Holiday memories are always easy to compare. The picture-perfect holidays seem to sparkle into the image of what we all would like to happen, but for the Marco Beach Boys, or anyone in the hospitality industry for that matter, working on holidays can often whip up a recipe for the uncomfortable and the unexpected.
Working on Thanksgiving can really be a piece of cake. If the weather is beautiful, the guests in the restaurants and hotels will all be in a jovial mood and ready to share in the festive happiness of the holiday.
If the weather goes fowl, some of the guests never fail to turn into doom and gloom turkeys and only offer pessimistic pouts whenever interacting with anyone in the service industry. Of course, no one can change the weather, but when the Witch of November flies in from the northwest, our islands can be caught in the icy grip of wintry fingers that hold on tight.
With a strong cold front, blustery wind can rush in from the northwest and bring our humid air down into wind chill factors hard to explain until a bumpy and rough two-hour boat ride can feel like an ice-fishing expedition.
After we woke at Beach Boy headquarters on an unforgettable Thanksgiving Day, all three of us were sipping coffee and looking out at the weather. The wind was gusting down the canal and whipping up wavelets on the water. The fruit trees were bending in the driving rain, and with every cold November gust, another ripe grapefruit fell to the ground.
“No sailing for you today,” Fred offered as we savored the morning coffee. “No one will want to go out in this.”
“You never know,” Timmy said before he turned away and started for a fresh cup of coffee from the kitchen. The kitchen at Beach Boy bachelor headquarters was only for making coffee. We made coffee every morning, but no one cooked. We all ate at restaurants or at the hotel for lunch. The refrigerator was for beer; the freezer for vodka. The one exception on this Thanksgiving Day was a large frozen turkey that was now defrosting next to the beer in the otherwise empty fridge. The turkey was a prize from the hotel to help employees celebrate the holidays.
When we arrived at work, the wind was still tearing and but the rain had turned to drizzle. After looking at the gulf—that looked like a black and white war movie—and watching the gray and white waves pounding in from the northwest, I thought this would be a quick day of routine boat maintenance and a family–style Thanksgiving lunch served by the chefs at the hotel.
However, Timmy proved to be right when he forecasted, “You never know.”
After finding the sailing booking agent, the person who booked the sailing trips out to the barrier islands for seashells, we were informed, “The hotel is sold out and all three trips out to the islands are also fully booked.”
Of course, taking the boat out in the gulf was out of the question because of the rough conditions, but leaving from the backwater and the marina would offer workable and safe boat rides even though the chilling wind and the drizzle of cold rain would not be typical of a tropical island vacation.
On this particular holiday, however, the drizzle, the wind, and the chilling conditions did not seem to matter. All the guests wanted to go out because after all; what else was there to do?
The first trip was fierce—grandpa was complaining, and the kids were irritable and crying for a heated pool. When we arrived back at the docks, and the guests were in a transfer van back to the hotel, there was no warm thanksgiving lunch, but only a ten-minute break in the cold misting weather until the next crew arrived for a noontime trip.
When the second trip of the gray Thanksgiving Day pulled into the docks, every soul was weather–worn, covered in salt spray and sporting freezing fingers from the nonstop wind and drizzle.
When out at a barrier island on the last trip of the day, the wind gathered strength and tore our anchor away. The empty boat then sat forlorn after the anchor caught again, but swimming out in deep water was the only way to climb back aboard, return the guests to the docks, and get home for a very hot and very long shower.
After all the salt spray was hosed away and the boat clean and safe at the marina, it was dark, dreary, and the end of a very long Thanksgiving Day. Sunrise to sunset.
Unbeknownst to me, Timmy closed the beach early because of the driving wind and rain and came home to use the oven none of the Beach Boys ever used. When I walked into the house, the classic Thanksgiving aroma of cooking turkey was overwhelming. It was a warm and wonderful homecoming, even though there were no side dishes whatsoever. No mashed potatoes, no dressing, and no cranberry sauce. Timmy only had the turkey and that was what he cooked. The weather outside in the darkness was still drizzling and howling, but Timmy had thankfully cooked the turkey and after a working holiday out in the wind and the damp, no one could have been more pleased.
Meanwhile, by the kitchen windows and on the table we normally used for coffee, there was a blender and a dozen grapefruit from the tree in the backyard. The blender was half-full of grapefruit juice but there were no other clues to consider, because Timmy was hilarious wearing a grandmother’s apron he must have found in one of the kitchen drawers. When the newfound chef placed hands his hands on his hips and declared, “Get in the shower and I’ll carve the bird.” Nothing had ever sounded so good.
After the shower and clean warm clothes, I joined Timmy at the table where the carved turkey was waiting on a platter. Happy together, we offered a quick prayer for thanksgiving, clicked our beers, and then attacked the sliced turkey with our fingers.
After a few moments, Timmy began to choke on a piece of gristle. I was concerned enough to stop picking and eating until Timmy coughed up the offending piece of gristle and set it aside on the edge of the platter.
A few minutes later, the back door to the kitchen bangs open and Fred staggers over to us at the table. “Got off early,” Fred explained with slurred words as he showed us his almost empty glass. “I have been making salty dogs with the grapefruits that fell this morning. Vodka and grapefruit on a salt-rimmed glass, what a drink! Been over across the street celebrating with our neighbors all afternoon!
“Wow!” he exclaimed as he saw the turkey sliced and waiting. “I’m really hungry. That smells great!”
Fred then poured himself into the chair between Timmy and me, and like us, started attacking the turkey with his fingers. Suddenly, Timmy stopped eating and held up his hand like a traffic cop. He then looked down at the rejected gristle that was sitting on the edge of the plate. “Stop Fred,” he warned. “There are some things on that plate that you don’t want!”
After a look of understanding passed between those of us who had not been drinking salty dogs all afternoon, we laughed until we cried as an inebriated Fred continued to pick at the turkey and the rejected gristle that was waiting.
Freddy never touched the gristle during his foraging of the bird, but whenever he came close to that section of the platter, we laughed even harder. The tears of laughter were streaming and the next day we felt as if we had overdone the sit-ups. Our stomachs were sore but only from laughing.
The holidays this year might start out with the unexpected, but will most probably end up with laughter—especially if we can laugh at ourselves.
Tom Williams is a Marco Islander. He is the author of the books. “Lost and Found” and “Surrounded by Thunder –The Story of Darrell Loan and the Rocket Men.” Both books are available on Kindle and Nook.