Christmas at our house meant turkey. A big turkey, with all the trimmings: sage and onion and chestnut stuffing, bread sauce, giblet gravy, chipolatas, roast potatoes and parsnips, cranberry sauce, peas and Brussels sprouts.
And one o’clock in the afternoon was the time to eat it.
Mother would be up with the larks to get it ready for the oven. And throughout the morning the children would traipse in and out of the kitchen asking if they could have a drumstick, and could they lick this bowl, and were we going to have ice cream and jelly as well as pudding, and how many threepences did she put in? And why was the kitchen so hot, Aunty Em?
Around eleven those who had been to church began arriving. And those who had been elsewhere drained their Alka Seltzers and asked would anyone like a sherry before lunch? Sometimes, they remembered to take a restorative glass to the kitchen, which they thought was damn’ hot today, Em.
Mother also carved our turkey. Visitors used to think it odd that the man of the house didn’t carve, but the family all knew what happened to any roast that Dad got his knife into.
Of course, everyone wanted the breast. All the children wanted a drumstick each; Uncle Ernest wasn’t fussy: “ just a couple of legs, Em.” Which he then proceeded to eat, one in each hand, his napkin tucked into his collar. And nobody wanted the dark meat.
The older girls, by now “too refained” to fight the smalls for a leg, would ask how the gravy was made and, on being told, would squeal and wrinkle their noses in disgust at the mere thought of eating innards.
Plates would be passed up the table with requests for “just a little more, please.” (Funny how no one minded the dark meat for seconds…) And when the huge bird had been reduced to pieces that would fit on a small saucer, and the big Victorian tureen held only three or four cold peas, lonely in the bottom, and everyone had eaten enough pudding to be sure of getting at least one silver threepence we all dragged ourselves from the table.
Mother delegated the washing-up to two or three older children who could be trusted with the best crockery, tactfully ignoring Uncle Ernest’s bluff offers to “knock these over in a shake, Em. Learned to do dishes in the army, dontcha know.”
With pre-lunch sherries and the better part of a bottle of Macon and a couple of ports in him, I rather think Mother thought he would “knock them over in a shake.”
We never ate turkey throughout the year. Only at Christmas.