Whenever I think of Thanksgiving, I can’t help but recall the time astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin had Thanksgiving dinner with me and my family. (He didn’t really, but that doesn’t affect the story all that much so don’t worry about it.)
We were all getting ready to sit down to dinner when the doorbell rang. Being the youngest, I answered it. To my surprise, astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, was standing on the porch. He was wearing a nice suit and was smiling brightly. He looked hungry!
“Aren’t you Buzz Aldrin, the astronaut?” I asked, recognizing him from all the TV news moon-landing coverage.
“Yes, I am,” he responded with a crisp nod. “I’m here for dinner…and boy, does it ever smell good.” He rocked a bit on his heels, looking eager and expectant. Figuring that somebody must’ve invited him, I stood aside and ushered him in.
“Buzz Aldrin’s here, everybody,” I announced to my astonished family while fetching another chair from the kitchen and dragging it to the diningroom table. I had to squeeze Buzz in between me and my sister. The rest of the family had frozen in mid-motion at the sight of him and watched as he sat down and spread a napkin in his lap. “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse,” he quipped.
Dad cleared his throat and spoke hesitantly. “Uhh…I was just about to say the blessing, Mr. Aldrin. But perhaps you’d do the honors instead.”
“I’d be happy to,” said Buzz. We all lowered our heads, and Buzz began to speak in a low, sonorous voice. “Dear Lord…bless the moon and the astronauts and spaceships and NASA, and Walter Cronkite, and those weird little gremlins that come through the walls of our space capsules in outer space and try to kill us. And bless Grandma and Uncle Spanky and Boris Karloff and the Jackson Five and the brave plumbers who fix our toilets so that we can relieve ourselves without having to go outside.” He looked around and smiled. “Amen.”
“Amen,” we all repeated nervously. Even though it was an honor to have a famous astronaut eating Thanksgiving dinner with us, he was starting to creep us out a little. And nobody knew why the heck he was there in the first place.
Dad passed the turkey platter to our guest. Buzz held it in both hands and regarded the golden brown turkey appreciatively. “This dead bird, whose corpse has been roasted,” he announced momentously, “will soon be eagerly masticated by our gnashing teeth and drenched in our gushing saliva. And then we will swallow it, beginning the strange, magical digestive process that will eventually result in our bowels moving and expelling–“
“Would you like some yams?” Mom interjected, hoping to bring a halt to Buzz’s potentially graphic speech.
Buzz glanced at her and shook his head. “No, thank you. This dead bird, whose corpse has been roasted,” he muttered, trying to regain his place, “uh, blah, blah, blah…magical digestive process…” His voice took on its rich, confident tone once again. “Beginning the strange, magical digestive process that will eventually result in our bowels moving and ex–“
“Tell us about the moon landing!” Mom almost yelped.
For a few moments, Buzz looked at her as though she were some kind of creature from Mars. Then his head seemed to clear a bit, and he smiled. “Well,” he said, “it was kind of like this.” He laid the platter down and stuck his hand up inside the turkey, lifting it up and moving it around like some kind of ghastly hand puppet. “Let’s say the table is the moon’s surface, and the space capsule is represented by this dead bird, whose corpse has been roasted…” He stopped, a look of confusion settling over his features. “We will soon be eagerly masticating it with our gnashing teeth, and drenching it in our gushing saliva…”
I didn’t want to hear about that process again so I interjected. “What was it like walking around on the moon?” I asked.
Buzz brightened again. “Well, it was like this,” he explained, now using the impromptu turkey-puppet to represent himself on the moon’s surface. He minced it around on the table, bobbing it up and down slowly as though semi-weightless, and weaving it deftly around between the big bowl of mashed potatoes and a heaping platter of cornbread dressing. “This is me,” he added, nodding down at the turkey in case we hadn’t already grasped that. Then he reached over and grabbed my nephew Danny by his suspenders and lifted him out of his highchair. “And this is Neil Armstrong.”
As we all looked on in horror, Aldrin “moon-walked” baby Danny around on the table along with the dead turkey in what was probably the most revolting “mission simulation” in aerospace history. Nobody knew what to do, since the situation was entirely alien to us. Even my sister, who was Danny’s mother, was afraid to do anything to antagonize Buzz at this point. And still the horrible display continued, as turkey and baby took on the roles of the first two astronauts to walk on the moon.
“Please…please…” my sister finally managed to croak. “Please put him down.”
Buzz looked at her as though she had two heads. “Put who down? Me or Neil?” he asked.
“PUT…THE BABY…DOWN!!!” she screamed at last, pounding her fists on the table with a clatter.
Buzz looked at the baby, then at the turkey. A strange sort of realization began to creep over his face. “Well, I, uh…” he said slowly. “I’m afraid I…don’t really know…which is the baby…and which is the dead bird…whose corpse has been roasted…”
“Not that again!” Mom shrieked, rising to her feet and grabbing her hair with both hands. “NOT THE DIGESTIVE PROCESS STORY AGAIN!!!”
Silently, Buzz removed his hand from the turkey and placed it in the highchair, and then gently lowered Danny onto the turkey platter. With deliberate restraint, he crossed his hands in his lap and spoke softly. “I thought you all wanted to know about the moon landing,” he said with self-pity and a faint air of reproach. “You asked me to describe it. I did so, using whatever visual aids were available at the time. If you’d wanted me to use different ones, you should have supplied them.”
His eyes took on a dreamy look. “Walter Cronkite supplied me with a neat-o toy spaceship and some little astronaut dolls that I got to keep, and a very nice scale mock-up of the Sea of Tranquility. But all I had here was this strange creature–” he indicated Danny, who was cooing up at him in wonder–“and this dead bird, whose corpse has been roasted and will soon be eagerly masticated by our gnashing teeth and drenched in our gushing saliva–“
“I…don’t…think…so,” Mom groaned, clipping the words off bitterly. “Not after you’ve had your hand stuck up inside it like that. We’ll not be ‘masticating’ that bird today, Mr. Aldrin. And after all the trouble I went to…to…” At that point it all became too much for her and she collapsed in a fit of convulsive weeping. Dad rushed over and hurried her out of the room. “I want you out of here,” he said hoarsely to Buzz on his way past.
Buzz Aldrin took a deep breath, then shook his head as though he’d just awakened from a brief nap. He looked around at us with a smile, seemingly unaware of the travesty he’d just made of our now-ruined Thanksgiving dinner, and continued where he’d left off. “Beginning the strange, magical digestive process that will eventually result in our bowels–“
My sister screamed and whisked Danny away, fleeing the room. Buzz watched her exit with a perplexed look and then turned to regard me as I sat trembling. Aside from the turkey, which was still sitting in the highchair, it was just me and Buzz at the table now. I wished I were somewhere else. Or more precisely, that Buzz were somewhere else.
Buzz picked up the turkey in one hand and a large sweet potato in the other. “Would you like to see what a real NASA docking maneuver looks like?” he asked with a grin.
“No,” I said weakly. Then, summoning my courage, I added, “I think you should just leave.”
“Oh?” said Buzz. “Well, thank you for a lovely meal.” He rose from the table and headed for the front door. Was he simply pretending that he hadn’t just totally disrupted everything, I thought, or was he genuinely unaware? I would never know. Buzz disappeared out the door and out of our lives forever.
That is, until he showed up for breakfast the next morning. You don’t want to know what he tried to “simulate” with the link sausage, scrambled eggs, and our dog. Something to do with “pulling eleven G’s” or whatever. Anyway, for what it’s worth, I don’t think astronauts and Thanksgiving go together very well at all.