My family certainly has its humorous moments. Here is a rather funny take on holidays with my people.
In the center of the table, the overcooked bird with the already slightly-eaten left leg steams vociferously, meaning the steam actually screams as it lifts from the birds ass to a point just above the breasts giving the impression that the turkey has, in a rather impolite and wholly inappropriate manner for said occasion, become flatulent.
“Did someone open the wine?”
“Red or –-?”
“Someone pass Uncle George the red wine too, he seems to be signaling for it.”
Uncle George’s penchant for red wine likely results from the mulberry stain affixed to his cheek, a consequence of a bastard birth, or so his mother would tell him, with the added note that the stain was his father’s way of identifying him on the streets when George walked around town during his childhood. The irony of Uncle George pursuing a career as a make-up covered street mime is not lost on our family.
Whoop! – the high-pitched sound Mother makes when flipping the veggies in the frying pan.
“The vegetables will be out in a few minutes,” Mother roars from the kitchen.
One wonders what kind of family lets the matriarch stay in the kitchen cooking while they consume ungodly quantities of food after a prayer to their Creator. Thanksgiving should really be called Forgiving - forgiving me an ulcer, forgiving me a God-awful reason to come home for the holidays, forgiving me a panic attack for fear that my little brother will say something improper during dinner.
My little brother Mikey has Joke Turrets, not an actual DSM disorder but dangerous nonetheless. It manifests itself over time, and as he gains comfort within his surroundings, he will start blurting out unfortunate jokes, with the caveat of holding the appearance of funny or kind, right before the grotesque bomb of inappropriateness washes over the opening gun salvo.
“Stop animal cruelty…” Mikey shouts, and the guests smile as our family turns their heads, scrunch their shoulders and grimace, as though hearing the loud screech of a car in the seconds before the crash, “…beat the hell out of the little bastards until their dead!” a fitting finish to which the guests moan, our family sighs, and Uncle George brings his miming hand to his bastard-identifying cheek-stain in a gesture feigning shame.
These dinners bring the extended family together, a true reconciling of the Pilgrims and Indians, my mother’s Dutch ancestry accounting for her domestic proclivities and my father’s olive-skinned Italian heritage sitting around the table like bronzed chess pieces, positioned slightly askew of each white Netherlander whose praying hands seem a measure of decorum against the crossed elbows and raised fingers of the Napolitanos.
During holidays, I always sit with my cousin Kate, for whom a special place in my heart. Whoop! Her spinal injury notwithstanding, we get along well. I let her ride her left arm upon my shoulder as we walk down to the river behind the house, the limp in her left leg noticeable but permitting us a moderate pace. The car which side-swiped her must have had one hell of a hood ornament – Kate would later tell me that it was an Angel, but one with sharp wings and an indestructible halo - because it wedged itself between two of her vertebrae and now she walks with what the doctor’s term a schizophrenic limp, meaning it changes legs depending on whether she is climbing or descending. In search of flatter terrain, Kate and her husband moved to Kansas a few years ago so the limps aren’t too much of an issue these days.
“I made a donation to the Tempura House charity…” -- the swerve of the incoming car, the brace for the crash -- “…it’s for lightly battered women.”
“Who wants rolls?”
“Butter me up,” That’s Mei-Lin, Cousin Mario’s Asian-import wife who uses the English language like bad drapes, her favorite pastime the employment of idiomatic expressions with an overtly childish fondness for puns.
“Head’s up, Mei!” the roll arcs over the table like a basketball and Uncle George holds up his hand indicating a three-point shot, then signals for two as it hits Mei in the stomach causing her to yell out “Pow, right in the breadbasket!”
There is a brief pause where I can smell the turkey, see the potatoes, and have a moment of sensory joy, and then,
“George, did you get your wine?”
Kate whispers to me. “I think George is blushing but, with that stain, I can’t tell.”
“Mom, I want turkey.”, this last from Maria, Cousin Amy’s thirteen year old daughter who now sits at the children’s table with six other offspring from our international clan. I remember graduating to the adult table twenty years ago and throw Maria a promising wink that says “Someday”. Recently pressed into adulthood by an over-aggressive high school senior football player whose sexual leanings tended toward young girls, Maria interprets my wink as reprehensible and screams “Eww, gross” and races off to the bathroom.
George, who is surreptitiously watching the entire scene, rubs his index fingers at me as if to say “Tsk Tsk!” and I momentarily develop my own mulberry stain.
“Turkey is coming dear, in a moment.” – an unnecessary response since Maria is, by now, probably texting half her friends back in Texas about her perverted Uncle with the inclination towards pedophilia.
“--do we have cranberries?”
“I think George is choking.”
“No he’s just gesturing us to remove the turkey’s neck.”
“But he’s turning blue, well, some of him.”
“Wow, he’s a really good mime.”
“Dad, check on George please.”
“Veggies are ready!”
“Good, I’ve added vegetables to my diet…” Mikey announces, as George moves his hands from his neck to a palms out in front of his face pose, waiting for it, “…but eating them seems wrong if they aren’t completely brain dead.”
“Thanks for the commentary, Mei.”
As Mother inserts the veggies into the jigsaw puzzle of cuisine now covering the table, the family starts on second helpings. Like a thick layer of heat rising off the desert pavement, the aromatic blend of turkey, olive oil, and baked bread floats over the dining room, and several of us succumb to the fumes, falling back in our chairs and sticking our tongues out at the amalgamation of Holiday rations now sitting atop the table.
Kate leans over and asks me to switch seats with her. Apparently the pain has switched sides during the meal, and I make the assumption it was caused by the uphill battle to get the stuffing away from Aunt Teresa.
“Mother, please come back to the table. There’s enough food here to feed ten horses.”
“Someone pass the Apple-loosa Sauce.”
“Oh Mei –-“
“I’ll be there in a moment. My cinnamon-apple stuffing is almost ready.”
“George quit rubbing your tummy. You’re allergic to cinnamon.”
George mimes a look of horror and brings his open palm to his mouth, then, simulating death, falls face first into his plate.
“If I won the lottery, I wouldn’t change…”
“Please someone stop him.”
“…but my friends sure would.”
“George get up!”
“MOTHER! Come eat!”
My cousin Tony has been sitting quietly for the entire meal. A natural introvert, Tony tends to see life as a happening, something he is not necessarily a part of, but rather, a witness to. Watching his face during this meal reminds me of the little animated books of my childhood, the ones where I’d flip through the pages and watch the images change from happy to sad to surprised in rapid succession. As my Mother comes out to the table, Tony smiles.
“Anyone else want stuffing before I finish it?”
“Save the trees…”
“Seriously, does he ever stop?”
“…or we’ll have nothing to build houses with in the future.”
Whoooooooooooooop! “Uh, oh, there goes the apple pie.”
“Hang on, Aunt Kim, I’m coming.” –this was Kate, lifting herself up from the chair and forgetting she has switched places. With her limp on the other leg, she falls into the table knocking the bowl of cranberries into Uncle George’s face, the upshot of which leaves him doubly stained and unclear how much to wipe off.
Tony lifts an eyebrow.
Whoop! “We’ve recovered the pie!”
Uncle George lifts his napkin and pretends to dab at a tear.
Maria returns to her chair, carefully walking on the other side of the adult’s table and watching me out of the corner of her eye the entire way. I harbor a touch of grief that I am aware of her movements, for although my wink was completely innocent, I feel the guilt and anguish at causing this poor child pain, and now here I am staring at her, exacerbating her discomfort.
Kate calls out from the kitchen that Momma is done with the pie and asks that we please get our dessert spoons ready.
“We’ll do a group scoop!”
“Really Mei? Really?”
Afraid Mikey might cross the line this time, George feigns terror, then falls back against the window.
“…hate everyone equally.”
“Whew!” A collective sigh from the family followed by a smattering of mumbles from the guests.
Tony snarls at Mikey then looks at George against the window and squints as though thoroughly confused.
“I scream ice cream!”
“Mei, please. Enough!” husband Mario finally hits the breaking point and places a hand over Mei’s mouth.
“Save the whales…”
“…harpoon an Uncle with a mulberry stain!”
“Michael!” my mother is really upset.
The fork that comes from the kid’s table hovers in the air just long enough to induce a collective gasp. Little Gianni, another one of my nephews, has recently completed Herman Melville’s classic tale Moby Dick. Upon hearing the harpoon request from Mikey, he feels obligated and compelled to act, launching the four-pronged harpoon toward an unassuming Uncle George, who has responded to Mikey’s outburst by standing and slowly turning his head towards the children’s table in a gaping-mouthed appeal for sympathy. The fork hit him, prongs first, right in the cheek.
When George arises from the floor, his harpooned mulberry stain begins bleeding all over the tablecloth.
Mother and Kate enter with dessert and begin passing out slices.
When Mother sees George she screams, “George, you’re staining the table!”
Tony wrinkles his nose.
George, now stricken with shame at both the bleeding and the unnecessary commentary on his facial blemish, throws his hands to the sky in some appeal to Christian symbolism, a full pose of crucifixion, the fork proudly protruding from his cheek, and then, in a blatant subversion of mime etiquette, screams “Fork you all too!”
Tony gives a look like a lobotomy patient.
Mei screams out “I get it!”
“Get behind the children…Support pedophilia” calls Mikey.
“Jaysus H. Chiiiirist on a popsicle stick.”
Maria gets up and leaves the table.
I put my head down and consider inviting Halliday to next year’s Thanksgiving.