This is my 60th one. I don’t remember the first three, but I have memory snippets from age four to the present. Those memories played like a blue ray in my head last night before I fell asleep. Some of them made me smile and some made me laugh out loud. The ones that made me cry did the trick of sending me off to dreamland where I spent a magical Thanksgiving at a Manoa Valley estate in Hawaii with my mom, dad, two husbands, sister, nieces, a scarlet macaw named Rainbow, and my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Cooling. Thanksgiving is always about extended family and humor, even in my dreams!
Some of my favorite memories of this blessed holiday involve minor catastrophes. The first happened the year my newly single mom decided we should invite a Marine from Camp Pendleton near San Diego to our home in Newport Beach for dinner with family and friends. Mom made me and my brother get up very early on the holiday morning so we could drive with her to the base. Instead of one, we ended up with three guys in their early 20’s who insisted they were a “package deal.” Their names were “Jules,” “Bobrick” and “Tooch” (short for Martucci), and they were like no one I’d met in my 15 years on the planet. They climbed into the back seat of Mom’s Chevy Nova and told me I could sit on Bobrick’s lap. Thank God Mom thought it was a bad idea, so my brother and I shared the front passenger bucket seat. Every other word out of their mouths started with “F” – “F’in Nixon” – “F’in Chevy” – “F’in Thanksgiving” – until Mom sternly reminded them there were children in the car. Then they just shut up. We were off to a great start.
The three Marines were angry, insecure, kids from unhappy East Coast families they did not want to discuss. They were a perfect addition to our day of gratitude that year, especially because angry Uncle Bud was not there to start an argument. For most of the day, they stayed on our little patio smoking Camels. When they lit up a joint, Mom came outside to scold them, so they put it away. Bobrick hit on me and Jules hit on my 12 year-old girlfriend, Lisa. Mom took them out to the front porch for yet another scolding. I could tell her patience was being tested.
Then, during cocktail hour, Tooch let our Siamese cat, clawless Phang, out of the bathroom where she was locked up because my visiting grandmother was terrified of cats. Phang made a beeline to the living room and jumped into Gammie’s lap. The screams of terror could be heard miles away. The Marines rushed in from the patio, Bobrick with a handgun drawn. Neighbors came out of their homes to see if someone had been killed at the Sumner’s. Phang disappeared. Mom took Gammie to her bedroom and they both cried while we kids joined the Marines, giggling outside on the patio.
When the Marines exited the Nova at the base that night, they expressed genuine gratitude and hugged Mom. We exchanged addresses. Mom was silent on the drive home. Years later she told me she couldn’t bear to admit she had been mortified by the whole experience and wanted to forget it. I, on the other hand, wanted to remember it because it was so funny and bizarre.
I corresponded with Bobrick and Tooch for a couple of months, but the letters stopped after they were deployed to Vietnam. Looking back now, I think that was our family’s version of a “National Lampoon Thanksgiving.” We needed the distraction after my parents’ divorce and I’m sure those Marines needed a diversion too. If they are still alive, perhaps they still talk about that very odd Thanksgiving with their families.
The other great Thanksgiving memory I have is from about seven years ago. My husband and I hosted dinner at our home because my mom and stepdad were unable to make the long trip to the ranch where we spend most holidays. While my sister, daughter-in-law, and I were doing the dishes and the little children were watching TV, the garbage disposal suicided without warning and all the plumbing suddenly clogged. As watery gobs of peas, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, turkey skin and tomato aspic came spewing out of drains in the sinks, bathtub and even the washing machine, flooding the house, my husband, son and brother-in-law ran around with towels and wrenches and long wires, doing their guy thing. It was pure chaos! I remember my shoes were soaked with gross, saucy water.
My parents had stayed seated at the dinner table, watching the drama unfold. After about 20 minutes, we had a huge pile of wet towels and area rugs on the laundry room floor. My sister and I were mopping, my daughter-in-law was cleaning off cupboards and floorboards. From table where he sat with his arms crossed in front of him, my stepdad suddenly yelled, “Are we ever going to get any pie?!”
The rest of us stopped, stunned by the question. We glanced at each other and started laughing so hysterically that we literally fell down onto the damp floor.
Every year since the plumbing debacle, as the dishes are cleared from the feast table and clean-up begins, someone will call out, “Are we ever going to get any pie?!” And everyone laughs.
Humor is a great tool for family Thanksgiving celebrations. I hope you and I can use our senses of humor this weekend!