In honor of the Holiday of Feasts and Family Felicity (I mean Thanksgiving, in case you didn’t recognize it), I want to tell you a true story from my youth-hood long, long ago. When I say I want to tell you a “true” story, of course, I mean whatever pretense pops into my head in a random sequence.
I was thirteen at the time. My Uncle Wallow had come down to Georgia from Chattanooga to spend a few days for Thanksgiving. Uncle Wallow grew up with Mama, and they were both from here in Whatapig, Georgia, but he was invariably telling people he was from Tennessee. My uncle was a pillar of steadfast fabrication, resisting the winds of truth, however strong they blew.
“Wallow, damn it,” Mama said one Thanksgiving morning. “You’re from Tennessee as much as that dog is from the moon.” Mama was looking at Hotdog Happy Bonaparte, our cockapoo.
“Hildy,” Uncle Wallow said, “I wish you would leave the dog out of it. He hasn’t done you any harm except for that one bite two years ago. And you can look at him and see how tired he is. The heavy gravity is hard on him here, after growing up on the moon.”
“He might be from the moon,” I said. “He’s always howling at it like he wants to go back.”
“Yeah,” my sister said. “And he likes cheese.”
Mama looked at Uncle Wallow, then at the rest of us, and said, “Right about this minute as I’m standing here, you all are giving me the creeping jeepers. If you want Thanksgiving dinner, there’s a store down the road and black-eyed peas and cheddar cheese in the fridge. I’m going to Millie’s. Don’t follow me.” And off she went.
My sister looked astonished, staring around the room, but she always kind of looks that way, how she keeps her mouth half open, and her eyes have that odd look. “Who’s gonna cook?” she said. “I don’t know how. And that cheese is old, by the way.”
“We’re better off,” said Uncle Wallow. “That woman is like a police dog at a cat show, can’t anybody just relax when she starts barking.” He walked over and looked in the refrigerator, then said to me and my sister, “You’re in for a treat, because I’m gonna make Thanksgiving dinner. I took classes at a cooking school in Chattanooga.”
I can only speak for my own perception of events there, but I was thinking, Now wait a minute.
By chance, Uncle Wallow did wait a minute, thinking about something, probably. Then he said, “We’re gonna need to go to the store, though.” We hauled off down the road, and an hour later we were home with bags of food that demonstrated considerable hope and optimism, as the food in the bags was raw.
Uncle Wallow started pulling things out, and said, “We need to get this turkey going first thing. It’s kind of small, but there’s only three of us. One of those petite gobblers.”
“Hey,” my sister said, “that’s a duck, not a turkey.”
“A duck?” said Uncle Wallow. “Somebody must have switched it on me, the wretched snakes of deceit. Well, ducks are only used in Chinese cooking, so we won’t need that. I guess we’ll just have to do without the turkey. Most people prefer side dishes anyhow.”
Here’s what we made for Thanksgiving dinner: potatoes boiled over on the stove; canned green beans that were sort of mashed up from being pulled out with a fork, because the can opener broke with the can only partly open; a squash casserole that was kind of watery, after we added too much mushroom soup; brown and serve rolls that were hard and black from being forgotten in the oven.
Here’s what we ate for Thanksgiving dinner: microwaved bowls of black-eyed peas, and we gave the cheese to Hotdog Happy Bonaparte.
When Mama came home, she opened more windows to get the smoke out and gave us all a piece of pumpkin pie she brought from Millie’s house. Nobody in Whatapig, Georgia, makes better pumpkin pie than Millie.
Happy Thanksgiving, yall.