“Aunt Sissy isn’t going to bring that tired old broccoli and rice thing with Cheez Whiz, is she?” Phyllis’s daughter Marin asked her as she snuggled her cell phone between her chin and shoulder. She plunked a Keurig coffee pod into place and set the machine in action. “We’ve got free range turkey and organic vegetables and she brings freakin’ Cheez Whiz, for Pete’s sake.” Marin continued her plea.
“Well, I’m not telling her, if that’s what you think. That casserole is one of her proudest creations. She takes it everywhere. It’s Thanksgiving after all. Thankfulness is in order, not snobbery.”
“Yada. Yada. Yada. Please, Mom. You know she worships you.”
“She worships me because I let her bring her broccoli and Cheez Whiz any place she darn well pleases. And you should, too, young lady.”
Marin laughed with the confidence of a daughter who got just about everything she ever wanted. “Please, Mommy.”
“Okay, I’ll think about it, but I’m blaming you.”
“Yeah, look who’s calling who a coward.”
Phyllis loved Sissy. They’d stuck together during their parent’s divorce, during both their husband’s deaths, during the trying years of squalling infants, stubborn toddlers, and smart-ass teenagers. Besides, Phyllis kind of liked the broccoli casserole. The dreaded free range turkey was dry as dust and didn’t have much more flavor. Give her a Butterball any day. Looked like the day of thankfulness was turning into an exercise in diplomacy even Henry Kissinger would find challenging.
She might as well stop stalling, she knew she’d do whatever Marin asked. Pressing the home button, Phyllis called forth Siri to help with her dirty work. “Call Sissy cell,” Phyllis said with resignation.
“Hi, Phyl, what’s up?” Sissy’s voice was chipper, making Phyllis’s job even tougher.
Phyllis paused, thinking how to begin, but Sissy knew her too well, the pause gave Phyllis away.
“Okay, little sister, what gives?” Sissy didn’t wait for an answer. “You won’t go with me to that Tupperware party. I know you hate that kind of stuff. ”
Phyllis jumped in. “Marin wants you to bring something instead of your casserole to Thanksgiving.” There, the cruel words were spoken. She almost heard Sissy’s feelings get hurt right over the phone. A moment’s uncomfortable silence, and Sissy said, “Thank God. I’m sick of that old thing, too.”
Had Phyllis heard right? Sissy was faking it. “Oh, come on. You can’t fool me. You feel bad and you’re just being noble. Come on, make me feel guilty. I deserve it.”
“You think I can’t be all trendy? I’ll bring something with keeeenwhaaaa in it. I bet Marin will even ask for the recipe.”
On the big day, the decorating at Marin’s house did Martha Stewart proud: bowlfuls of fall fruits and vegetables spilled out artistically on the sideboard and the coffee table. Pumpkins in descending size marched down the front steps in puddles of fall leaves; and place cards sat in tiny branches covered in berries. Not a fold out Hallmark tissue paper turkey in sight.
“Mom, Aunt Sissy, Happy Thanksgiving!” Marin gave them each a sweet-smelling hug and a smile as real as her decorations. It was easy to see why people went out of their way to please her. Her husband Bill, a handsome guy whose brilliant technical mind hid inside a guy who was happiest playing touch football with the kids, relieved them of their dishes.
Sissy whispered to Phyllis, “I bought it ready-made at Whole Foods.”
After a few glasses of wine, Marin announced the turkey was served. Sissy and Phyllis sat next to each other prepared to boost each other’s courage in the face of a tough bird. The platter circulated, and Phyllis put the smallest piece she dared on her plate. The quinoa followed, and again Phyllis served herself a dainty portion. When the mashed potatoes she had brought made their appearance, Phyllis heaped a small mountain on the bare expanse of her plate. Let Marin believe mashing potatoes with the skins on was brand new, Phyllis knew differently. Her grandmother used to do it to save time, saying, “The skins are where all the vitamins are, anyway.”
Phyllis watched as Sissy cut off a minute piece of turkey, and said, “Wish me luck. Here goes.” And she put the bite on her tongue. Her wary expression turned to surprise. “This is delicious. How did you fix it?”
Marin said, “I thought it was kind of dry last year, so I Googled this honey mustard marinade.”
The platter passed a second time and had to be refilled half-way round.
Phyllis watched Bill take a bite of quinoa, and with a full mouth, he said, “Good work, Aunt Sissy.” Phyllis followed his lead. Not bad. Kinda nutty. The funny name had made her suspicious, but quinoa was really pretty non-threatening.
“I’ll have to get your recipe,’ Marin said.
At that, Phyllis and Sissy sputtered and elbow-nudged. Sissy nearly choked, suppressing her laughter, and reached for her water glass.
To their utter bewilderment. Marin served Pepperidge Farm heat-and-serve rolls with her chemical, preservative, additive-free feast. Sissy and Phyllis and even Bill shared a look, the women rolled their eyes, and Bill refilled their wine glasses to the brim.
Marin and Bill’s three boys, who had shared their own table, cleared the plates under Bill’s supervision. They returned from the kitchen walking as carefully as if on a high wire bearing dessert plates holding cranberry clafouti with real whipped cream. Both Sissy and Phyllis knew that clafouti was just a French name for cobbler. They also knew it would be to-die-for, and were grateful it was not the rubbery pumpkin pie their own mother had always served.
Bill placed cups of coffee next to each place, and they all nibbled and sipped like bears preparing for hibernation. Bill shooed the boys into the family room, the women into the living room, and he insisted on tackling clean-up duty on his own.
Amid the clatter and splash of cleaning up, the women heard the announcer and crowd noises and Bill’s occasional cheers and curses while he watched Vanderbilt’s game on the mini flat screen in the kitchen. His clean-up offer had included a scheme to catch up on his alma mater’s game.
Phyllis, Sissy, and Marin collapsed on the living room’s comfy furniture. The sisters told Marin about the Caribbean cruise they planned to take after the holidays.
Marin listened carefully and then, her eyes twinkling, she smiled and said, “Well, I hope you’ll both be around in May. I’m going to need your help.”
“What are you talking about, Marin?” Phyllis asked, a little concerned in spite of Marin’s smile.
Marin pointed to her stomach, holding up four fingers, she said, “Number four.”
Phyllis and Sissy gasped, then all manner of tears and hugs and laughter broke out. “Another baby. Oh, I love babies. Of course we’ll help you, honey. We’ll be your slaves.”
Bill picked that moment to join them, and the three boys came crashing through the room with toy laser weapons, shouting, “Pitchoo, pitchoo,” The youngest fell behind and climbed on his grandmother’s lap.
Phyllis gave him a cuddle and a kiss. “Didn’t your mommy fix the best Thanksgiving dinner ever?” she asked her grandson.
“Yeah, it was really good, but where was that Cheezy Wheezy stuff? I wanted some of that.” Then he hopped down and ran off in search of his brothers.
Marin looked surprised, then caught her aunt’s eye, and blushed. Phyllis and Sissy did not hold back their laughter this time. They exploded. Bill joined in, but seated himself on the arm of his abashed wife’s chair. He put an arm around her and pulled her close.
Marin buried her red face in his shoulder, and then joined in the laughter.
Phyllis watched her much-loved son-in-law plant a kiss in her daughter’s hair, and knew she had much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
And Henry Kissinger got the night off.
About the Author: Bernie Brown
I live in Raleigh, NC where I write, read, and watch birds. My stories have appeared in several magazines, most recently Modern Creative Life, Indiana Voice Journal, and Watching Backyard Birds.
I am a Writer in Residence at the Weymouth Center, which is the perfect spot to work on my novel-in-progress.