Thanksgivings to remember ... or just as soon forget

It was a meal fit for a princess — and she ate it.

Princess Greta was a Weimaraner owned by the Gwin family of Hughson. On a Thanksgiving Day several years ago, the family was sitting down to dinner when they heard crying from one of its littlest members, who had fallen off her bike.

The family ran to check on the little girl, only to return and find most of their meal devoured by Princess Greta.

"Needless to say, we all bundled up and went OUT to Thanksgiving dinner at a nearby restaurant," said Betty Gwin. "And the dog never even got sick!"

Gwin was one of several readers to respond to an inquiry about memorable holiday mishaps. Others shared tales of meals gone awry and good intentions with bad results — really, using egg nog in place of milk in the scrambled eggs seemed like a good idea that Christmas morning.

Peggy Bittancourt's family feast also met a disastrous end, when an unwelcome ingredient made its way into the turkey, stuffing, gravy and pies.

About 10 years ago, Bittancourt's daughter was home in Ceres on break from college, and invited her new boyfriend for a "meet the family" Thanksgiving dinner.

"We had all of the food on the countertop ready to take to the dining table and I had just taken the sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows out of the oven," Bittancourt said. "All of a sudden, there was a loud bang."

Her new bake ware didn't just break, it exploded into "hundreds of pieces of glass that went flying into every bit of Thanksgiving dinner!"

All that escaped the carnage were a couple of cans of green beans and a few rolls still in the bag. Not the most impressive of feasts for the new boyfriend.

"Maybe it was an omen," Bittancourt said. "They broke up shortly after Christmas."

Martha Dwight of Turlock wanted to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in Taiwan, where she and her husband served as missionaries in 1955.

"I bought a local turkey, and it looked beautiful," Dwight said. She roasted it, but when she went to carve the breast meat, "I sliced into a great big glob of gray fat."

So for her next effort, Dwight and a friend decided to order a turkey from the United States. When it came in, she looked at the label. "It said it came from Turlock, California."

For 35 years, the Dwights often journeyed to Taiwan.

"We always got our Turlock-made turkeys," she said. "They were absolutely delicious. No fatty glob."

He trots, he trips, he scores!

Sometimes the turkey wasn't a dinner. For Paul Saini, it was a teammate.

In the 1980s, the Turlock Chamber of Commerce and California State University, Stanislaus, hosted a turkey trot that lived up to its name.

Contestants picked a live turkey from a cage pen, then ran it around an obstacle course.

"I recall running through the obstacle course with my turkey by my side," Saini said. Getting the turkey to run presented a challenge.

"I soon discovered that if I held the turkey's neck with my left hand, and poked its behind with my right, I could keep my turkey trotting toward the finish line," he said. "My turkey and I ran at lightning speed and reached the finish line before anyone else."

Until the very end, when Saini tripped, and fell on his partner.

"The mistake of trampling on your turkey could have been grounds for disqualification," Saini said. "But with the generosity of the judges, my turkey and I avoided the disastrous consequences and were awarded the first prize."

Shake and — oops! — bake

Sports also played a role in Harriet Carter's most memorable Thanksgiving.

Her daughter, Susan, used a plastic cooking bag to prepare her first turkey. The directions called for the cook to put a tablespoon of flour into the bag of spices and shake. Susan didn't realize she was supposed to do that before putting the turkey in the bag.

"After two shakes, the turkey made a run for it, popping out of the bag," Carter said. "It landed and bounced twice before her boyfriend caught Mr. Turkey, and ran it home for a touchdown."

More cranberries for me

Chris Juring of Sonora remembers scoring big with his favorite dish when he was a kid, thanks to a national cranberry scare.

The cranberries in 1959 were perfectly good, but much of the country wasn't eating them. Two weeks before Thanksgiving, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Arthur S. Flemming issued a warning about cranberries after a pesticide used on them was linked to cancer in rats.

The scare didn't stop 10-year-old Juring.

"I pigged out that year on cranberry sauce, because nobody else would eat it," he said. "I"m a big cranberry nut."

The scare turned out to be unfounded — it would have required eating thousands of pounds of cranberries for the pesticide to cause any ill effects. But Juring well remembers the panic, and the poor timing of the warning.

"It's the one day of the year where everybody eats cranberries," he said.

A family that had recently moved to the United States was grateful for everything about its new Hughson home in 1965, including the holiday basket received from a local church. The only problem? The basket included a frozen turkey, and nobody in the family had ever seen such a thing.

So, not wanting to offend their new friends by rejecting the gift or throwing it into the garbage, mom and dad packed their five children into a 1956 Ford, drove to the nearest irrigation canal and heaved the bird in.

The reader who contributed that story assures that her mother eventually learned how to cook a turkey.

"And most of all, we learned the meaning of Thanksgiving," she said. "We are thankful for the the freedom this country has given to us. And thank God for the blessings we have received throughout the years."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at or 578-2343.

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star