This Thanksgiving my mission is to avoid saying anything to my relatives for which I’ll spend all of Christmas apologizing. I’m taking my cue from my sister who travels the entire drive from Tuscaloosa to Nashville every Thanksgiving trying to increase her saliva production so that she won’t offend her in-laws. She chews gum, she drinks water, she thinks of George
Her husband’s parents live in a “dry” house. They serve the Thanksgiving meal sans gravy, or any other social lubricant. Extra saliva is the only way to grease the chops and choke down dinner. On her first Thanksgiving with her in-laws, the arid turkey and crumbly dressing scraping her throat like 14-grit sandpaper, my sister searched the table horizon for the gravy boat. It never crossed her mind that had that boat been the Mayflower, Thanksgiving gravy would not have been an issue. The vessel failed to sail.
Desperate to bring that ship ashore, she offered to fetch it from the kitchen. But her suggestion of gravy, the very existence of it, was met with oily stares. Her husband booted her ankle. She kicked him back for not telling her she’d be spending four days in a gravy drought and a dry house.
Ever since, she’s been scheming to smuggle giblet gravy into Thanksgiving dinner. My mother, the straightforward pragmatist, foreseeing a Christmas season of my sister begging for forgiveness, tries to squelch her covert operation, suggesting that my sister simply take some gravy as a contribution to the spread. But my mother has never had to face those oily stares. She’s never been suspected of criticizing someone else’s Thanksgiving tradition.
My mother has, however, indirectly accused others of ruining hers. She would probably give up her green beans to eat a gravy-less Thanksgiving meal if it meant everyone would put their mouth muscles into chewing the turkey instead of chewing the fat. The exertion to excrete enough saliva to swallow the swill might forestall us from talking about the time Uncle Edgar and Aunt Eulene got drunk and fell into their Christmas tree, taking out two main branches on the way down.
Every year, someone like me always has to go and forget important family news divvied out right before dinner and ask a cousin about her significant other, from whom, she morosely tells me, her bottom lip quivering, she is separated. Of course, remembering too late that I never should have said it, I fall all over the cranberry sauce saying how sorry I am for bringing it up, which makes her lip quiver more. Changing course seems both insensitive and at the same time necessary, which leaves me paralyzed, a forkful of squash casserole poised.
My mother, witnessing the struggle and wanting to brain me with the gravy ladle, redirects the subject. She asks my other cousin’s wife, “Have you ever been to jail?” Jaws rest on the incarceration topic – who has been and who’s tried to get in but failed – only briefly. After some mention of tequila and its evils, table-talk falls off to unseemly, stiff political analysis. Silent dissenters uncomfortably squirm in their seats. Even among family, political discussions are not in favor.
Disgusted with us, my mother suggests, “Why don’t y’all all go back to talking about getting drunk?”
At once two epiphanies float in like off-course gravy boats: 1) The disintegration of Thanksgiving conversation is my fault, and 2) what my sister (and maybe I as well) needs to wet down Thanksgiving with her in-laws is a flask filled with gravy cocktail.
Regardless of the mission to make no offense, we’ll both be nursing gravy hangovers at Christmas.
© Lucy Adams
Lucy Adams lives in Thomson, GA and is a weekly columnist, freelance writer, and author of the books
If Mama Don’t Laugh, It Ain’t Funny & Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and
Run. E-mail Lucy at firstname.lastname@example.org
and visit her web site, www.IfMama.com.