by J. A. Buxton
This is one way to cool down a marriage-minded man.
Disclaimer: I changed the names of some of the people in my story to protect their privacy. I hope you enjoy this almost nonfiction story.
I'm including an old faded photo of John and me taken back in the 1960's. ** Image ID #1623044 Unavailable **
Okay, please read on!
I was 26 and had been dating John for about a year when he started hinting at marriage. For months I had been dreading this since I definitely was not the marrying kind. With Thanksgiving coming up the following week, I came up with a plan to dissuade John from proposing to me without hurting his feelings. He eagerly accepted when I invited him to spend the holiday with me and my family. The poor guy had no idea what he was getting into.
The drive from Boston to West Brookfield was quite pleasant. John had just purchased a new car complete with bucket seats. This was back in the 1960’s when most cars had a bench front seat. To sit in a bucket seat was a treat back then. His car also had a radio, and we listened to the early Christmas songs playing on the local Worcester station. An early snow was falling as we drove up the Old Post Road toward my hometown. The flurries of snow outside the cozy, warm automobile made this drive seem more romantic than it really was. Much as I liked John, I knew this probably was our last long drive together.
We arrived at my parents’ home and, after leaving the car parked on Lake Street, ran up the curved driveway to the back porch. When Mum opened the back door, the fragrance of all her delicious food cooking surrounded us.
“Welcome, John,” Mum practically gushed over him, taking John’s hand and pulling him inside the kitchen. This was the first time I had brought a date home, and she would do anything to get me settled down with a good man. This was despite the fact she had repeatedly told me if she had it to do over again, she would not have married the first time, and that I should stay single. Smiling to myself, I followed them inside.
* * *
I think I should tell you Thanksgiving was an all day event in our home. On the day before, Dad would bring in the frozen turkey from our large, screened-in, side porch. The bird thawed out overnight in the kitchen, ready for the oven first thing on Thanksgiving morning. The first chore of the day, though, also belonged to Dad. On this day, and only this day, Mum allowed him to work in her kitchen. She figured he could handle breaking up the stale bread for the stuffing, and he did manage it quite well…for a man. Mum then took over, and she politely but firmly uninvited Dad from her domain. After she added the sage and other ingredients to the bread and the bird stuffed almost to bursting, into the oven it went.
* * *
On this Thanksgiving morning, Dad greeted John before taking him into the living room, while I remained with Mum. I withstood the maternal interrogation for the next hour, until there was a knock at the back door. My Uncle Ray usually arrived around noon. He started out maybe four hours earlier and made the approximate 100 mile drive from Wellesley to West Brookfield at a heart pounding 35 miles an hour. He was a sweet man, but not a person to drive with if you were in a hurry to get some place. He always brought cartons of eggnog, something I still love to drink to this day. Uncle Ray, after handing the eggnog to Mum, left to join Dad and John in the living room.
Almost immediately, my younger sister, April, arrived with her husband, Buddy, and baby daughter. Her second child was still only a twinkle in Buddy’s eye. Mum immediately forgot I existed and reached for her favorite grandchild. Favorite, that is, for the time being. Over the years, her affections centered on different children. This Thanksgiving, it was April’s baby Cynthia. Mum left me alone in the kitchen to watch the various boiling pots on the stove, and she and April brought the baby into the den. I was more than happy to see them leave since Cynthia was fragrant in her own way and was overdue for a diaper change.
While the men stayed in the living room, the den became the nursery area. Cynthia was only the first to use that room. There were more to come. By the time Mum and April joined me again in the kitchen, the baby had on a clean diaper and placed to sleep in her infant car seat that converted to a small bed. Periodically throughout the day, April or Mum would go back to the den and check on the baby.
When Mum and April returned to the kitchen, I left to see how John was doing in the living room. He appeared happy and in deep conversation with Dad and Uncle Ray. I did notice him looking toward the den when Cynthia woke up and started crying.
There suddenly was a commotion at the back door, and I hurried to return to the kitchen. Coming inside, covered in the snow that was falling more heavily by now, were my step sister, Beth. With her were her husband, Joseph, and their three children. The two oldest were toddlers while the baby was a newborn. The last two of her five arrived in later years after Beth and Joseph returned to Brazil as missionaries. The baby fell asleep in the den next to Cynthia, and their father told the other two children to behave and be quiet. Amazingly enough, they obeyed.
Almost immediately, my third sister and her mob arrived. I mean mob in the true sense of the word. Janet and Roger by then had two older children and two sets of twins, one set fraternal and the other identical. Roger was carrying the youngest, a screaming baby boy, since Janet was pregnant with their eighth and last child. The baby and both sets of twins were all in diapers since each pregnancy had quickly followed the birth of the previous child or children.
At this point, I felt a twinge of regret for what John would experience for the rest of the day. If this did not scare him off marriage, nothing would. Their parents carried the five little ones still in diapers into the den to join the two other babies. I followed my older sister in order to catch a glimpse of John’s expression when he saw and heard this loud group of children. I think I saw a look of panic on his face.
By the time my last sister and her family arrived, the smells coming down the hallway from the kitchen were making those of us not helping Mum rather impatient. One or another of us would go in every few minutes to ask, “Is the turkey almost ready?” Mum would quickly shoo us from underfoot with a common refrain, “I’ll let you know!”
For the next few hours, my three sisters helped Mum prepare the other dishes. Even back then my family knew I was not destined to be a good cook. My Thanksgiving job was to remove the silverware and gravy boat from the dining room buffet and polish all that black stuff off them. Every now and then I’d hear from the busy kitchen, “Are you done yet? You need to hurry up and set the table.” Believe it or not, Mum did trust me with the good china dishes. I guess she knew if I dropped one, the dining room carpet would cushion the fall and keep it from breaking.
I knew the minute we were about to start our afternoon feast when I heard, “Judith, come help bring out the vegetables.” Mum would call this out right after, “Did you make sure to fill the olive bowl? Don’t go eating them all. Leave some for the rest of us.” My mother knew me well, or else she has eyes in the back of her head and saw me nibbling on the pile of black olives.
“Allan, you and Ray sit down while the girls bring in the food.” This was the start of the parade from kitchen to dining room. Dad had already brought in the big tray containing the brown turkey. It wasn’t near as brown as the one and only bird I’d cooked, but then Mum had years of experience perfecting her culinary skills.
The children in the neighborhood sometimes called her Sergeant Wheeler, and Mum’s organization skills showed on Thanksgiving. She told us exactly where each dish or plate of food should go on the dining room table. “Put the extra bowl of stuffing and gravy boat in front of Judith.” Mum knew her daughters well and placed the mashed potatoes and squash in front of Jan. My older sister strangely enough liked vegetables.
Uncle Ray poured the eggnog he had brought into the heavy red crystal goblets, although one year the liquid refused to stay put. His goblet spilled, and the eggnog quickly covered all the food on his plate. I told you earlier he was a sweet man, and he refused to let anyone take that soggy food away. He ate every single bite and never complained once.
One thing we were all thankful for was that the children’s table was out in the kitchen. Beth’s well-behaved two quickly changed into noisy, normal kids, influenced by Janet’s two oldest ruffians. All four had immediately bonded, and their noise came down the length of the hallway.
I was taking a sip of eggnog and almost choked on it when Janet asked, “John, do you like children?” When we first started dating, John told me he was an orphan and spent his early years in foster care. His often-stated wish to me was to have a large family of his own.
“Yes,” he managed to get out, having to raise his voice over the loud shrieks from the kitchen. For the rest of the long meal, my family put him through a friendly third degree about his intentions regarding me, his plans for the future, and everything else they could think of to ask the poor guy. He stood up well under this, only wincing now and then when a question got a bit too personal. Maybe I should have warned him about the way some family members do not believe in personal boundaries.
When the meal was over, the men returned to the living room while we women had the usual female job of doing the dishes. When I returned to the dining room every now and then to collect the dirty dishes, I could see John was intently listening to Joseph. The conversation, as usual, was about religion. I liked my brother-in-law, but I had found his constant talking about the Baptist religion and why it was such a good one rather annoying and boring. John, though, appeared mesmerized by Joseph, and he and Uncle Ray sat quietly while Joseph talked. The other men were ignoring them, and I could hear talk of guns and hunting, a favorite topic among these three nimrods.
By now, the noise level throughout the house was at its highest. The seven young ones in the den took turns crying at the top of their lungs for their mother, while the four older ones raced throughout the various rooms on the ground floor and thundered like a herd of elephants up the front stairs to the second-floor bedrooms. To get to those stairs, the quartet had to go through the living room. More than once, one or the other would step on John’s toes as they ran by.
I had hoped that being in the company of eleven children might change John’s mind about wanting to marry and have his own family. Our drive back to Boston later that afternoon was nothing like the pleasant ride to West Brookfield. I think John was still a bit shell shocked from the pandemonium that was typical of my family’s Thanksgiving. He kept looking over at me, a dazed look in his eyes, and I would just give him a big toothy smile.
Oddly enough, John never again mentioned or even hinted at marriage. We dated a few more times, and then mutually parted as friends. I heard years later he had married, so it pleased me to know he had gotten over the shock of meeting my family. I now live over 3,000 miles cross country, delighted to avoid family gatherings. After that one memorable Thanksgiving, I never had to subject another boyfriend to my family.
My single life is good, and for that I’m most thankful!
This week's prompt: Thanksgiving is over and we're all still full of turkey and stuffing. Write a short story or poem about something zany, funny, humiliating or outrageous that has happened during a past Thanksgiving dinner.
Word count = 2,112