Family Holidays ~ Sometimes They Are A Disaster
This Is One!
In honor of the dish that doesn’t actually turn out.
By Mary Claire Ekstrom
Last year my mother decided to host Thanksgiving. This was not good. You see, to my family, the most important feature of Thanksgiving was the entrée. So when, on Monday before the big day, Mother announced she would serve bacon-wrapped filet mignons marinated for four days in plum sauce, no one applauded. The socially correct meat, served on Thanksgiving, was turkey. Right off the bat, everyone was aghast. Still, my mother pressed on, insisting the filet mignons would be spectacular. Then, she spent hours in the kitchen to assure she would be right.
On Tuesday, the dog ate one. Since Mother had made exactly enough, this created a crisis.
A new broadcast went out, leaving everyone horrified.
On Wednesday, in her third family press release, Mother explained that she would still serve the dish, but would make the ultimate sacrifice. She would do without.
On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, the phones went silent.
The family arrived, en masse, exactly on time.
Now, I know my family loves my mom. And me. We love them too. But at meal time, everyone needs to critique the food as they chew.
Sometimes things get ugly.
I was nervous for Mother.
“Okay. Food’s ready. Come on,” Mother announced.
It was what we’d all been waiting for.
I traversed the buffet line first. Jittery nerves had made me ravenous and hot.
I slid into my seat at the table and waited for everyone else to come. Sweat already beading on my forehead. I shifted my hands underneath my legs since I could feel the fresh upholstery giving way.
My brother slipped into a chair across the table, put his napkin in his lap. Then, studied his plate.
Mother could take the critiques.
I glugged water in an attempt to act calm and collected.
The meat wouldn’t be that bad.
I kept hearing Mother say, “I cooked the filets for hours… marinated them for days.”
It was her way of saying, “Take mercy on me.”
Gradually, all eight seats were filled.
We bowed our heads and prayed.
The pressure made my head spin.
Finally, mother picked up her fork.
Quiet chewing commenced.
I held my fork, hovering, waiting.
With a hunk of filet in his mouth, my brother ended the silence. “It’s good, Mom. You did good.”
Everyone nodded, still chewing.
My mother chuckled, “Thanks! It sure took long enough.”
The weight lifted.
Mother scooped up a bite of potatoes.
Then, weirdly, my grandfather changed the subject to football.
This never happened. The tension in the room jumped.
Unable to contribute anything football related, I cut into my filet. Or tried. I sawed. And sawed. And sawed. Sweat stains leaked through my dress. Finally, I gave up and wedged a piece of the meat into my mouth. I just shoved it in, hoping nobody saw.
It was huge. And, gristly.
I could hardly breathe.
Mother pushed the conversation onward.“What’s everyone thankful for?”
Death by suffocation.
I tried to gnaw my way free, but the meat resisted, holding me hostage.
It was too large to spit into my napkin.
Desperate, I glanced towards the kitchen. It was a straight shot to the trashcan, but…
I had no reason to travel back to the kitchen this early in the meal.
I gnawed harder.
My stomach rumbled. I hadn’t eaten all day, saving room for this meal.
The potatoes oozed cheese and creamy garlic.
Oh how I wished I hadn’t chosen the meat first.
No wonder no one said anything, they were all in filet mignon hell.
“How’s the meat, Mary Claire?” Mother’s eyes seeped into my soul.
I felt the burning glances, challenging me, begging me to tell… From every member of my family.
No one had the heart to tell her the truth.
I couldn’t either. I curved my lips into an odd smile and pointed to my cheek, giving a thumbs-up.
Hopeless, I looked past Mom, into the kitchen. Saw a water bottle. I twitched with excitement. I grabbed my glass, intending to drink my water, head to the kitchen for a refill, and spit this crap into the trash., Then I would return, beaming, offering water refills.
I guzzled the entire glass.
In one fluid motion, I stood, flopping my napkin on the chair behind me and stepped toward the kitchen.
“Where are you going?” My mother craned her neck, confused.
I tapped my empty glass.
“We have water right here.” She pointed to the pitcher on the corner of the table. “I’ll get some for you, sweetness.” Then, she poured me some.
Totally screwing my plan.
My panic grew.
I nodded ‘thanks.’
Now, I could either spit it out, in my napkin, knowing she’d find it later, or swallow it.
I looked around the table.
Everyone’s cheek ballooned out, revealing a gumball-sized lump.
Everyone wore the same panicked expression.
My brother looked up at me across the table, silently begging me to… to…
I wasn’t falling on the knife. I wasn’t going to tell.
I cast a steely look, eyes narrowed, silently screaming “NO.”
It was every man for himself.
Then, not taking my eyes off him, I put both hands up to my mouth. Cupped them. And Coughed, blowing that horrible wad of whatever was left into my hand.
“Oh.” I assumed an air of innocence, and smiled brilliantly at my mother. “Excuse me.”
My brother’s eyes grew wide.
Then, I crossed my leg, dropped my hand with the wad, and stuffed that awful wad of goo into my shoe.
I popped my eyebrows at my brother. And picked up my fork as a champion.
I took a victory lap by taking a heaping bite of mashed potatoes.
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