Thanksgiving 101

By Jeffery Cohen

Years ago, when I was away at college, I became good friends with one of my professors. As we sat having coffee in the cafeteria, watching the school empty out for Thanksgiving Day, she told me she would be spending it alone.

“You can’t spend the holiday by yourself,” I said.

“Why not?” she asked.

“For a professor you’ve got a lot to learn. Holidays are a time for sharing. Why don’t you come home to my folks’ house with me?” I asked.

“I’d just be a drag,” she answered. “I’m really not into the holiday cheer thing. Besides, I’d feel like I was imposing.”

“The more the merrier.” I assured her. And so it was decided.

On the ride over, my professor friend wondered if she was under-dressed.

“Where do you think we’re going, the Waldorf?” I kidded. “Just what do you expect my folks are like?” I asked.

“Gee, I don’t know. I got the feeling that they’re kind of sophisticated. I see your father wearing a smoking jacket and puffing on a meerschaum pipe. And I see your mother wearing a smart cocktail dress and a simple string of pearls. How close am I?” she asked.

“You’ll know soon enough,” I said as we pulled into the driveway.

As we came through the front door, we found an empty living room, the TV blaring the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. “Anybody home?” I called out.

My father wandered in looking like Stanley Kowalski, right out of A Street Car Named Desire. He was wearing a torn white t-shirt with a nipple showing through a ripped hole, like a bull’s eye on a target. A surprised grin framed his unshaven face.

“Dad, this is Professor Estelle Parks.”

“You can just call me Stella.” My friend shrugged.

A mischievous grin stretched across my Dad’s face and I cringed, certain of what was coming. He raised his eyebrows threw back his head and cried out. “Stellllllllaaaaaa!” Then he checked his watch. “You’re early.”

“It’s a little after eleven. You did say eleven, didn’t you?”

“Betty, didn’t you say noon?” he called over his shoulder.

My mother, in a floral house dress, her hair tucked under a powder blue kerchief, bounced out of the kitchen, a ladle in hand. “You know I said eleven,” she explained as she wiped her greasy hands on her apron. “Now go in and change that shirt,” she ordered, shaking her head. “You must be Stella.”

“Stelllllaaaa!” My father yelled from the bedroom.

Mom wrapped her arms around Stella, giving her a big bear hug.

“This is for you.” Stella awkwardly handed over an expensive bottle of French Bordeaux.

“Well, isn’t that nice of you,” Mom said as she glanced at the label. “Jeffery, go into the fridge and get out a bottle of ginger ale. We can make spritzers.”

“Mom, I think maybe we should just drink this wine as…wine.” I blushed.

“Well…I guess we could. I’ll get some glasses.” Then she disappeared into the kitchen.

“No, Mom. Not those.” I pushed aside the glasses that my mother had collected from the take-home packs of ready-to-eat shrimp cocktail from the A & P.”

“But they’re perfectly fine. They have that nice, fancy shape.” she explained.

“Use the ones I bought you for Christmas.”

“But, I’m saving those for a special occasion.”

“This is a special occasion.”“Well…Maybe you’re right.”

I uncorked the bottle and poured wine into four slender glasses. My mother took a sip and scrunched up her face. “Oh no, honey. This could definitely use some ginger ale. What do you think, Stella?”

Stella raised the glass to her lips and sipped thoughtfully. With the ease of a true diplomat, she said, “Hmmm. I think your mother’s right. It could definitely use some ginger ale.”

For the next hour, we sipped spritzers and made small talk with my folks while they prepared dinner. Like two matched cogs in a machine, they were perfectly in sync. When Mom lifted a pot top, Pop handed her the strainer she needed. Dad chopped and diced vegetables on a wooden cutting board. As his blade made the final slice, Mom was taking down the salad bowl from a shelf. They moved around each other like rehearsed ballet dancers.

A slew of serving dishes were filled and carried to the table as Mom opened the oven. The scent of the turkey wafted through the room as Dad slid the twenty-pound bird out.

“Stella, why don’t you sit in the back,” Mom said as she grabbed hold of the table top.

I rushed in front of Stella like a knight in shining armor trying to protect a damsel in distress. “I’ll sit in the back,” I volunteered, having been through this drill since I was in high school.

“No, no, honey. I may need you to get up and get something.” My mother explained. “Go ahead Stella. You sit in the back.” As Mom lifted the table’s end an inch from the ground, and slid it out so that Stella could squeeze in behind, the back leg of the table dropped off and hit the floor with a hollow thump. Dad casually reached down and grabbed hold of it.

“Just sit right down, Stella,” Dad instructed. Once she had taken her seat, my father slipped the leg back into place, and Mom lowered the table.

“There we are. So let’s give thanks for the food we’re about to receive. Let’s give thanks for the good company and…  let’s eat.” My mother smiled as she handed me a second plate. “Jeffery always gets two plates. He just can’t fit everything he likes on one plate.” Embarrassed, I buried my head in my hands.

The meal proved to be even tastier than it smelled, and it smelled delicious. I have to admit, we put a pretty good dent in that turkey and, as it turns out, I did need both plates. After dinner, Mom put a pot of coffee on the stove to percolate as she brought in an apple and a pumpkin pie from the porch. “I baked yesterday afternoon.”

“They’re beautiful.” Stella complimented.

“You eat all you want. There are four more just like these out there.”

“Four more?” Stella asked, surprised.

“Mom feels that if you’re going to bake, why go through all that trouble for just one measly little pie,” I added.

“It’s true,” Mom admitted. “Let’s have another cup of coffee, and let’s have another piece of pie,” she sang.

“You have a great voice,” Stella commented.

“When the kids were little, we’d finish dinner, have dessert, and we’d sit around the table and sing for hours. Remember, honey?”

“I remember,” I said, a bit embarrassed.

“Over there, over there, send the word, send the word, over there…” Dad’s rich baritone voice sang out.

Just as I was ready to say, “Okay, that’s enough of that,” Stella joined in.

“That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming…”

“You know that song?” I asked.

“George M. Cohan. From the movie, Yankee Doodle Dandy,” she shot back proudly. “A rum dum dumin everywhere.”

That began a sing-a-long that lasted well into the night.

With our bellies full and our throats strained, we said our thank yous, our goodbyes, and headed for the car. Before we could get out of the driveway my mother came running after us with a shopping bag full of turkey sandwiches and two pies. “In case you get hungry on the way home.” She smiled, and then waved to us.

As we drove off, I turned to Stella. “So, did you have a good time?”

She smiled broadly. “A great time. This is one professor who learned a valuable lesson about that ‘holiday cheer thing,’ thanks to her prize student, and Thanksgiving 101!”

About this writer

  • Jeffery Cohen

    Jeffery Cohen

    Freelance writer and newspaper columnist, Jeffery Cohen, has written for Sasee, Lifetime and Read, Learn, Write. He’s won awards in Women-On-Writing Contest, Vocabula’s Well Written Contest, National League of American Pen Women’s’ Keats Competition, Southern California Genealogy Competition, and Writer’s Weekly writing contest.

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One Response to “Thanksgiving 101”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Your stories are always rich and colorful.

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