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    Bella English

    Pass the turkey, and hold the shopping

    The first time we hosted my in-laws for Thanksgiving, I was 25 years old, married only six months, clueless — and nervous — about preparing my first Thanksgiving dinner ever. I called my older sister in Detroit and asked her about stuffing a turkey. She told me to reach into the cavity, pull out the “icky stuff,” then prepare the dressing and stuff the bird.

    Gingerly, I did as she said, and put the stuffed turkey into the oven. A couple of hours later, my sister called back. “Did you get the bag out of the other end, too?” she asked.

    The other end?


    My husband and I both worked like dogs getting the feast ready: turkey roasted to perfection, moist stuffing, corn pudding, green beans, rolls, pecan pie. I was flush with effort, and pride, as we sat down to give thanks with my in-laws.

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    My husband’s youngest sister was 8 at the time, certainly old enough to choke down some turkey, the blandest meat known to mankind. But she was also a daddy’s girl, and before you could say, “Skippy” my father-in-law had gotten up from the table, found the peanut butter, and made his little girl a sandwich. While the food got cold.

    He didn’t even have the grace to offer an excuse; he just came back and placed the sandwich down in front of Jane. I doubt she’d remember it, but I’ll never forget.

    I bring this all up not for revenge — my father-in-law is deceased — but because of recent announcements that stores and malls are opening even earlier for Black Friday sales this year. In fact, welcome to Black Thursday, where some stores are barely waiting for Grandpa to fall asleep over his pumpkin pie before opening their doors.

    Target, Toys R Us, Sears, Kmart, Walmart and others have announced they are opening Thanksgiving night for the free-for-all sales event of the year. It’s preposterous, of course, that retailers can’t wait, nor can consumers ignore the siren call of $49 Nook e-readers or $7 board games on the one day a year set aside to give thanks for all that we have — not all that we want.


    But if stores had been open that Thanksgiving Day when my in-laws visited, I would have gotten in my car and taken off on the pretext of beating the crowds.

    I was talking to a friend recently about Black Thursday, and she also sees it as a good excuse for escaping a relative’s gory stories, which the relative insists on repeating every single holiday. There’s the one about when she cut off the head of her pet chicken (Betty) on the family farm, so Betty could become dinner, and how she hasn’t been able to eat chicken since, blah blah blah. The other annual story is about her friends who were electrocuted when their boat hit a guide wire. The stories are repeated in bloody detail, and have made their holiday appearance, along with apple pie and ice cream, for decades.

    My advice to my friend: Serve chicken.

    My personal favorite story happened when my husband was a kid. His cousin, a Green Beret just out of Vietnam, had Thanksgiving dinner at my husband’s house. He asked for money for clothes and a bus ticket — and then announced he was leaving to join the circus. Which he did, and has been little heard from since.

    Most of us have a kooky relative or two — heck, I probably qualify myself. But give me kooky guests, even Thanksgiving day football, over shopping in some big box store.


    In simpler times, there were no after-holiday sales, no people sleeping out overnight in parking lots to be the first in line, no one getting trampled to death in a sales stampede — such as the one that killed a Walmart employee in 2008 on Long Island.

    Pity the poor retail employees for whom it is a forced march.

    Because of Massachusetts blue laws, which prohibit Thanksgiving openings, retailers here are having to wait until Friday — though barely. Wrentham Village Premium Outlets is holding out until 12:01 a.m. — nice touch, waiting 60 seconds until Thanksgiving is officially over.

    Simon Property Group Inc., which owns several major shopping venues along Route 128 and Interstate 495 including Northshore Mall in Peabody and South Shore Plaza in Braintree, plans to open at 12:30 a.m., compared with 4 a.m. last year. The malls reportedly will hand out a Black Friday “survival kit” to the first 250 shoppers, with hand sanitizer, water, candy, and perhaps a mall gift card.

    When I called Target stores south of Boston to ask what time they are opening on Black Friday, a woman who answered the phone at one store said: “Unfortunately, 1 a.m.”

    While thousands of dedicated shoppers will doubtless swarm the stores, pity the poor employees for whom it is a forced march.

    The early hours are “the new normal and in some ways it’s abnormal,” Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan told a Globe correspondent. Amen.

    Can’t we think twice about turning Thanksgiving into little more than a carbo-loading session for a shopping orgy? If Black Friday opening hours continue to creep up, the stores will soon be opening mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving, cutting into our second helpings of turkey and family lore, both rich and satisfying in their own ways.

    Bella English lives in Milton. She can be reached at