(Pilgrim's) Progress Report

Looking back, it’s a blur, a filmy orange streak. Thanksgiving Day 2012 is. I thought I was ready, that this would be the year I’d achieve my goal. I didn’t want much, just to get everything on the table at its appropriate temperature. I was on track too, until they arrived, the invited guests. Then everything went SHABOING, like one of those trickster cans of peanuts that you open and out shoots a cloth-covered spring, wild with potential energy.
            The problem wasn’t that the guests were in the house. The problem was that they were in the kitchen. I’d arranged all kinds of awesome appetizers elsewhere to keep people out of the kitchen, away from me.
            My brother was the first invader of my domain. “Whatcha doing?” he said.
            I kept chopping. “Before I forget, I meant to tell you last night on the phone, we can take Mom home afterward,” I told him. “If you all wanna go Black Fridaying.”
            He peeked over my shoulder as I transferred garlic chunks into the green bean pan.
            “I’m over that idea,” he said, “after what happened on the way here.”
            My heart skittered and I stopped stirring, turned to face him. “What happened? Did you all hit a deer?”
            “Close. A big dog.”
            My eyes filled and I placed an oven-mitted hand over my heart. “That’s terrible!”
            He nodded. “Yep. We came around the corner and there it was, in the middle of the road, licking its butt. And then it wasn’t.”
            My son burst through the door, skidded to a stop in his stocking feet. Held out the empty cracker basket.
            “I, I mean we, need more Nut Thins.”
            I glanced at my watch. “The shrimp butter’s been out all of ten minutes and you’ve already polished off a whole box of crackers?”
            He cowered. Took tiny steps backward.
            I glared. “You know what this is, don’t you?” I handed him another box of Nut Thins from the snack cabinet. “It’s gluttony. Pure and simple.”
            He grabbed the box and ran. My brother followed him.
            Moments later my sister-in-law sidled up next to me. “How can I help?”
            I motioned to the pan of rolls. “Put ’em in the toaster oven please. It’s preheated.”
            “You want me to brush ’em with butter? My mom always did.”
            I squinted at my to-do list. “Sure. Whatever.”
            Right after the toaster oven door rattled shut, I felt her breath stir my hair.
            “Are you making gravy next? Can I watch? ’CauseI can’t make gravy. Gave up trying years ago.”
            Her confession gave me pause. I gathered in a deep breath. Be in the moment, I told myself, here. Connect. Share.
            I faced her with a grin. “It’s easy,” I said, “if you know the secret. Gravy needs to be shaken, not stirred.”
            She watched intently as I measured equal parts flour and cooking sherry into a jar. I screwed the lid on tight and handed it to her.
            “Shake it like crazy.”
            As she shook, her face glowed. “I remember now!” she said. “My mom used to make gravy like this.”
            “You’ll never have lumps again,” I said as I poured the slurry into the pan juices. I pressed a whisk at her and glanced at the stove clock. Despite all the interruptions, everything was running pretty close to schedule. The dining room table was set. The votives lit. All the side dishes were arranged on the kitchen table. There was only one thing left to do.
            “Men!” I yelled. “Time to carve.”
            My husband and brother bonded while they devastated the turkey, trying and rejecting a variety of knives.
            “I thought you all had an electric knife,” my brother said.
            I surveyed the pile of pale shreds. “Bring yours next year please.”
            When no one was looking, I stuck my pointer finger into the center of the mashed potatoes. They were warm, not hot. I closed my eyes and growled. Dang it! I missed the mark, again.
            Without being told, my sister-in-law removed the rolls from the oven, slid them into the bread basket, and covered them with a clean dishtowel.
            She smiled when she caught me watching her. “I’m really excited about the gravy,” she said.
            Something inside me unfurled. “Me too.”
            “Maybe I can make it next year,” she said.
            All of me clenched, but then I willed all of me to let go. “I think that’s a great idea.”


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