What prompted me to become vegetarian and a little bit of the ups and downs of my journey.
|In summer’s heat, the sharp blade of death leaves me a widow. Throughout the empty days after the funeral, offerings from friends and neighbors of homemade vegetable-beef soup, fried chicken, and tuna casserole appear at my door. They mean well, but I visualize the sacrificial side of their gifts and discover I cannot eat food that has suffered.
I thumb through my recipe cards searching for merciful nourishment, but pictures of ribs, drumsticks, and golden-breasted turkeys assault me. I get the trashcan and toss the offenders. Surprised at the few survivors in my file, I turn to the internet and uncover a profusion of meatless recipes like vegetable chili, eggplant parmesan, and Portobello mushroom burgers
* * *
My sister-in-law phones me on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Her name appears in the screen, and I wonder if I should let the answering machine pick up, but I cave and press the talk button.
“Hi Juanita,” I say.
“Hello. How are you doing?”
“I’m doing well, working in my yard, getting out and about a little. How are you? What have you been up to?” I try to get out of the limelight.
She tells me about her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, complains of her arthritis and old knees, and comes back around to the point of her call.
“I want you to come to Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, unless you have something else planned.”
I could lie, but Jim always said my voice gives me away.
“Thanks for asking. I’ll make a pumpkin pie.”
* * *
On the ride out, I try to think of explanations for not eating meat, but Juanita’s big family comes from a long line of barbecue-lovers and hunters, and nothing I think of seems acceptable.
Cars and trucks fill the driveway and street out front. Inside, smells of roasted turkey, burned fat-covered ham, and venison meatloaf overwhelm me. I focus on potato salad, macaroni and cheese, squash casserole, and tell Juanita I am going out back to look at her garden of greens. She follows and points to the abundance of broccoli and kale, and I ask if I may take some with me. She nods and smiles with pride.
Inside, the big crowd eats in shifts, men first, women second. Children have tables of their own on the porch and backyard. We all pitch in to help with drinks and carrying. I leave carving to others.
At dinner, I load my plate with vegetables and ignore offers to pass my dish for servings of meat. I notice a few frowns and hear coaxing voices.
“Take some turkey. It’s delicious.”
“Is the ham too fatty?”
“Pass Connie the mashed potatoes and gravy.”
I mumble something about an upset stomach, and request the zucchini parmesan crisp recipe. It seems to satisfy.
* * *
At home, proud of my fortitude and hoping I have not damaged my relationship with my in-laws, I cuddle with my cat and look into her eyes. I imagine she smiles.