth and some mild nostalgia.  But we’ll never forget this one.  Even my in-laws have come around, laughing the good laugh and telling their friends about the night our crazy (but athletically-gifted) dog stole their turkey.

Although now that I think about it, we haven’t been invited back yet.  They have a really nice house, and my mother-in-law makes a really good pumpkin pie.  Can anyone watch my dog for the holidays?

Updated and reposted from the original column in Westport News, December 2010