Primo and I are making lunch/supper/whatever you call the holiday meal that is eaten in the afternoon after Sly and Doris have started drinking.
Doris tells Primo, in great detail, how to make the creamed onions, which of course is nothing more than
· Open the can of tiny onions and
· Mix it with the can Campbell’s Cream of Shrimp soup that we brought from Texas to Florida.
· Throw in some booze
I just googled for the recipe so I could share it with you and can’t find anything like that.
I did, however, find a recipe for cream of something soup, chopped onions, celery, and cream cheese. Once you throw cream cheese into the mix, there is no way you can fail. Maybe that’s what she is having Primo make, except she left out the chopped onions and celery. It still isn’t much more complicated than mixing the soup with the tiny onions. So why does someone need detailed instructions to mix everything together and warm it up?
Doris continues to drink while she micromanages the making of dinner from the living room.
Doris: Cut the stems off that broccoli.
Me: The stems are good.
Doris: They’re stringy.
Me: I can peel them. It seems a shame to waste all that food. I like the stems.
Doris: No, don’t do that. Just cook the crowns. That’s what Primo likes.
Doris, everything is
about what Primo likes. Primo is the sun and he eclipses everyone else around
him. Only suns don’t cause eclipses. I don’t think. I was an English major.
Don’t hold me accountable for scientific accuracy. But you know what I mean. Primo
is the moon, eclipsing the sun. Primo is the only star (I do know that the moon
is not a star) in the sky for Doris. Primo Primo
It doesn’t matter that I like the stems. I would eat the stems. I would be happy to eat the stems. I bite my lip and threw away perfectly good food, which just about kills me because I am from the Tribe of We Who Do Not Waste and throwing food away only happens if I have done a lousy job of inventory management and something has gone bad in the fridge. Other than that, I eat everything at my house.
I don’t waste food. I can hardly bear to waste bad food. I especially don’t waste food that I like. But – I am Making an Effort with Doris. I thought we were bonding – I thought we were getting somewhere. But this is a setback. She is making me waste food.
The doorbell rings and Stephanie and the kids walk in.
Stephanie: Hey girlfriend!
I give her a hug.
Stephanie: Hi Mom. How are you?
Even if I do marry Primo, I will never call Doris, “Mom.” I don’t get that. She’s not my mother. Why would I call her “Mom?”
Doris: Stephanie, what a lovely outfit you’re wearing! Those shoes are so attractive! And those colors look lovely on you.
Me: You do look cute.
Stephanie is dressed up in yellow slacks, yellow linen heels, and a peach and yellow blouse.
Stephanie: I need to wash my hands. Kids, ask your grandma what you can do to help.
While Stephanie is in the bathroom, Doris confides in me: Isn’t that a tacky outfit?
Me: I think she looks cute.
Doris: She can’t afford to buy new clothes. I don’t know where she is getting the money to fund her extravagant lifestyle.
Stephanie has not asked Sly and Doris for money – I would have known if she had, because they would have complained to Primo – and how she spends what she has is none of their business.
Stephanie: What can I do to help?
Me: Come help me. I am in the middle of the broccoli. She wants me to throw away the stems. That’s so wasteful. And I like that part.
Stephanie: She asked me to fix the broccoli once. I knew that no matter how I did it, she wasn’t going to like it, so I told her I didn’t know how.
Me: But you do, right?
Stephanie: Of course I do. It’s broccoli. How hard is it? My mother taught me to cook.
Me: So you just used that as an excuse?
Stephanie: Uh huh.
Brilliant! Why hadn’t I thought of that? “I’m so sorry, Doris, but I don’t know how to clean mildew off a door.” “I’m so sorry, Doris, I don’t know how to clean spilled food off a refrigerator shelf.” “I’m sorry, Doris, I don’t know how to put out the trash.” “I’m sorry, Doris, I don’t know how to pull weeds.”
Me: And she believed you? She believed you that you do not know how to make broccoli?
Me: You’re kidding. She really and truly thinks you do not know how to prepare and cook a raw vegetable.
Stephanie: Yep. They think I am a complete idiot. Whatever. She and Sly have probably been telling people for years that I can’t even make broccoli, but whatever. I don’t care. I get tired of being criticized for every little thing. If they are going to criticize me no matter what I do, I might as well make my life easier.
Me: So that’s where the broccoli story comes from. It was one of the very first things they said about you on my first visit. I guess they were warning me. I’ve heard you don’t do anything right.
Stephanie: They try to act like they are so accommodating, but a few years ago, right after we moved here, they wanted us here for Christmas Eve. I told them no, because we have our own Christmas Eve traditions in our family. I’m Italian and on Christmas Eve, we have the seven fishes. I asked if they wanted to come to our house, because I already had the meal planned. No, they wanted us here. Doris said she would have seafood for me.
Me: What’s the seven fishes?
Stephanie: You don’t know?
Me: No. I know what gravy is now. Is there more?
Stephanie: It’s an Italian thing. It’s how we do Christmas Eve. When my mom was alive, we would start with grilled shrimp. We had linguine with clams. Cioppino. Marinated anchovies.
Me: I love those! We ate those in Spain when I was a kid.
Stephanie: I know! So good, right?
Stephanie: I know! So good, right?
Me: What else?
Me: Not for me.
Stephanie: And of course we would make pizzelle.
Me: What’s that?
Stephanie: You’ve never had pizzelle? It’s the cookies we make at Christmas, either lemon or anise flavored. I’ll make some for you one day.
Me: It all sounds so good.
Stephanie: It is. And that’s what we do at our house on Christmas Eve. But when we moved down here, Sly and Doris wanted us to spend Christmas Eve with them. The whole reason Jack wanted to move here was to have a better relationship – to have a relationship, period – with his dad, so I said yes. And Doris said they would have seafood for me.
Me: Did she?
Stephanie: Yes. Technically.
Stephanie: They had a crab leg.
Me: A crab leg? As in one? One crab leg?
Stephanie: Yeah. Just one. One. One crab leg. One king crab leg. There was hardly any meat in it.
Me: But it was technically seafood, wasn’t it?
Stephanie: Oh yeah. My Christmas Eve seafood supper. It was more like my Christmas Eve garnish.
Me: That must be where Doris got the diet Dr Pepper idea. One bottle of diet Dr Pepper because she didn’t want to spend two dollars more to get a twelve pack and have leftover cans. But she got me that Dr Pepper.
Which she did. Don’t think I’m an ingrate, even though technically, I am. It’s just that bottled soda does not taste the same as canned soda and everyone knows that.
I am being a bitch. Doris did ask what I liked to drink and she made the effort to get it and that was nice. It was. She is trying to be a good hostess.
And maybe Doris, not being a soda drinker, doesn’t know that canned soda tastes different from bottled. I have to give her the benefit of the doubt. I do. I don’t think bourbon tastes any different depending on the size of the bottle.
Stephanie peels the potatoes and we throw them into the pot. The potatoes have to be peeled. Doris’ kitchen, her rules, I guess. Mashed potatoes taste better with the peels, but that’s not my hill.
Jack opens the oven and checks the turkey. “Done,” he says.
Sly: The turkey should be done. Doris! Check on it!
Jack: It’s done, Dad. I’m taking care of it.
Have I mentioned that Jack is a chef?
And that he knows how to cook?
Doris comes into the kitchen to prepare the gravy. That job cannot be delegated. She lets Jack arrange things so she can have the drippings.
She sighs. She stirs. She sighs again. She stirs again. And she sighs again. Oh she is weary.
Stephanie: Mom, let me do it. You sit. Your wrist is still healing.
Doris: No, no, no!
She sighs again. Wearily.
Me: Doris. Really. We can do it. Please sit down.
It is clear that this is hard for her.
Doris: No, I can do it.
Jack: Come on, Doris. I can take care of this for you.
She shakes her head. If she doesn’t trust Jack, a chef, to make gravy, she is not going to trust me or Stephanie, the bad broccoli maker.
I shrug at Jack. He shrugs back. Fine. Doris can be in charge of the gravy. But nothing else. We do not delegate physical work to people who have arthritis.
I helped my mom make gravy (Norwegian/Slovak gravy, not Italian gravy) when I was a little kid. I know the trick – you put the water and flour in a jar, then put the lid on it and shake it. That’s how you keep from getting lumps.
But if Doris wants to leave her bourbon to make gravy, I’m not going to stop her. If she doesn’t believe me that I know how, then whatever. I don’t care. My ego is not tied up in gravy making.
Doris: The gravy is ready.
Stephanie: Come on, Mom. Let’s go sit down for a bit.
Sly comes into the kitchen and hands a box to Jack.
Sly: Use this knife for the turkey. We got this set as a wedding present.
Me: What about the knife we gave you?
Doris used the paring knife in the morning to peel a pear. No, she did not use the potato peeler. I don’t know why. I don’t know why she had to peel a pear and I don’t know why she didn’t use the proper tool for the job. There are questions for which we shall never have answers, ever, and we must learn to live with the uncertainty. Life is ambiguity.
Sly: This one is fine.
Sly doesn’t even look at me as Jack opens the box, pulls out a 45 year old carving knife, runs his thumb across the edge, and frowns.
Jack: Dad, when was this knife sharpened last?
Sly: It’s fine!
I whisper to Primo: Have their knives ever been sharpened?
Primo: I don’t think so. I have never seen it happen in my lifetime.
As soon as Sly steps out of the kitchen, Jack whispers to Primo, "Hand me that new one."
Sly: Primo! Put the plates in the oven to warm!
Me: Not mine. I don’t want a hot plate. And I don’t think it’s a good idea if people are serving themselves in the kitchen.
Primo: My dad likes his plate hot. He’s always complaining that my mom’s meals are cold.
Me: Maybe your dad needs to help your mom make supper instead of sitting on his ass waiting to be served. He knows she has arthritis. He knows she broke her wrist. No wonder the food is cold by the time she gets it to the table – it takes her forever to put everything together. My gosh – she can hardly walk and it’s almost impossible for her to use her hands. Besides, why is she in charge of the cooking, anyhow? Or at least, in charge of doing what your dad says? If he wants to be in charge, shouldn’t he be doing the actual work? Doesn’t she get to retire? Or is it just him?
Primo: My dad is a jerk.
He puts the plates in the oven, but keeps one out for me. I guess everyone else will get burnt hands.
At Doris’ direction – because we surely cannot have figured this out on our own, we load the broccoli and potatoes and cream of shrimp soup dip and gravy into serving dishes and put them all on the kitchen counter. Primo pulls the plates out of the oven and stacks them on the counter.
Sly: Kids, get your food. Be careful of those plates – they’re hot.
See? Isn’t that dumb? To heat plates that people are going to have to hold? Hot plates, if you are going to have them, are for when someone else is putting the plate of food in front of you on the table, not for holding while you serve yourself from a buffet line.
Primo, Jack, Stephanie, Doris, and I step out of the kitchen into the dining room so there is room for Maria and Michael to get their food. They move into the kitchen, leaving room for Sly to come in behind them.
I hear him lift a plate off the stack.
I hear him gasp and put the plate back down.
Ha! Hot plate! Serves him right.
I hear his angry voice boom from the kitchen. “What? You took only white meat! You’re not supposed to take only the white meat!”
Oh. It isn’t a hot plate. It is Drama.
Sly stomps out of the kitchen, face red.
Sly: Stephanie, look at what your children did! Look at that!
He points at Maria and Michael.
Sly: THEY TOOK ONLY WHITE MEAT!
The rest of us crowd into the kitchen to look at the kids. Then we look at the turkey platter. Then we look at the kids’ plates.
Then we look at the turkey platter again. The kids have barely made a dent in the turkey, which is not surprising – there was a lot of turkey. It looks as full as it did five minutes ago after Jack carved the turkey. There is plenty of white meat. This can happen when you prepare a 22-pound turkey for eight people.
Stephanie opens her mouth to speak, but Sly continues his rant: What kind of mother lets her children eat like that? How dare they take only the white meat! When I was a child, I never would have been able to do such a thing! My mother never would have condoned such rude behavior. She never would have let me take only white meat! We hardly even had turkey! We almost never had meat! I got to pick last! The children never went first!
If I were not in shock, I might remind Sly that he told the kids to go first.
I would also remind him that the kids also have a father and that if there is blame to be placed, it should go equally on the other half of the parental unit.
Jack is no fool, though. He knows Sly. He keeps quiet.
Primo is also stunned into silence.
Doris stares at the floor.
Nobody defends Stephanie.
Sly: Your children! How dare they?
Stephanie presses her lips together, shakes her head, and walks away from Sly.
Jack still says nothing to his father about his children or about the mother of his children.
I walk over to Stephanie, put my arms around her, and whisper in her ear: I have Xanax if you want some.
Stephanie: No thanks. I have my own.
Sly follows us into the living room and rages at Stephanie. What a bad mother she is. How dare she? How dare she?
Stephanie: That’s it. I’m not taking this anymore. Jack, call me when supper is over and I’ll come back to get the kids.
She grabs her coat and purse and walks out of the house.
Good for you, Stephanie. I wish I could join her.
Sly stomps into his office.
The rest of us stand in shocked silence.
After about 15 seconds, Doris and Primo follow Sly into the office, where they implore him to apologize to Stephanie. Sly maintains he has nothing to apologize for. He has done nothing wrong. Nothing.
Primo sighs. If there is a sound of someone wringing her hands, I hear Doris making that sound.
Please just come back into the dining room, her hands beg.
I KNOW! I know hands cannot beg! This makes me think of that psalm where the rivers clap their hands. Rivers don’t clap, people. They don’t have hands. I can never make it through that song at church without laughing.
If rivers had hands, could they beg?
Whatever. You know what I mean.
Primo and Doris continue their efforts.
I am tempted to say, “Sly! We will be so much happier without your grouchy ass! Stay in here so the rest of us might enjoy ourselves!”
Sly: They shouldn’t have taken the white meat! They should know better.
Jack runs outside after Stephanie. Stephanie stands with her arms crossed, lips pressed together, shaking her head. Jack is in front of her, his head down. He reach to her and puts his hand on her shoulders, says something. She shakes her head again, but walks back toward the house.
The kids still stand in the kitchen, holding their plates.
Primo persuades Sly to leave his office. Jack and Stephanie come back inside. We all get our food – the plates have cooled by now – and sit.
Nobody eats until we see Sly lifting his fork.
Nobody makes eye contact.
Sly: The Eagles offense was appalling today. It’s incomprehensible to me how that quarterback can keep his job. Two interceptions! Two!
He looks at Jack and Primo. They look back at him but say nothing.
The silence stretches until Doris jumps in.
Doris: They should fire him.
The rest of us stay silent.
When I am sure nobody else is looking, I catch Stephanie’s attention and roll my eyes. Her lips twitch as she shakes her head slightly. Then she rolls her eyes back at me and exhales. Lord have mercy who are these crazy people?
 You see all those posts on Facebook where people are sharing recipes and raving, “This sounds soooo good?” And it’s for something like a cake with two sticks of butter and five eggs in the cake and another two sticks of butter in the frosting? Of course it will taste good. It’s not hard to make food that tastes good when you use a pound of butter. The trick is to make food that tastes good and also has no calories.
 Except it does annoy me that Doris thinks I am so incompetent that I can’t make gravy. But do I really want to be the Main Gravy Maker? I need to adopt Stephanie’s approach. I have such mixed emotions.
 Can you tell I really don’t like to be bossed around like this?
 I just checked to make sure I was right on this. Common wisdom seems to be 1.5 lbs per person if you want leftovers. By that rule, a 12-lb turkey would have been plenty for eight people.
 Jenny sent me six tablets, but I discovered that Xanax does nothing for me. Doris did, however, give me her extra Vicodin after she realized it did not help with her broken wrist and after I told her that sometimes (rarely), it helped with my migraines. I didn’t use it for migraine that visit, but a quarter tablet every six hours made it easier to be around Sly and Doris. Blurry edges are not such a bad way to survive a bad situation.