He thought his comment would elicit a thank-you, instead he sat there, a dutiful loving husband, with stuffing, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes covering his face, dripping into his still widely agape confounded mouth, wondering what had just gone wrong.
It was Thanksgiving 1971, the young couple, Bill and Mary, were celebrating for the first time in their newly purchased home. Suburbia at its finest. Lava rock front yard, replete with stucco Italinate fountain (that had never worked), a small concrete burro (from their trip to Tijuana), and nary a plant to be seen. The arched red windows perfectly framed a portrait of Jesus that could be seen from outside of the house. This biblical portrait was left by the former owner, and Mary being a typical kinda-Catholic was afraid to take it down for fear of bad tidings in the new house.
Mary was not a cook. Being 22 years old, from San Bernadino, with a working mother and no Dad to speak of, she basically knew how to boil water and pop popcorn. Her idea of gourmet, was taking canned parmesan sprinkle cheese and adding it to the popcorn.
Bill was the exact opposite in a culinary sense. His mother was a devoted Julia Child PBS watcher, who routinely tried out the menu of the week on her small brood and now-obese, and getting larger by the week, engineer husband. It was Bill who got in the first stir of the Thanksgiving-day-disaster pot when he suggested that Mary should make a Thanksgiving dinner just like his Mom used to make. Strike One!
Mary, having never even seen a raw Turkey, made her way to the store and purchased what looked like a fresh bird. A fine eight pounder which she thought would be more than adequate for Bill, his brother Charlie, Charlie’s wife Angela, and their two sullen and resentful children, Mildred and Tony. As it turns out, the Turkey was thoroughly frozen, solid. Now just eight short hours until her first holiday dinner was supposed to be on the table Bill stated the obvious, “Well, you better go back to the store and get a fresh one…” Need I say it, Strike Two!
The rest of the day went pretty well actually. While the men and boys watched football on the newly acquired 13 inch color TV, the two women and Mildred toiled away in the kitchen, carefully following the instructions laid out for them in the Joy of Cooking. The savory smells of Thanksgiving began to waft around the home, which attracted the now inebriated men from their perches in the pine-wood-paneled den. They began their tummy rubbing, and started to brag about how much they were going to eat that day. The cooks smiled.
At 5 o’clock that day the dinner went on the Thanksgiving table. Being her first holiday table, you would have thought that Mary had done it many times before. Her attention to detail was complete, aided by pictures from House Beautiful, and hand-me-downs from Angela’s mother. Even the table cloth had little embroidered themes of the Pilgrims and Native Americans dining together.
Charlie made the first toast, somewhat drunkenly, which referenced America, our boys in Vietnam, and “this fine nation”, then he began to choke-up a little and sat down with a tear in his eye. Charlie had always been emotional, but always broke down when making any kind of speech, especially after 4 Manhattans. Next young Tony stood to recite a limerick he had heard at school, “There once was a Pilgrim girl from Dorset, who always wore a tight corset…” This is where his Mother, Angela, hit him on the back of the head and told him to sit down, and shut up. Then it was Bill’s turn.
Wobbling to his feet, large wine glass full of Chablis, Bill slurred, “Thank you Jesus”, he said gesturing toward the portrait on the wall, “for this wonderful feast that you have provided for us today…” He paused, as if to think of the perfect words that were next to exit his mouth. “And thank you to my sainted Mother who inspired this beautiful feast, and for all of her work getting this fine food on the table”. With this last statement, Mary turned white with anger, Angela grabbed the tablecloth with both hands, and Mildred said meekly, “Uh oh…”. Strike Three.
It wasn’t Mary who threw the first scoop of mashed potatoes at Bill, it was Angela. Being Italian she augmented the flying spoonful of side dish with some choice Italian phrases that probably couldn’t be replicated, even if she wanted to. The stuffing showered down on Bill directly from the bowl which Mary was holding over his head. A machine gun like stacato of sweet potatoes then hit Bill’s left cheek as young Mildred got in on the act, not once but twice.
Bill sat there covered in sides, bewildered by what had just happened. Amid Mary’s screams at him for being an insensitive twit, and a lousy husband, Bill made up for his transgression by making it all right again with a single statement, “You know Mary, now that I’ve tried your stuffing, it’s a lot better than Mom’s”.
Happy Thanksgiving, don’t drink too much, and be sure to give credit where credit is due!
Posted on November 20, 2012