Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Thanksgiving Fable

It was the cranberry sauce that did him in. Cranberry sauce from a can. He had taken it from the refrigerator and hooked it up to the electric can opener. The thought had flashed through his mind, electric can opener? What, we’re too lazy for the old hand crank kind? We import oil from the Arabs so we won’t have to bother with hand cranked can openers? What a bunch of worthless, lazy bastards we have become. His mood was darkening.

Then he got out the small glass serving plate and turned the can upside down. Slowly at first but a sudden slurp later, the cranberry sauce wiggled across the plate. It bore the image of the can perfectly, every ridge clearly molded into it’s shape. He stood it on its end and stared.

What the heck was this, he thought, suddenly horrified. He grabbed the empty can, turned it in his hand to read the ingredients. Cranberries, sugar, water, and gelatin. He stared back at the crimson blob before him. Perfect, he thought. A perfect monument to man’s unquenchable drive to transform nature itself into something vile and disgusting. What on earth did those cranberries do to deserve this?

She had told him to slice it up in half inch portions and feather them smartly onto the plate. It will be festive, she had said. He did as he was told. The knife slid through  smoothly. These cranberries were planted, harvested, and cooked for this very purpose. It was their destiny to be cruelly humiliated in this way. They offered no resistance.

He wasn’t totally sure what feathering meant, but he supposed it had something to do with how they were to be laid on the plate. His first attempt looked scattered and not entirely festive, so he tried again with better results.

So, this is what his Thanksgiving had been reduced to. No apple cranberry casserole. No cooked cranberry dish at all. Cranberry sauce in a can would have to do. This would be the new normal. He stood over the plate in silence. His wife swooped by and offered faint praise...that’s nice honey, now do the second can, we need one dish for each end of the table.

He looked up from the plate, glanced around the kitchen into the living room. His kids were slumped on the couch watching a parade. His unemployed brother was buried in the classifieds, looking for a job. His annoying nephew’s head was festooned with top of the line earphones, which thankfully kept his vile grunge music private. The only people interested in this meal were his wife and his dog.

The second can looked funny. It slid out more quickly but not as intact as the first. He suspected that perhaps it was bad. Was it even possible to get a hold of bad canned cranberry sauce? If so, this was surely it. There was a troubling gash in the side, and an equally disturbing rim around the top. Quality 
control was a lost art anymore, he thought. Someone at the cranberry plant had taken a bribe and now families all over America were about to eat bad sauce. Well, not THIS family.

Looking back on it afterwards, he couldn’t remember how it had all gotten started. He looked down at his hands. They were bright red. His breathing was labored, his heart was pounding, a feeling close to exhilaration coursing through his veins. A blob of mashed potatoes was slowly sliding down the television screen, partially obscuring Al Roker’s face. Black eyed peas rolled down the hall which led to the front door. His mother-in-law’s face would be forever burned into his memory, mouth agape, wide-eyed horror in her eyes, a patch of sweet potato casserole plastered across her face, a melted marsh mellow clinging to the end of her nose. He seemed to remember throwing a slice of cranberry sauce at his brother. The memory was cloudy and moved in slow motion. Everyone had frozen. The nephew had removed his earphones and smiled broadly. Then it was all a blur. At the beginning, his wife stood with her hands at her sides in dumbfounded astonishment at the sight of her stuffing flying through the air in tightly pressed balls. But soon, she was in the kitchen madly throwing Tupperware containers full of brown sugar and flour into the air.


The dog was jumping from place to place in tail-wagging glee, happily cleaning up the largesse. Soon, it was all over. The only thing left on the table was the big bird and two baskets of Hawaiian rolls. Everyone froze in place, chests heaving from the exertion, eyes alive with fun, remnants of cranberry sauce crusted in everyone‘s hair. All eyes were now on him. He, after all, had started it, and now it was over. What to do? What now?

Anyone up for some turkey sandwiches?... he heard himself say. A thunderous cheer rose through the house as everyone gathered around the table. He began carving the turkey amidst the unbridled glee that had overtaken his family. The sandwiches were delicious, the conversation uproarious. After the meal, his father-in-law reminded everyone, that nobody had said a blessing. Everyone looked at him. He stood from his spot at the head of the table, a lima bean sliding off of his head as he rose. Everyone closed their eyes as he began to pray.

“ Lord, we thank you for this day. We thank you for our lives. We thank you for this food that we just finished eating, and the rest of it that we threw at each other before. We ask your forgiveness for the waste, but we thank you for this memory from the bottom of our hearts.”

After the meal, everyone picked up rags and mops and sponges of every shape and size and began the cleanup while the Cowboys and Lions played on the TV. As the nephew walked out the door, he stopped, looked up at his uncle and said, Dude, two words for you...Best. Thanksgiving. Ever.

Thanks, came the reply. And that’s three words, knucklehead.