Friday, February 19, 2010

I Cooked My Goose

I Cooked My Goose

The other day I was working on a project when a gray pickup rolled up in front of my studio. I watched a man emerge from the cab, look around, adjust his cap and amble to my door. It was unlocked, so I motioned to him to enter. He just stood there. I went to the door and opened it. We looked at each other curiously.

“You don’t know who I am, do you?” he asked.

I hear that question frequently. I dislike that question. It has been forty years and more since I have seen some of my old acquaintances. I sort of know who they are but I can’t quite place them. How do I know them? Where did I know them?

“Take off your cap,” I order. I scrutinize him closely. “I give up. So who are you?”

“You invited us to dinner and cooked a goose.” He laughed. “I’m Pete.”

“Oh my gosh, Pete. I wish you didn’t remember that.” Now I recognized him. Pete and Thelma were neighbors on a ranch south of Dodson, forty years past.

Now that he knows I am back in town, Pete will spread his version of the goose story to anyone who will listen. So I am going to tell you what really happened.

We were both newly married couples. Pete and Thelma lived a couple miles away across the prairie. We invited them to dinner one holiday. Maybe it was Thanksgiving. I eagerly looked forward to my first company dinner.

Though I was only eighteen years old, I was quite proud of my culinary skills. I was especially proud of my blue ribbons for spice cake and rhubarb pie I had won at the Phillips County Fair.

Cooking a goose was not my idea. It was my husband who suggested, “Why don’t you roast a goose.” Though I had never even eaten goose, I had baked hundreds of big fat roasting hens and a dozen turkeys. So how hard could a goose be?

My father-in-law raised geese. He thought we should keep them on our place in Dodson rather than on his farm in the valley at Harlem . I hated those geese. To get to the main road to town, we had to open three barbed wire gates. These crude gates were cruelly designed constructs which required I heave with my entire strength to get them opened and closed. As I struggled with each gate the geese raced to attack me, darting their long necks forward and shredding my ankles with their lethal beaks. I soon learned to armor my ankles with cowboy boots, even when going to church.

The day of the dinner arrived. I deliberately pointed to the meanest goose, the leader of the flock. My husband wielded his axe and chopped its head off. I dunked it in hot water and began plucking feathers. Wet down stuck in my hair. Wing feathers didn’t want to release. I used pliers on some of them. The pin feathers took me hours.

Finally I had the goose clean. I prepared the carcass just like a turkey, filled the cavity with sage stuffing. I stoked up the wood cook stove, popped the pan into the oven and turned to the rest of the meal. My German grandmother had trained me to prepare an overabundant feast. The table groaned, laden with every imaginable accompaniment to the goose. Green salad, Jell-o salad, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, freshly baked rolls, home-churned butter, my own chokecherry jelly, ears of corn and green beans from my summer garden, home canned dill and bread-and-butter pickles, a chocolate cake, a peach pie and a pumpkin pie, iced sweet tea and hot coffee.

My guests arrived. I greeted them shyly. But I felt proud. I knew I had thought of everything. The feast would be my triumph. The goose smelled heavenly. The aroma wafted through the kitchen, which is also where we ate our meals. I pulled the roasting pan from the oven and removed the lid.

I knew right away something was wrong. This great bird, beautifully browned, floated in goose grease. I tried to drain it. I spooned the dressing out of the cavity. The soggy stuffing was saturated with grease. While my husband told a funny story, I sneaked a forkful. I spit it out. We could not eat this mess. But I knew there was no way I could hide it. Everybody was seated around the table. They had watched me fill my only china serving dish. I did the only thing I knew to do. I prayed nobody would want any and set the bowl on the table.

I arranged slices of breast meat onto the platter. They squished, not with juices, but with grease. I flanked the quickly congealing slices with the drumsticks. The platter made a pretty picture when I set it on the table. But I knew its contents were not edible. I wanted to hide. Everybody spooned some stuffing and forked the meat onto their plates. I surreptitiously watched them try to eat the mess. I was nearly in tears. But my guests were polite. Graciously, while he picked a goose feather out of his coffee, Pete began laughing. Then Thelma gently taught me the proper way to cook a goose. My face was red but I was able to laugh along with the others. I admitted this disaster was my maiden run with cooking goose. Fortunately we had plenty of good food to eat. We certainly had a memorable time. And they carried home a good story along with left-over pie.

In the next few years, whenever I would see him, Pete would tease me about my goose dinner. So now I’ve confessed the true story. Anything else Pete might tell you is miss-remembered. The story of my fall from pride is bad enough as it is. And no, I never cooked another goose.


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