Every year my mother-in-law Ms. Larda leads the blessing at Thanksgiving dinner. “We ain’t dead yet, so we’re thankful,” she says.
It is short and it covers everything.
But this year there was some muttering, “Might as well be dead.”
Food is a very big deal to the Gunches. And Thanksgiving is your major eating holiday. Gunches don’t care about the Macy’s parade (where nobody throws nothing). Even football is in second place. Gunches care about food. They tell stories about past Thanksgivings like other people talk about past Super Bowls. (Remember Luna’s oyster dressing in 1968?
How about Gramma Luna’s sweet potato pie – when was that – ’72? The first year we didn’t have the pineapple Jell-O salad?)
But this year we’re eating vegan.
I got to explain.
We are eating at my sister-in-law Gloriosa’s, which is always a stupid idea. But they got a wall-sized TV so good you can count the nose hairs of every player in every game. Also, her husband, Proteus, is a liquor wholesaler.
The problem is her mother-in-law, Ms. Sarcophaga. She is very delicate. Also mean as a snake. And every Thanksgiving there’s some disaster. Either potpourri gets mixed with the stuffing and she chokes on it, or the turkey bursts into flames on the table and she faints. Stuff that could happen to anybody. But still.
Ms. Larda decides things will go smooth this time. Four of us – me, Larva, Leech and Lurch – will get there early in the morning and do all the cooking under Ms. Larda’s supervision. Ms. Larda’s cooking is fit for the angels, so no way is Gloriosa going to turn that down.
The day before Thanksgiving, Ms. Larda calls Gloriosa to check if she thinks a 20-pound turkey will be enough.
Gloriosa says “You mean tofurkey?” Ms. Larda says “Don’t talk dirty.”
“Ma,” Gloriosa replied, “didn’t you read my email? We’re eating vegan.”
She says Ms. Sarcophaga no longer partakes of any animal product whatsoever, and can’t stand to be around those who do. Gloriosa, who’s one of them granola-hugging types anyway, extensively researched it on Google, and now she and Proteus and the kids, Comus and Momus, eat vegan too.
Gloriosa probably figured we would all back out if she told Ms. Larda earlier. But she knows Ms. Larda hardly ever reads her email. She also knows Ms. Larda never cooks without bacon grease and butter.
Ms. Larda calls me up, hysterical. I google some vegan recipes for her. She gags a little, but she comes up with a menu.
And then she gets an idea that will fix everything. She calls Proteus.
Next day, we meet at Gloriosa’s at 6 a.m. Ms. Larda brews us strong coffee and explains the new rules.
She gets us chopping the onions and celery and bell peppers, plus mushrooms to substitute for oyster in the stuffing; then she puts the “Slab O’ Soy” in the oven with olive oil-slathered potatoes. Yuk. But she says cheer up, she got a secret weapon.
Proteus strolls in with an armload of bottles. What Ms. Larda told him was to mix a batch of Fogg Cutters, like she remembers from the old Pontchartrain Beach Polynesian bar. She forgets he makes drinks strong. When he finishes stirring everything together, the drink stirrer looks like it’s been gnawed on.
“Now, use a lot of ice in these,” Ms. Larda says. Proteus pours one – over ice – for each of us. We cheer right up.
Anyway, when the in-laws show up we got dinner fit for – well, for a bunch of people who don’t eat animal products.
Ms. Sarcophaga glares at the mushrooms and announces she’s allergic to fungi. Lurch asks if she tried athlete’s foot spray.
Proteus pours her a Fogg Cutter. She says ice makes her teeth hurt, so she knocks it back straight. Then she smiles. I didn’t know she could do that.
She asks what’s in it. Proteus says kale and prune juice. He pours her another.
Somebody notices the grandchildren have disappeared. Ms. Sarcophaga thinks that’s hilarious. “Bet they slunk off to eat that Halloween candy under Comus’ bed,” she says, and snorts into her drink.
By the time we finish dinner and the Fogg Cutters, we have turned into quite the jovial family. So jovial we all have to go home in taxis.
Another Thanksgiving for the books. If anybody can remember it.