Thanksgiving always has been a good time for weddings – especially second and third or in
this case, the fifth time around. Alicia, my sister, gladly ticked the benefits of a Thanksgiving Day wedding off on her fingers each time for my mother and me. “One, the entire family already is together so I won’t get stuck buying extra plane tickets for my fiancé’s or own kids; two, nobody can complain about what I serve because the turkey, dressing, greens, yams, and pumpkin pie menu is set, plus I save money because everyone brings a dish; and, three, my husband never has an excuse to forget our anniversary because no matter what the actual date of our wedding is, we’ll always celebrate it on Thanksgiving Day.”
Somewhere between numbers two and three, our now eighty-five year old mother, who often lacks a filter, suggested Alicia would be better off sleeping with the men she dates rather than marrying them. Unfortunately, Alicia believes that living together without benefit of holy matrimony, like Bob and I do, is a mortal sin. I bet all three of her surviving ex-spouses raise a glass to her every Thanksgiving.
Eleven years ago, Paul, her first husband, had a massive coronary and left her with eight-year-old twin girls and a small fortune. Up to now, as her legal advisor, I’ve managed to protect her by insisting she have each would-be hubby sign a pre-nuptial agreement with a gigolo clause. The gigolo clause gives a husband who lasts one day over three years a flat $100,000 if there are divorce proceedings. The three stooges, as I refer to Harry, Larry and Carlos, each fled Alicia days after becoming eligible for their $100,000 payoffs.
Tonight, after we eat Alicia’s daughter’s pumpkin pie, Alicia plans to make Philippe her fifth husband. She giggles and blushes whenever he whispers “Je t’aime” or other French tidbits into her ear. I snicker. French with a Mississippi accent is a bit difficult for me to swallow. Somehow “moan cherry” doesn’t do it for me like it does for Alicia.
I’m also finding it difficult to swallow the fact that this time she’s refusing to let me draft a prenuptial agreement. She keeps telling me, “Philippe is my perfect soul mate. We’ll be together forever and a day.”
Maybe I’m a cynic, but I’m not as optimistic as Alicia. The private detective I hired reported that Philippe or actually Philip West walked out of his Mississippi delta home one night twenty years ago to buy cigarettes and never came home to his wife and toddler daughter. They divorced and he opened a small antiques store in Jackson, Mississippi. According to my detective, West remarried once, but she died from injuries sustained in a fall at the antique store. Because they had no children and she had no other family, he was her only heir.
His adult daughter is here tonight to celebrate Thanksgiving and the wedding nuptials. They reconnected this past year when he reached out to her just before he had surgery to replace a leaky heart valve with a pig valve. The time of his surgery is also when Philippe and Alicia met.
Alicia volunteers one day a week as a pink lady on the cardiology wing she donated in memory of Paul. Last year, she was pushing a magazine cart to the different patient rooms a week after Carlos was granted his divorce. One of the rooms she visited was Philippe’s. They clicked. Finding out he would be going home to an empty apartment, she insisted he move into her home where she could tend to his needs. Apparently, he liked her hovering. Other than to pick up his clothes, he never went back to his apartment.
When Paul, her first husband, was alive, our extended family celebrated Thanksgiving Norman Rockwell style at their house. Paul fried a turkey, Mom made a yam casserole smothered in marshmallows that was to die for, Alicia and her daughters made the desserts, and if I do say so myself, I did a pretty good job on the greens. After Paul died, things got a bit funky. We moved the dinner to my house and Mom, Bob and I assumed most of the cooking responsibilities.
None of us are too happy about this wedding, but we’ve been working together to prepare an over-abundant Thanksgiving and wedding feast. At Mom’s insistence, we added another ham and turkey breast to accommodate Philippe’s seemingly insatiable appetite. Besides showing her concern about how much food we’re going to need, mom repeatedly has tried to reason with Alicia. From, “you have my blessing to simply live with him” to “Why be trussed like a turkey to a man closer in age to me than you?”
Alicia’s daughters and Bob also expressed their doubts and tried to rein her in, but she refuses to listen to anyone except Philippe. He’s been gung ho for a wedding almost from before he got out of the hospital.
I’ve done everything I can think of to slow down their wedding plans, but without any success. Out of desperation, I even attempted to build a friendship with Philippe by bringing him lunch for the past six months during my sister’s weekly hair appointment.
My sister would have her own heart attack if she realized that instead of quinoa, chicken, and vegetables, I’ve been feeding him well-seasoned steak, all my greens recipes trimmed out with bacon or pork, and the other things prohibited by his post-heart procedure diet. Bless his heart, he loves my food, but he won’t reconsider signing a pre-nuptial agreement even with a sweetened dangling $200,000 clause.
So, I’ve given in and decorated my house for Thanksgiving and their wedding. Although nobody is thrilled, the family cooks are trying, for Alicia’s sake, to make this a special Thanksgiving meal. As Mom suggested, when her efforts at logic failed, we owe it to Alicia and Philippe to each make a killer Thanksgiving dish.
Some people, like Alicia’s daughter, Sarah, can bake up a storm for Thanksgiving desserts
while others are known for making a specialty item like Paul’s fried turkey. I’m the family’s greens queen. A greens dish can be made with any leafy vegetable. Some of my favorites include spinach, kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and parsley. At some point during Philippe’s recovery, I served him all of these things in my different recipes. Tonight, I’m introducing a new béchamel and greens dish at our almost extended family Thanksgiving dinner.
At Bob’s request we joined hands for a prayer of Thanksgiving, but Philippe broke the chain because he was too busy whispering something to Alicia and holding her hand under the table as if we couldn’t see what they were doing. Based on her giggling, he must have been whispering in French. Bob got as far as “Heavenly Father,” when his youngest granddaughter, Betty, jumped up, almost knocking her water glass over.
“I learned a new Thanksgiving prayer!” Getting a nod of approval from Bob, Betty proudly shouted: “Rub a dub dub, and thanks for the grub.”
We barely said “Amen” before we stabbed serving forks and spoons into the mounds of food on the table. I couldn’t help but picture us as naked vultures swooping and diving up and down over the table – especially when two of the adults almost got into a fistfight over who grabbed the wishbone first.
I was pleased to see everyone except little Betty, who declared my greens to be “smelly,” taste them. Philippe loaded his plate high with my béchamel and greens. Between bites, he said, “You’ve got to share this recipe with Alicia. It’s delicious.” He took a swig of wine, even though Alicia made one of her disapproving faces.
“Oh, it’s very simple, you can use chard, kale or spinach as your base, but I chose kale and some accent parsley from the greens we grow out back in our organic garden. Of course, I had to wash the slugs off first,” I said. “Slugs are pretty slippery things, but I think I got all of them.”
My mother and Alicia put their forks down on the tablecloth. Philippe kept eating. “I coarsely chopped the greens and stems, steamed them until cooked through, and then squeezed them dry in cheesecloth. This really is a simple recipe. Alicia, even you could make it for Philippe.”
“I can’t wait,” she said, turning toward Philippe. As he picked up his wineglass, she quietly asked, “Don’t you think you’ve had enough greens and wine? She turned toward me. “He’s still taking a blood thinner so his cardiologist wants him to do things in moderation.”
Philippe winked at me. “This is a holiday. I can be moderate tomorrow.” He pawed at Alicia’s hand again while he used his free hand to shake extra salt over his second helping of greens. It was nice to see him eat with such gusto.
Years ago the ratio of time and effort I put into preparing our Thanksgiving dinner against the time it took my family and friends to devour it bothered me, but I learned to accept the fact that we make a pretty darn good meal. The smiles as everyone polished off dinner and the compliments I received on my greens felt rewarding. For a minute, but only a minute, as I began to clear, I forgot about the impending nuptials.
My mother and little Betty immediately rose to help. We quickly established a system of them bringing the dishes from the dining room to the kitchen while I scraped and emptied any food remnants down the garbage disposal before loading my dishwasher. Our efficient clean-up done, I sent my helpers back into the dining room with plates and forks for dessert. Pausing only to turn on the dishwasher, I followed them back into the dining room with the pies Alicia’s daughter Sarah had made.
“Pecan pie, please,” Bob said.
Not to be outdone, six-year-old Betty piped up, “Pumpkin.” As I sliced a small piece for her, she said: “I learned a new song for Thanksgiving at school. Do you want to hear it?” Without waiting for an answer, Betty launched into a rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
Philippe stared at the sliver of pumpkin pie being passed to Betty, who still was busy singing. “I need a bigger piece than that,” he said to me. I glanced at Alicia who shrugged and mouthed the word moderation. Ignoring her, I cut him a chunk of pumpkin pie. He was halfway through it before I served everyone else.
“Some adults have no manners,” my mother mumbled. I almost didn’t hear her over Betty’s shouting of the chorus, especially when all the pumpkin pie eaters, except Philippe, began gagging and grabbing their goblets of water or wine.
I took a bite of the pumpkin pie and spit it back on my plate. “Sarah,” I sputtered, after swallowing some water. “You used salt instead of sugar!”
Tears welled in her eyes. “I don’t know how that happened,” she said. Before I could reply, there was a noise from Philippe’s end of the table. I looked toward the noise and was surprised to see Philippe standing and shaking, clutching the table to stay upright.”
Alicia reached toward him. “Philippe, are you okay?” Philippe turned his head in the direction of Alicia’s voice, but I could see his eyes weren’t focusing on her. Alicia and I both rose from our seats. Philippe fell to the floor convulsing and gasping for air.
I felt for a pulse as Alicia cradled Philippe’s head and everyone else sat stunned. I yelled over my shoulder “Call 911.” One of Alicia’s daughters whipped out her cellphone, dialed and then looked up to ask the address of the house.
By now, Bob knelt on the floor with me, trying to pry Alicia away from Philippe so we could turn him over and administer CPR. From the floor, I grabbed the napkin Philippe had dropped and wiped away the white foam coming from his mouth. Then, I bent his head back and began CPR chest compressions. I processed the sound of my mother taking Betty from the dining room still singing and of people letting the paramedics in, but I kept my attention focused on pushing on Philippe’s still flat chest.
Time blurred as the paramedics started an IV and someone declared Philippe gone. I can’t remember if they took him away or if the detective came first. All I know is I cleared the dessert dishes and then found myself in the living room with the rest of the shell-shocked guests not believing what had transpired.
“He seemed fine during dinner,” Mom said. “He ate like a pig.”
“Probably a result of his new heart valve.” I laughed. I couldn’t help myself.
“He’s dead because of me,” Philippe’s daughter said. She walked over to the bar and poured herself a glass of scotch. “He told me he wasn’t supposed to drink, except in moderation, and I kept his wine glass filled throughout dinner.”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” my mom replied. “You might have helped him have a headache tomorrow,
but you didn’t kill him.”
“But his meds and the wine.”
“Unless he was an alcoholic…,” the detective began.
“Oh, he wasn’t,” Alicia interjected. She sat down on the loveseat, unable to hold back her tears.
“Then, one night of overdoing it didn’t kill him,” the detective said.
Sarah walked over to sit on the couch next to Alicia. She covered her mother’s hand with her own, but looked up at the detective. “I’m the guilty party. I didn’t want my mother to waste her time or her money marrying such a jerk so I killed him by putting salt in my pumpkin pie instead of sugar.”
I must have sucked my breath in and made a sound because Sarah glanced at me. “You know I’m too good a baker to make that kind of stupid mistake.” She turned back toward the detective. “I knew he was on a low salt diet, so I made sure he had way too much salt today and would retain fluid.” She held out her hands to be handcuffed.
The detective let out a groan, but kept a straight face. “One day of retaining fluid and breaking his
The detective turned to ask another question of all of us, but little Betty planted herself in front of him. He bent down to her level. “Don’t tell me you’re going to confess, too?”
“What’s confess? I just wanted to tell you Mr. Philippe ate the smelly greens.” The detective glanced around the room.
I waved at him. “She’s talking about a new béchamel and greens dish I served. It was for everyone, but especially for him because he’s always loved my greens,” I noticed the detective’s jaw tighten, so I hastened to add, “I ate a large portion of my greens as did most of the guests except Betty.”
“Would you like me to sing my new song again,” Betty asked the detective.
“No,” my mother said. She took Betty by the hand and started toward the kitchen, but turned back to the detective and pulled herself to the top of her five foot two inch height. “You’re wasting your time. None of us was particularly fond of the man.” Alicia stirred but mother stared her down. “Well, most of us weren’t fond of the man and weren’t thrilled my foolish daughter was going to marry him, but we didn’t kill him.”
The detective and I followed mother and Betty into the kitchen. The dishwasher was humming. Other than the stacked dessert plates and dirty glasses, nothing was out of place. “How can you have had Thanksgiving dinner and everything be so cleaned up?”
“We worked as a team.”
“And does the team know how Philippe or Philip West died?”
“Of course,” mom said. “The glutton killed himself.” The detective waited for mother to continue. “I’ve taken a blood thinner for years and whether he was taking Coumadin, Plavix, aspirin or whatever after receiving his new valve, his doctors would have made it clear that he needed to minimize his salt, alcohol, and leafy green intake. He wouldn’t have had enough today to harm him, but he’s been pigging out since he got his pig part. So, I think he’s to blame for his own death.”
“We won’t have the autopsy results for a few weeks, but I’m inclined to agree with you.” He looked at his watch. “I think, if I hurry, I can make it to my daughter’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.”
“You do that,” Mom said. “Have a happy Thanksgiving.” I started to show him to the door, but mother rested her hand on my arm. “Betty will show him out.” Once we heard the front door close, my mother turned toward me. “It didn’t happen tonight, but I must say the final timing of the cumulative effect of all those green dishes you’ve been making for him was most convenient.”
I didn’t respond. I stared back at Mom, but didn’t dare say a word. “I’m thankful how this Thanksgiving played out,” she said, “But remember, I believe in moderation, can live without greens, and read the fine print on the drug handouts I get with my prescriptions.”
Thanksgiving in Moderation was included by Untreed Reads Publishing in The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fourth Meal of Mayhem short story anthology in October 2014.