The first time I cooked the turkey

Published 7:23 pm Saturday, November 21, 2015

By Rep. Randy Forbes

I have two very special jobs on Thanksgiving. I wash all of the dishes once the meal is over — a task that sometimes spans several days, depending on how many family members joined us for the meal. My other designated task is to cook the turkey.

This tradition began years ago, when I was still in law school. I was home for the holidays, studying for exams. Shirley and I were dating at the time, and our plan had been to split the holiday between our parents — with Thanksgiving lunch at her parents’ house and then dinner with my parents.

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Two days before Thanksgiving, though, Shirley came down with the flu and was too sick to get out of bed. I remembered that a friend at work had given her a turkey, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I went over to her apartment.

“Don’t worry, dear,” I said. “I’ll make the turkey for the two of us.”

Of course, I had absolutely no idea how to cook a turkey. I pulled that bird out of the fridge, plopped it in a pan, took one look at it, and frowned. I lifted it up and looked underneath. I was lost. Was I supposed to season it? And what was I supposed to do with that bag inside?

I did what any self-respecting chef would do: I called my dad. Dad was responsible for cooking the turkey in my family, and I knew he’d have guidance for me. It still makes me smile to remember how he stayed on the phone with me the entire time, walking me through preparing and cooking that first turkey, step by step.

Ever since then, I have had the distinct honor of preparing turkey for our family’s Thanksgiving Day dinner, just as my dad did when I was young. This year I may be frying it, instead of roasting it in the oven, but I enjoy the tradition all the same. And these days, my youngest son, Justin, enjoys helping with the turkey, too.

Traditions often start in unexpected ways. They’re birthed out of a conversation, a mishap, or a last-minute change. In fact, the best traditions are often the ones you can’t predict — the ones that come about happenstance, and yet somehow become engrained in your family story.

That’s one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving — passing down these traditions from generation to generation. It connects us to each other in a special way.

When I’m brining the turkey each year, I’m reminded of the years I spent holidays with my own parents. I’m transported back in time — I can see my mom wearing her apron, my dad carving the turkey with pride, my siblings sitting around the table with me and, after prayer, devouring our Thanksgiving feast.

This Thanksgiving is coming at a time when we face a lot of uncertainty in our world today. We are reminded of the evil that exists around us. We worry about the future of our children and grandchildren, as we hug them a little closer.

In the midst of our changing, often tumultuous world, tradition unites. It reminds us, in small and big ways, what it means to be together. And what is truly important.

Thanksgiving is a day about fullness. Fullness of gratitude. Fullness of heart. Fullness of family. (And, of course, fullness from turkey). There will also be fullness of tradition. As kitchens fill with the laughter and the chatter of family conversation, I hope we will all embrace traditions and, most of all, give thanks for everything we have been blessed with.

Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at