“Mother, please don’t force me to sit next to Sam.” I stopped peeling potatoes and turned toward my eleven-year-old daughter standing in the kitchen doorway. She was wearing a T-shirt displaying the heads of *NSYNC band members, although only Justin Timberlake was clearly visible beneath her puffy purple vest.
“I could do with some help here, Em,” I said, returning to my spuds and ignoring her request. “And you are planning to change clothes, I hope? Wear the dress Grandma bought you.”
“Did you hear me, Mom? Because I’ll just die if I have to sit next to him.”
I smiled as I skinned a potato in a long single twist of the knife. “Well, I don’t think you will physically die, Emily. And what’s wrong with Sam, anyway?” He was the fourteen-year-old son of my best friends, and as far as I knew was a nice boy. But who trusted teenage boys?
Emily was fully into the kitchen now and picked up a knife. “We have nothing in common.”
“Mmm.” I attacked another potato. “I find that hard to believe. You’ve known him your whole life. What does he like to do?”
“Dumb stuff. And when’s Dad getting here?”
I stopped peeling. “He is stuck in Denver. They had a big snowfall, and all flights are grounded.”
“Oh, poor Daddy,” Emily said. “He misses out on everything.”
“Yes,” I replied noncommittally, gratefully distracted when Kit James and her husband, Larry, arrived with their son Sam in tow. “That better not be a turkey,” I said to Kit, taking a turkey-shaped platter covered in tinfoil from her hands.
“Don’t have a fit, Val. I just thought you should have a backup. I’m sure yours will be perfect, and we’ll just toss this old thing in the garbage if no one eats it.”
I put her bird on the island, but Kit was now inspecting the green bean casserole that was waiting its turn for the oven. “Mmm,” she said, examining the glass dish. “I don’t see any water chestnuts.”
“Because there aren’t any.”
“What about fresh mushrooms? You did slice up fresh mushrooms, right?”
They were a favorite of my husband, David. “No, Emily and I don’t like them.”
“Don’t tell me you used those god-awful fried onion things that pop out of a can like a snake.”
“Well, of course I did. That’s what makes the dish.”
“No, dear, that’s what ruins the dish. You should always have some homemade croutons on hand—much better for crunch. Larry, run back home and get some; they’re in the fridge—”
“Don’t you dare, Larry,” I said.
“Not a chance.” He grinned. “So, where is David?”
I turned back to the stove to avoid their faces. “David is stuck in Denver. Weather related.”
“Weather related, my ass,” Kit muttered as she began stirring the gravy. “You do know there are lumps in this, don’t you? Larry, why don’t you and the kids go watch the parade.”
Before following his wife’s request, Larry gave me a kiss on the cheek. “Your casserole looks terrific,” he said. “Don’t listen to Kit. She thinks she’s the only one who can cook.”
“So . . . ,” Kit began as soon as we were alone. “David’s stuck in Dallas—”
“Wherever. Are you upset?”
“Why should I be upset?” I added salt to the potatoes.
“Ya know, I offered to cook Thanksgiving dinner at my house. I don’t see why we had to—”
I spun around to face her. “Because this is our home. And because Emily was in a play last night . . . “The King and I” . . . she played Princess Ling or something, and she was wonderful—”
“Yes, yes, I know. We were there—”
“Well, maybe you can tell her father next time you see him how his amazing daughter beat out a fourteen-year-old for the part.” I was aware of the strain caused by holding back tears.
“Don’t worry; I will. Did you record it at least?” she asked. “Ya know, for Asshole to see.”
“Yes, but not for him; I’ll tell him I forgot. He’ll believe that because he thinks I’m so stupid.” I dabbed at my eyes some more. “I don’t want Emily to see me upset.”
“Why not? Maybe she needs to know what a son of a bitch her father is.”
“No, no. She’s too young for that. Will you keep an eye on dinner while I fix my face?” My watery eyes were beginning to undo the makeup I’d put on that morning.
“Of course. But I know whose face I’d like to fix.”
Kit managed to save the dismal dinner. She spiced up the canned yams with a little nutmeg and curry and added some cherry brandy to the cranberries. (Who knew I had these items in my kitchen?) And without saying a word, she discreetly replaced my dried-out turkey with hers, all juicy and golden brown. So much better.
When we sat down to eat, my father said the blessing, including those people who lost their lives in the World Trade Center. Then my brother told us a funny story about his new hunting dog. Emily, who’d changed into an empire-waist minidress and clunky knee-high boots, had grabbed the chair next to Sam and appeared captivated by his word-for-word account of the movie Lord of the Rings, which he’d just seen. My Aunt Delia claimed she was still so upset over terror bombings that she could barely eat and offered proof by foregoing a third slice of pumpkin pie. And my mother remarked that the green bean dish was a little soggy. Needs more crunch, Valerie.
Later, when the table had been cleared and Aunt Delia was in the kitchen pulling the remaining white meat off the turkey carcass, David called to say it looked like he’d be able to get a flight home on Saturday. I didn’t call Emily to the phone since she looked happy watching Friends with Sam in the living room. I was standing by the patio doors in the kitchen, sipping a cup of coffee, when Kit joined me.
“Great meal,” she said, putting an arm around my shoulders.
“Thanks to you.” I smiled. “I’m glad you came.”
“Me too.” She smiled back, as we watched Aunt Delia take the last slice of pie.
“No point letting it go to waste,” she said, catching our glances, the loaded fork headed to her mouth.
“Go for it; it’s Thanksgiving.” Kit laughed.
And here’s wishing all our readers a very Happy Thanksgiving. We hope your table is surrounded by the people you love. And crunch should be optional.