I don’t know why this particular Connecticut Thanksgiving, when I was 9, came to mind, but it could be because of the two Kennedy books I’ve just read back to back. It got me thinking of that sad November in 1963, at my family dinner table.
My parents, especially my mother, took John F. Kennedy’s assassination very hard. I remember her glued to the television set those hellish, haunting three days. The fact she still produced her top-of-the-line Thanksgiving meal six days after he was killed, needs to be noted.
My father, trying to lighten things up, said she shouldn’t add salt to anything since she was already crying so much. All that did was make her cry more along with wanting to stab him with her electric Black and Decker turkey knife.
I was her helper, collecting all the Kleenex she kept dropping on the kitchen floor. My Italian grandparents who always ate with us, came up (they lived on the first floor), my grandfather in his brown satin holiday vest with the paisley lining, Gramma in a pink polyester twinset. My dad, after being downsized for being a knucklehead, wore black like all whipped bartenders manning the bar before noon.
My mother, weeping, her pearls all wet, served enough food to feed Sing Sing: melon wrapped in chilled prosciutto, rigatoni bolognese, tossed romaine lettuce with toasted garlic croutons topped with shaved Parmesan, and this is when no one shaved…a roasted turkey so stuffed with sausage, apples and various nuts it looked like Orson Welles if he stayed in the sun too long…mashed potatoes, string beans, broccoli in cream sauce, turnips, glazed onions, yams and mushrooms rammed with ricotta cheese. All that was missing was a nurse and a heart surgeon.
Martini & Rossi Asti Spumanti, the cheapest wine you could buy back then, but her favorite, flowed like the Ganges. By the time we got to pie and 53 kinds of Sealtest Ice-cream, we were all crying.
“Oh, povero John F. Keen-adee, said Gramma,” holding out her glass for a refill.
“He was so handsome,” mewled my mother, “and poor Jackie….and John John and Caroline. Frank, open up another bottle…make it three.”
If you’re wondering what I was doing, I too was sipping, along with Fluffy the cat who didn’t mind a little nip with the turkey I kept feeding her under the table.
It might have been the first time I ever got drunk, since in our house it was a rite of passage to fall down the stairs, which I did, mistaking the cellar for the bathroom.
By the time the after dinner mints came out, no one was in an upright position. My father had passed out on his BarcaLounger with my grandparents knocked down like bowling pins on the couch.
My mother, who could drink Erroll Flynn under the table, was clearing with me fearing, she’d want me to wash and dry.
“Ma, I’m not feeling quite up to doing the dishes. Could they wait till later?”
“No, but as usual I’ll just have to do everything myself.” For the record, I would have happily helped if I could stand up, a requirement when you’re drying platters the length of the Chesapeake.
As I headed toward my room I suddenly heard the sound of plates crashing thinking, well that’s one way to clean the kitchen, but then heard, “Susannah get in here, I need you to sweep the floor.”
Grief is certainly a mysterious emotion.
As writer Kurt Vonnegut said, welcome to the monkey house.
Happy Thanksgiving everybody.
There will be no post on Friday.