How my holiday home became a harrowing house of horrors

"It turned out the patron saint of holiday karma had a few things up her sleeve for me."

It turned out the patron saint of holiday karma had a few things up her sleeve for me

Jillian Bell had two temperature options when she went to cook the turkey: not quite warm enough and immolate. (Supplied/Jillian Bell)

I've inherited the blessed task of Head Cook for the holidays. This year I planned out my Christmas visit at Dad's in Prince Albert like professional coaches plan a big game. 

It wasn't supposed to be difficult: get there, do the gift thing, cook a bird, eat. It turned out the patron saint of holiday karma had a few things up her sleeve for me.

When we arrived at Dad's house, Dad apologised for not having washed the kitchen floor. We laughed because his kitchen was cleaner than ours. 

Tradition says we do an easy supper the first night home. It ended up being a little late because the oven didn't quite heat up the way it ought to have. The sides of the lasagna got a bit dark and the middle was only warm, but we were all together. Little things like that don't ruin the festive spirit. 

Dishwasher spews water, author spews profanity

The day before Turkey Day, I turned on the dishwasher and went to start a load of laundry. In the basement laundry room, I heard running water. Not the running water that comes with doing laundry — the running water that comes from a garden hose. 

I bolted into the other room. There was a waterfall in the middle of the basement. I flew up the stairs, the speed of my flight matched only by that of the curse words spilling from my lips. 

Water was pouring out from under the dishwasher. There was a quarter inch on the kitchen floor. 

I grew several extra arms. I shut off the water and ran for a mop. The mop was useless. I was still cussing. 

We enlisted every towel, facecloth, handkerchief, dishrag and bath sheet in our quest to sop up Saskatchewan's newest inland lake. We considered using dogs.

Of course, this was when the doorbell rang.

Further treachery from the appliances

Visiting begun. We all had our trousers rolled up and were wringing out towels somewhere in the house, but we're not monsters. 

I yelled at our guest to come in and have a seat while we dealt with a small flood and would he like coffee? Visitor, bless his heart, surveyed what was happening, correctly assessed that more hands would likely cause further disaster, and sat in the living room informing the people at his next destination that there may be a "short delay." 

In the kitchen, we were mighty engineers. We devised a dam system where the driest towels were put to work at the front of the flood while we wrung out the saturated ones into an old diaper pail. Eventually, the waters receded, we claimed victory and cleanup of towels on both floors began. 

There are only so many appliances, they couldn't ALL break, right?- Jillian Bell

My husband, who was in the basement, summoned me. He had the look of a man who has seen things. Horrible things. 
"It's wet," he whispered, "under the washing machine." 

I stared at the expanding dark spot on the concrete floor. 

"What if it's just condensation?" I replied. 

We asked Dad to take a look. He wasn't concerned. He thought he could fix it. Dad can fix anything! That's how Dads work. 

I headed back upstairs to urge our Visitor that he and I should leave "before something else happens." 

The Visit was lovely — we had cake — but eventually we had to go home. There were groceries in the car for Turkey Day and we needed to help put away clean towels. 

Husband pulled me aside as soon as I took off my jacket. 

"The dryer isn't working," he said. 

His teeth were clenched. We had ten million loads of towels to wash. He and Dad had rigged up clothes lines in the basement like a Hell's Kitchen laundry because the element in the dryer crapped out. I started to wonder if we had angered the gods. There are only so many appliances, they couldn't ALL break, right?

A broken dryer left the family scrambling for more-old fashioned solutions. (Supplied/Jillian Bell)

Do you like your turkey smoked?

The next day was Turkey Day! I warmed up the oven and added an extra 25 degrees, since it hadn't heated well before. I slide the bird in to the prewarmed oven, turn the heat down and sit in the living room with a book. 

About half an hour later, I looked up. Were my glasses dirty? No. Smoky haze was drifting out of the kitchen. 

Uh oh. 

I wish I were making this up. Smoke curled up out of the elements on the stove. I opened the oven door, releasing plumes of smoke. I threw open the back door and yanked the roaster out of the oven. After the smoke cleared, I put it back in on the second rack. A bit of smoke in the kitchen never hurt anyone, right? Dad tied the oven door closed with binder twine to "keep the smoke in there."

Fifteen minutes later, I heard a soft "fomp" sound come from the kitchen. Then another. In the back of my head I knew I know this sound. As I open the oven door I remembered. It was the sound of flare-ups on the BBQ. I had made fireballs. In the oven.

Out came the bird again. Open went the doors again. This time we opened the front door too for a cross-breeze. Dad brought fans up from the basement. Did I mention it was -20 C outside? At least there was a nice fire in the oven to keep us warm. 

Somehow, I cooked that turkey, despite the oven having only two settings — not quite warm enough and immolate — and despite having to take it out every half hour not to baste, but to douse flames. Only the tips of its wings turned black. The options for stuffing were "charred" or "gooey."

The ichor I poured out of the bottom of the roasting pan did not bode well. That we managed to have quite a lot of delicious gravy from that blackened mess speaks volumes about what my grandmother taught me about gravy.

There could be something biblical happening in my hometown, but I can say this: holiday supper was actually pretty good, we laughed a lot and the kitchen floor is really, really, *really* clean.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ


Jillian S. Bell

Freelance writer

Jillian Bell is a writer and freelance editor living in the impossibly beautiful Qu'Appelle Valley. She is an avid reader, gamer, textile artist and passable oboeist. Oboer? She plays oboe. Also, the deer eat her garden, so she's also keen on buying produce from local farmers' markets.


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