I did not set the turkey on fire at Thanksgiving dinner.
It was one of them mishaps that could happen to anybody.
I got to explain. Usually on Thanksgiving, me and the rest of the Gunches are down in St. Bernard Parish, pulled up to my mother-in-law Ms. Larda’s kitchen table, card table,and metal table from the front porch, lined up end-to-end and covered with orange plastic tablecloths and kids’ handprint turkeys.
Until Katrina, all of us lived in the Parish. Except my sister-in-law Gloriosa, who married money and moved Uptown into a big house next door to her upper-crustacean in-laws, Proteus and Sarcophaga DeSnott.
Gloriosa always acts nervous when our family shows up. Like we might drool in the punch.
But last year, Ms. Larda’s air conditioner broke, so we all had to have Thanksgiving at Gloriosa’s, with the in-laws. Now, we had already tried this once and it didn’t turn out so good.
Ms. Sarcophaga is one of those people who don’t like nothing and is allergic to everything else. She isn’t your most charming dinner guest.
That other Thanksgiving, my brother-in-law Leech accidentally mixed potpourri in with the turkey dressing, and of course, Ms. Sarcophaga would be the one to eat it and had to be rushed to the hospital to get her stomach pumped.
This time, I get there early to make sure everything goes perfect. Gloriosa hands me this enormous box. “It’s a chafing dish and burner. Will you unwrap it and set it up? It’s a present from Ms. Sarcophaga. And she noticed we never used it.”
Unwrap it? I need the Jaws of Life. It is encased in shrinkwrap, plus cardboard, plus styrofoam, plus packing tape, plus more plastic and plastic-wrapped cardboard. I attack it with a knife and a screwdriver and a scissors. By the time I finally got it on the table and its little burner lit, Gloriosa is ready to slap the turkey into it.
So we all sit down at the table, which is covered with a elegant black linen tablecloth (won’t show spots) trying to remember our Ps And Qs and which fork to use and not to poison Gloriosa’s in-laws.
But before we can as much as pass the potatoes, Miss Goody-goody Gloriosa taps her wine glass (real glass) and announces that we will all hold hands and take turns saying what each of us is most thankful for.
Ms. Sarcophaga says she hopes everybody has clean hands. My granddaughter Lollipop pipes up that her brother was picking his nose. So we got to have a five-minute hand-washing delay.
Then we start again. My mother-in-law Ms. Larda goes first: “Hurricane season is over, and my roof is over my head, not under my feet, surrounded by water.”
Gloriosa: “The silver chafing dish Ms. Sarcophaga gave us for such occasions.” (Suck-up)
Leech: “My new truck nuts.”
My sister-in law, Larva: “Paper bags with eyeholes are cheaper than Saints 2016 Super Bowl shirts.”
Lollipop: “The turkey is on fire.”
“Amen – what?”
Everybody erupts at once.
Gloriosa runs for the fire extinguisher; Larva rushes the children outside; Ms. Larda saves the oyster dressing and Ms. Sarcophaga pours her glass of water on the turkey. Then she pours old Mr. Proteus’s glass of water on it, but his water turns out to be vodka and the fire blazes up really big.
Gloriosa runs in holding the fire extinguisher like an AK-47 and sprays the turkey and Ms. Sarcophaga with foam.
That puts out the fire and Ms. Sarcophaga, who keels over like a three-legged card table. We call the ambulance, again. When they’re loading her on the stretcher, the EMT asks if she has foam in any of her orifices and she sits up and says absolutely not, and she will thank him not to talk about orifices in front the children.
It looks like she’s back to her old self.
I ride along in the ambulance, like I did last time, to give her moral support. And also because maybe I didn’t get all the cardboard off the bottom of the chafing dish before I lit the little burner. So it’s a good time to get out of there.
Next year, we’ll eat off Ms. Larda’s orange plastic tablecloths.
It is the new black.