Modine Gunch, illustration by Lori OsieckiIt’s a good thing God put Thanksgiving at the end of the hurricane season. Then we know for sure whether we got reason to be thankful or not.
The Gunch family is taking a chance this year and celebrating it a couple weeks early because my brothers-in-law Leech and Lurch got jobs at the Fair Grounds, so they have to work on the actual Thanksgiving Day.
For our Thanksgiving dinner, usually the men deep-fry the turkey in the yard with a TV out there so they can watch football and we each bring our own specialty to make up the rest of the meal. Last year we did it at my daughter Gumdrop’s.
But this year my sister-in-law Gloriosa invited her husband Proteus’ parents, old Mr. Proteus and Ms. Sarcophaga, to join us. They are high society types and I guess she don’t want them to enter any of the hovels the rest of us call homes, so she’s insisting we have dinner at her big gorgeous house Uptown.
Except for the fried turkey, she’s cooking the whole meal herself. This is because Ms. Sarcophaga got indigestive problems. She is allergic to shellfish, nuts and berries, caffeine and alcohol gives her the hot flashes, cheese gives her gas, grapefruit don’t mix with her medication and sugar’s too fattening. But Gloriosa is determined to cook a dinner she can eat. She says it’s going to be delicious. I got my doubts. Ms. Sarcophaga looks like she lives on artificially sweetened Styrofoam pellets.
Anyway, Gloriosa tells us not to bring any food to this dinner.
Well, we can’t just show up with nothing. My mother-law, Ms. Larda, says she’s going to bring an Autumn Harvest potpourri that comes in a little decorator bowl and my daughter Gumdrop is bringing an arrangement of chrysanthemums and turkey feathers. My gentleman friend Lust and myself are bringing some of his best bourbon, from behind his bar in the Sloth Lounge.
My brothers-in-law Leech and Lurch show up early with nothing to donate, so Gloriosa gets them right to work chopping the ingredients for the mock oyster stuffing. She has this new granite island in the middle of the kitchen and she set out bowls of all kinds of things Ms. Sarcophaga ain’t allergic to. She tells them to chop everything. Then she goes out to her patio to oversee Proteus and the turkey.
Ms. Larda comes in, plunks her potpourri down in the kitchen and goes out on the patio to find somebody’s business to stick her nose into. When Leech and Lurch finish chopping, they go out there too, because Lust is pouring all the men a few fingers of bourbon. And Proteus brought some oysters he don’t want his mother to see (she gets sick if she as much a sees a oyster) and he drops them into the deep fryer with the turkey, and pretty soon they got fried oyster appetizers.
Then Gloriosa sautés everything the boys chopped with Progresso bread crumbs and butter to make stuffing and puts it in a big pan in the oven. Gumdrop arranges her flowers and feathers on the table and tells the kids not to eat them. Proteus’ parents show up with white wine. Old Mr. Proteus toddles outside with the men and the bourbon but Ms. Sarcophaga, who looks like she just got her face tightened, manages a smile and says that the aroma from the kitchen is wonderful.
And it is. Ms. Larda says the smell is good enough to bring back the dead with an appetite. Gloriosa says it must be the stuffing. She put fresh parsley in it. That don’t go over big with Ms. Larda – she’s always been the champion stuffing maker in the family – but she says she’ll start adding fresh parsley too, if it makes that much difference. Old Mr. Proteus starts to babble some joke about parsley but Ms. Sarcophaga shoots him a look and he snaps his mouth shut.
Now, the rest of us have already sneaked out to the patio and had a few fried oysters to cut our appetite but Ms. Sarcophaga hasn’t. By the time we sit down she must be starving because she digs in the second we finish grace. Then Gloriosa taps her glass and says she has a few people to thank, so we all put down our forks and look embarrassed. She thanks her mother- and father-in-law for the wine, and Lust for the bourbon, and Gumdrop for the arrangement. She starts to sit down and Ms. Larda says, “And my potpourri?”
Gloriosa says, “Potpourri?”
Ms. Larda says, “In the kitchen. On the island.”
Leech says, “That was potpourri?”
Ms. Sarcophaga starts to gag.
Then a lot happens at once. Ms. Sarcophaga tears off to the bathroom. Leech says, “That wasn’t the seasoning?” Ms. Larda grabs the potpourri bowl, which is now empty, and reads the label underneath “Do not ingest.” We all snatch the plates away from the kids and ask if they ate any. Come to find out, poor Ms. Sarcophaga was the only one who did, but she ate a lot, judging by what we hear from the bathroom. Somebody calls 9-1-1.
I realize that, thanks to the bourbon, old Mr. Proteus ain’t in no condition to fill out the 72 forms that are going to be required in the emergency room. Gloriosa and young Proteus are hysterically looking down their children’s throats for signs of potpourri, so they ain’t going to be no help. I climb in the ambulance and hold Ms Sarcophaga’s hand all the way over to the Touro Hospital emergency room.
While she is getting her stomach pumped, I get a Snickers out the snack machine. That’s my Thanksgiving dinner.
And you know what? I am thankful anyway.