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Be Quiet And Eat Your Cranberry Sauce

A re-write of the most horrifying Thanksgiving story ever told. EVER told. Emphasis on EVER.

Today’s tale has all the elements of a great story – romance, family, a villain, a military hero, death, horror, and home-made cranberry sauce. Before you read this, know that when I say it is a great story I do not mean it is good literature. It is a great story in that it is a great one to tell after a few beers.

When this happened, I was in my early twenties. In my twenties, I was a lot like middle-aged me, except that young me was more mild-mannered than older me. People who know me well would tell you that I can be reserved sometimes. If you wanted to calculate who I was when this tale occurred, simply deduct thirty-something years of experience and confidence from a low-key middle-aged guy.

I was juggling college, three jobs and was dating a girl I’d known since high school. She and I were into each other like twenty year olds are. We thought it was going somewhere, because that’s what people who are that age think.

I got along with her family too. Her mom really liked me. My ability to make mothers like me was usually the kiss of death for me with most of the girls I dated, but somehow not in this case. I was always included in family events. Being invited to family events was part of my undoing in this tale; I was invited to Thanksgiving dinner.

“I make the best cranberry sauce. It is my Grandmother’s recipe.”

Cranberry sauce, as it is meant to be. (image by Daniel Morrison CCbySA2.0)

When I received my invitation to my girlfriend’s family’s Thanksgiving feast it was accompanied by the news that the turkey would be served with home-made cranberry sauce. In this family, the berry ranked above the turkey. Their cranberry sauce was made only on Thanksgiving, only by the oldest daughter, using a recipe that had been passed down by her late grandmother.

Remember poor, dead grandma. Her ghostly specter will return later in this story.

My family spent most Thanksgiving Days visiting out-of-town relatives. These relatives did not make cranberry sauce. They got it the way nature intended – from a can. My upbringing taught me (and I still believe) that the best cranberry sauce is cylindrical, with marks from a can imprinted in it.

So when my girlfriend invited me over to Thanksgiving dinner I had two thoughts. My first was that I knew her name was not Ocean Spray so she couldn’t really be making cranberry sauce.

The Asparagus Thing

The other thought was of disaster. The last time I had tried a new food when I was invited to dinner at a girlfriend’s house was a bad scene. My reaction to asparagus on that occasion didn’t play well with that girlfriend. I think her mom appreciated that I’d tried. Unfortunately, I wasn’t dating the mom. “The Asparagus Thing” was on the list of reasons I was dumped by that girl a few months later.

The other big event that was to occur at this Thanksgiving dinner was a visit by the girlfriend’s grandfather. Since a thumbs down from the patriarch of the family would likely be the end of our relationship, the girlfriend started teaching me about him began as soon as the word came that he would be in town for dinner.

I was briefed on his military career. She held a highly speculative seminar on how he might address his granddaughter’s dating situation based upon how he had handed his daughter’s dating, decades earlier. She spoke lovingly of her grandmother, but never by name.

I had to demonstrate that I understood which fork to use for which course and promise that I would not wear running shoes to this very significant meeting.

Failing To Prepare Or Preparing To Fail

I was under a lot of pressure leading up to this Thanksgiving dinner.

And while my education about the grandfather was being handled for me, I had an issue I had to handle for myself. I couldn’t admit that home-made cranberry sauce was a new and terrifying concept for me. It was up to me to educate myself and prepare so that there would not be a repeat of the asparagus incident.

Not my mom’s lasagne. So it is second place, at best (image by poisewinstitles CCbySA2.0)

There was no internet in the early eighties and I couldn’t find home-made cranberry sauce in the store. I decided to ask my mom to make home-made cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving.  She refused by saying “we’re having lasagna.”

My last chance at preparing for the unknown, destroyed by the cheesy goodness of lasagna. Damn. The garlic bread was pretty good too.

So, on Thanksgiving Day, loaded with lasagna, I drove to my girlfriends house. When I arrived, she gave me a quiz on grandfather trivia. We went inside, I greeted her mother and then I was ushered in to the dining room where the cranberry sauce and her grandfather awaited my arrival. Neither the sauce nor her grandfather were cylindrical, but her grandfather did have some lines in his face. I don’t think his lines were from a can.

I, Briefly, Prove Myself Worthy

The grandfather put down his newspaper and started standing up. After what seemed like five minutes, he reached his full height. This was a big man. At nearly seventy years old, he was still the equal of me and my three fittest friends. He was an imposing man, a retired top-level military officer who had received honors for decades of service. He carried himself with a bearing that didn’t demand respect, it communicated he’d earned it with his life’s work.

I looked way up at him, gave him a firm handshake and sat as soon as he commanded me to. The talk began.

Upon being dismissed, I went to the kitchen and was greeted as a hero. In some manner imperceptible to all except his family, the great man let it be known that I’d passed his test. In that moment of celebration, none of us knew how drastically I would change his mind about me.

Dinner Begins

A short time later, we returned to the dining room for the big meal. Ms. Ocean Spray’s lovingly created cranberry sauce was quite good. My loyalty to the canned stuff did not change, but I was bright enough not to declare that aloud.

But I realized that there would be no repeat of “The Asparagus Thing” and I’d passed the grandfather test. I relaxed. No, I did more than relax. I got cocky.

There was a lot of talk among the family of holidays in different places they’d lived. Names were tossed around. Familiar stories were started by one person and finished with laughter by another family member. It was a classic Thanksgiving scene, with me playing the dutifully respectful boyfriend.

As I sat, listening, I noticed that one name kept coming up in the stories – Dorcas. Everyone, even the youngest child, referred to Dorcas by her first name. I’d never heard her mentioned before, even in my pre-Thanksgiving education sessions. There was a lot of laughter and reminiscing about her. Common sense would indicate that my best choice would be to not speak during Dorcas talk time since I had no fun stories about her.

Why? I Still Don’t Know.

Inexplicably, I chose to start talking. Like I said earlier, I’m a quiet man. Back then, I was a quiet kid. And yet I started to talk and I did not stop.

The most common question I get at the end of this tale is “how drunk were you when you did this?” When you get to the end of the story, I’m certain that you too will think that this is not the sort of thing that a sober man would do. I assure you that, as amazing as it will seem, I had nothing stronger than milk before I started talking.

On this day, I was easily Lincoln’s equal as an orator. My topic left something to be desired. (public domain photo)

It is said that The Gettysburg Address took two minutes to deliver. If that is true, I spoke longer than President Lincoln. Lincoln used notes for his speech. Mine was completely off the top of my head – a three-minute extemporaneous speech about the name Dorcas and how dumb it sounded.  Amongst my subtopics were how the name sounded like someone was being called a dork and questioning the wisdom of any person who’d name a child that.

My message, though well-crafted, was not as well received as Mr. Lincoln’s remarks. Things got quiet. Quiet enough for me to hear a whispered “Dorcas was my grandmother’s name”.  That is when I felt the side of my face melting from the glare I was getting from the head of the table.

I can tell you the turkey was good. The cranberry sauce was pretty good too. I was long gone by the time dessert hit the table. Young me didn’t know when to keep his mouth shut. He did understand when it was time to go.

It Was A Choice. Not A Good Choice, Just A Choice.

I still don’t know what made me think talking about Dorcas was a good idea. I think before I speak; I thought before I spoke that night. Despite all the reasons I knew I should have nothing to say on the topic, I chose to make a joke.

I won’t even argue that I should have been told her grandmother’s name. After all, I’d been briefed on everything else. No. The choice to mock someone who was clearly beloved by everyone present was my responsibility. To this day, I can’t explain that choice.

Despite my incredible display on that Thanksgiving, that young woman and I dated through most of my college years. But my standing invitation to her house became a warning to keep my distance when her grandfather was in town. That was understandable. There was a little more animosity toward me from the family members who were not dating me. I understood that as well.

There was one who lived in that house that surprised me. I’d always gotten along with the cat. But shortly after the incident, I was tying my shoe in their front yard. The cat crossed the yard and peed on my hands.

Everyone loved Dorcas.

She must’ve been as good as cranberry sauce.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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