“Is this the American? Your pute is ready to be picked up at the butcher’s,” the woman said.
There must be a mistake, I thought. I ordered a turkey. My pocket translator advised me to ask for a truthahn.
“Nein! Truthahn!” I wailed into the phone.
I had no idea what a pute meant, except a nasty Spanish word for a woman of low to non-existent standards, but I sure wasn’t cooking an unidentified fowl or a Mexican prostitute for Thanksgiving dinner.
An hour later, my German boyfriend found me under the duvet muttering about the baby pute. He ran across the street to the butcher’s and returned carrying a small parcel.
“It’s a small, female turkey!” he grinned. “Must be Bavarian!”
I’ve lived in Bavaria over twelve years. You have to live in New York for a decade before you can call yourself a New Yorker, so by now, I should be an official Bavarian with two years in extra credit. But my insistence on cooking a Thanksgiving turkey every year is proof that Bavaria has not beat the American out of me. Every November, Bavaria raises it stakes and dares me to meet the Thanksgiving challenge.
For my first Bavarian Thanksgiving, I had been living in Munich for seven months and felt homesick. Trying to appear as a good sport, I’d agreed to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my boyfriend’s dental school ex-girlfriend and her husband. In addition, the ex-girlfriend requested I cook the turkey on Saturday. Gum cleaning in Bavaria knows no holiday of Pilgrims and Native Americans.
My turkey and I remained doomed from the start.
I don’t remember how my pute tasted, but I do remember chugging red wine and chain smoking in the kitchen by myself while the ex-girlfriend cuddled next to my boyfriend sharing stories about their university days. I secretly named that day the Puta Thanksgiving, because it turns out there was one at my house after all.
The next year, we celebrated our first Thanksgiving as a married couple. I cooked only a pute breast for the two of us. We made a toast to our future Thanksgivings together. It was small, perfect, and puta-free.
Then came our first Thanksgiving with a 7 month old baby after our move to The Village, a small Bavarian town where my husband had his dental practice. I passed a butcher’s several times a day on my walks with my colicky baby. I was now a pute veteran, I knew what to ask for and my German was passable.
“I need a baby pute at the end of November for Thanksgiving. About six kilograms?”
“Nein,” he said.
That, even in deep Bavarian, I understood.
He muttered in dialect about needing pute for Christmas orders, and they could not spare one for me for Thanksgiving.
Then came “I Don’t Even Know My Name Anymore How in the Hell Can it Possibly Be Thanksgiving Again”. I had a seven-month-old baby boy and a two and a half-year-old girl who was training to qualify for the Olympic tantrum trials. If washing my hair and clothing myself proved to be a challenge, then dressing a turkey had no place in my life.
That Thanksgiving, I opened the bag to prepare the bird and gasped at the sight. Quills covered the back, sides and wings of the bird. A four-inch neck curved from the carcass and hung in a stiff “U”. The inside had not been carved out and heart, lungs and all innards remained attached.
I had never performed an autopsy on a pute before, but for the sake of my family and American tradition, I can now claim that as one of my working skills.
After four years of searching, we found a house in The Village. Its best feature was that I could walk to the rumored best butcher in five minutes. I began my Meat Team courtship carefully, visiting weekly, waiting my turn with sweaty palms. They won me over with their roast beef, but I’m not going to say it was smooth sailing with my new Meat Team.
Last Thanksgiving, when I arrived to pick up my turkey, the Head of my Meat Team struggled under the weight of the bird.
“How much does he weigh?” I asked, getting anxious.
“8.7 kilos,” she replied.
I knew my pute size. It was not 8.7 kilograms (19.14 pounds). It wasn’t going to fit in my oven.
After turkey rejections in the past, I had no choice but to smile and accept the fowl.
I wedged the raw bird into my turkey roasting pan as best I could. The neck and tail pressed against the walls of the oven. The wings dangled over the pan sides like a starlet on a raft in a pool.
I packed the bird back in the bag and dragged it back to the car. The Head of my Meat Team looked at me with wide eyes as I entered the shop.
“Please,” I begged, “do something!”
“We need the saw,” she said, shaking her head.
I cringed hearing the harsh whining of the metal disk boring through tendon and bone.
The result was a double partial amputation. It looked as if the poor turkey had backed himself in reverse against a wall and that wall was a rotary saw.
The cooked bird itself? Absolutely delicious, even if it was a little hard to look at and didn’t match up with the vision of an American turkey.
These are the things you remember, not when things go smoothly, but rather that which must be conquered in order to emerge as a survivor. In the past twelve years it has never been an option to skip Thanksgiving.
It’s in my blood as an American. At the beginning of each November, I wonder what turkey adventure awaits me. Of course it will be something I haven’t experienced before, but I’ve proven to myself year after year, that there’s nothing this American Puta can’t handle.