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Funny Holiday Fiction

The previously raucous chatter at the Thanksgiving dinner table came to a sudden halt when I harmlessly remarked that our daughter Julie’s professional obligations and pressures from her fiancé Ted and her mother had been taking their toll on her. The awkward silence was short lived, though, because of our son Anthony. Now my wife's not talking to me. As a matter of fact, neither is our daughter. 

The holiday week started out the same as it always did at the Cirillo household. My wife Maureen started cooking and baking on Monday. Earlier that week, she polished the silver and cleaned the house as if someone were going to give the place the white glove test. You would think she was entertaining the President, but that's the way she likes to do it. 

           Tuesday, Maureen made the pie shells. Five of them. And God forbid, anyone helped her. I tried once, but we just ended up bickering. I didn't cut in the shortening correctly, and the water I added wasn't cold enough. I used to help my mother bake pies when I was a kid, so I’m not totally ignorant of the dos and don'ts of pie culinary arts, but Maureen has her method. And to my wife's credit, I'd challenge anyone, even Julia Child, to claim they make a flakier crust than Maureen does.

            On Wednesday evening, she and our daughter Julie started in on the fillings. Personally, I thought Julie should have just told her mother she didn't have time to make pies this year.  Julie had been with the law firm of Crawford, Morris, and Ryan for a little over a year. I don’t know anything about her cases, because Julie takes lawyer-client confidentiality so seriously that she never gives anyone a hint of what a case is about, even after it's over. All I know is before Thanksgiving, the girl had hardly been home in time for dinner for months, often stayed up till after midnight and was up again by 5:30. Also from some of the innuendoes I’d overheard Julie's fiancée Ted make recently like, "If you can tear yourself away from the office tonight, maybe we could have dinner together for a change" or “I don’t know why you want to marry me; you’re already married to your career,” I gathered he had been feeling neglected. As for me, I was just plain worried about my little girl.

 I decided to express my concerns to Maureen a few nights before the pie baking extravaganza was to begin. Maureen had just finished the dinner dishes, thrown a load of wash in the machine, and finally came to join me in the living room. "Maureen, have you noticed how tired Julie has been looking for the past few weeks? I mean those hollows beneath her cheekbones seem almost cavernous and her eyes look like she rubbed some gray eye shadow underneath them."

"I know, Roy. She really is putting too much time into her job, and I get it. She wants to become a partner, but once she marries Ted, she’ll have babies, and that job will be on the back burner."

"Speaking of Ted. He gives her too much pressure too."

"Leave him out of it, Roy. He's a successful young man from a wonderful family. Julie had better give him more of her time, though, or he's going to think twice about marrying her. I don't know what I'd do if that happened. He'd be a great addition to our family and you know it."

"The poor girl is wasting away to nothing from all the stress."

"Oh Roy, you exaggerate. She's always been a thin girl. She's just lucky that way."

"Not this thin. Her clothes are hanging on her."

"Well, her wedding dress is a size two. She has four months to go. She has to watch her weight."

"You know how I feel about that. The girl is practically anorexic."

"She is not. I was that thin for years. It wasn't till I hit 50 that I ever had to watch my weight."

"I'm not even going to comment on that ridiculous remark. Anyway dear, what I'd like to suggest is that Julie be given a break from helping you with the pies this year. I'll be glad to help you; although I know what you'll say to that. You know, you don't have to make so many pies."

"Roy, you know Julie and I have been doing this since she was eight years old. It's our tradition."

"Well, I just think the poor girl needs some rest."

"We haven't spent much time together lately. It'll do us both good. Case closed, okay?"

 Needless to say, my girls proceeded as always, making the pie fillings: one sour cream apple, one regular apple, two pumpkins, and a sour cream lemon meringue, my personal favorite. During the day, Maureen had already made a cranberry Jell-O mold, a sweet potato casserole, and some kind of broccoli concoction. The kitchen table and every counter were scattered with apples, lemons, flour, and eggs. From the back, mother and daughter looked like sisters, both with the same shade of curly auburn hair, Maureen's touching her collar, Julie's falling a couple inches below her shoulders. Both wore the same style knee-length style aprons, one a green gingham and the other with  blue vertical stripes that tied at the neck and around the waist. Julie has her mother's statuesque build, but from the front Julie looks more like me with her cow-like brown eyes and Roman nose. She has the same flawless complexion as her mother, though, but it is slightly darker.

           We weren't having a big crowd for dinner, just our little group--Maureen and me, Julie and her fiancée Ted, the two boys and their wives, our two grandchildren, and my mother. We were also having my wife's sister Fran and her husband Joe. Their kids were out of town, so they were having dinner with us. I had mixed emotions about Fran and Joe joining us, as I always did. Joe and I always got along great. He’s a jovial kind of guy, a salesman, who always has a slew of jokes to tell. Fran, on the other hand, is a pain in the ass. The two of us are always locking horns. Only out of respect for Maureen do we keep most of our affronts to ourselves.

           So we did our normal Thanksgiving ritual. The kids and grandkids stopped over in the morning so they could have pie for breakfast, then came back around 1:00. I made the stuffing, as I always do, and hoisted the twenty-four-pound bird into the oven. We sat around all afternoon in the living room, watching the football game and blazing fireplace, nibbling on veggies and ranch dip that one of my daughters-in-laws brought. Maureen wanted us to be good and hungry, so those were the only appetizers she allowed us to have. We also drank my famous Jamison whiskey sours as the turkey sizzled and spewed its mouthwatering aroma. Of course, Maureen was wearing out the carpet between the living room and kitchen. Trying to get that woman to sit down for more than ten minutes on a holiday was impossible. No wonder she always looked like a zombie the next day--a pretty one of course. But I could detect dark circles, a lot like Julie's, under her eyes, despite the makeup, and her laugh lines seemed deeper. I don't know why her laugh lines were affected. She never seemed to laugh much under all that holiday stress. 

           At 5:00, our famished group filed into the dining room. Everything was just so. Maureen's aunt's white Belgian lace table cloth, and a dark green one underneath it, covered the cherry wood table. In the center was her hand-cut crystal vase brimming with orange roses, eucalyptus, and an array of other yellow, red, and orange flowers. Their perfume intermingled with the sweet essence of the hand-dipped beeswax candles that were aflame on each side. Of course, Maureen's gold-rimmed French Limoges dishes were in place, along with her grandmother's crystal goblets filled with water and hand-blown wine glasses flushed pink with Rose¢ wine, except for the grandchildren's glasses which were filled with some pinkish juice. And the finishing touch were the dark green linen napkins folded into a fan shape. All the women were hustling to transport the hot food from the kitchen to the dining room before it cooled.

           We had just sat down at the table, me at one end and Maureen at the end closest to the kitchen. Next to Maureen sat Julie and Ted. Our oldest son Anthony sat in the middle of the table next to his wife Sara, with my mother on his right. I don’t recall the rest of the seating order, but I know that everyone was perched in front of the feast and salivated as Anthony pushed his glasses against his eyes and bowed his head to lead Grace, "Thank you O Father for these gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen."

           The turkey and stuffing, browned to perfection, circled the candles and flowers, surrounded by a heaping bowl of whipped potatoes, steaming brown gravy, a ring-shaped cranberry mold, a sweet potato casserole, the broccoli thing, and a cut crystal dish of olives and celery.

           Joyful conversation abounded until I made my comment about Julie. Then all chatter stopped. Sensing the tension, even the grandchildren were quiet.  Trying to restore some sense of normalcy, Anthony reached forward to pass the turkey platter,  but as he did this, a loud noise escaped from his posterior. Well, the havoc that boy wreaked over what really is a natural bodily function was unbelievable.

           Our other son Sean just about fell off his seat in hysterics with tears streaming down his face. Matters weren't helped any when my mother leaned over towards Anthony and asked," What did you say, dear?" Then as she saw Sean’s hilarity,

she started laughing too. Imagine her confusion when she looked around the table and saw an array of emotions ranging from mirth to wrath. Being hard of hearing, she didn't know how to react, but taking a cue from Maureen, calmed her face back into seriousness rather quickly.

           Anthony's wife Sara reprimanded her husband, "I can't believe you did that, Anthony," but I saw her lean her mouth on her hand after that though, and I knew she was stifling her laughter."

            Sean's wife Peggy, clenching her lips in case a laugh escaped, kept elbowing her husband saying, "Stop."

            Maureen, mad as a hornet, didn't know who to yell at first. "Anthony, how could you be so rude? All my hard work, and you've ruined everything."

           Sean kept making wise cracks like, "You really blew the bottom out of this dinner, Anthony and would collapse with laughter again.

 "I didn't raise you boys to be this ill-mannered," reprimanded Maureen.           Then she glared at me. I was trying my damnedest to maintain a poker face, but my eyes were already tearing, and my face was scrunched up so tightly that it was obvious that a deluge of laughter was within moments of escaping. She scolded my grandson and granddaughter, who were sinking in their chairs with unrestrained hilarity. "You kids settle down," yelled Maureen. Maureen's sister Fran just sat there in stunned silence, but Fran’s husband turned to the wall and his shoulders were shaking slightly. My daughter Julie, who is a perfectionist like her mother, couldn't handle the contention at all. Being a lawyer, she should have used her skills to mitigate between her mother and the rest of us; instead, she stormed away from the table. A couple of minutes later, not knowing what else to do, Ted trailed after her.

           And as all this commotion was going on, Anthony kept repeating, "Mom, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean it."

           In the meantime, the feast in the middle of the table was beginning to cool from neglect. I knew it wouldn't do any good if I were to try to coerce Julie into coming back to the table. After all, I was guilty of being entertained by the whole mishap. So I took a chance and made a suggestion to Maureen. "Hon, why don't you go get Julie and Ted. The meal is going to get cold."

           "Right, like you care. You've been laughing since the incident happened."

           But she got up anyway and went to Julie's bedroom. My mother took a pinch of stuffing, and the children did the same. Thank God, Maureen didn't see that. Most of us had guzzled our wine out of nervousness, and the good host that I am, I promptly refilled our glasses.

           Maureen reentered the room and glared at Anthony, Sean, the grandchildren and me, then forced a smile and announced to the group, "Let's dish up. Julie and Ted will be right back."

            Relieved, we piled our plates with mass quantities of food. Then Anthony refilled everyone’s glasses again and proposed a toast. "Here's to a wonderful meal and an even better group of people sharing this time together." We all lifted our wineglasses in response. I smiled at Maureen who only glowered at Anthony, Sean, and me. Nobody had much to say except the usual:

           "This is delicious."

           " You'll have to give me the recipe for this broccoli casserole."

           "There's nothing yummier than a Thanksgiving dinner."

           "Oh, everything is scrumptious," followed by a chorus of " Yes, it is."

           Then everyone was quiet again except for the noise of silver cutting against china and an occasional swallow. Then, Anthony said, "So does everyone want to play charades after dinner?"

           The children chimed in, "Yeah!" 

           Everyone else at the table nodded in agreement, except for Maureen and Julie who just shrugged their shoulders. Finally Julie acquiesced, "Whatever."

            But Sean, his green eyes twinkling, couldn't resist throwing in his two cents, "As long as Anthony knows sound effects aren't allowed." A few nervous giggles joined mine as I carefully glanced towards my wife and daughter who had daggers coming  from their eyes directed at Anthony, Sean, and me.

           The tension at the table was so thick you could slice through it. I attempted to lighten the atmosphere and asked the two children what their favorite subjects were in school. They both agreed that reading and art were the most fun, but science was pretty cool too. Everyone, except for my wife and daughter who just listened, had their two cents and reminisces to put in. 

As everyone was sitting back in their chairs groaning from eating so much food Anthony, Sean, and I, as if communicating telepathically, abruptly forgot about our stomach distress and jumped to our feet to clear the table and to put the coffee on. Usually, the women did all the work, and us guys just sat on our lazy asses, but we knew a reprieve was in order. After we finished loading the dishwasher, making sure nothing in there didn’t touch anything else, and washing and drying the silver by hand, I rummaged through the liquor cabinet in search of the dusty bottle of Sambuca to enhance our coffee. Then Anthony, Sean, and I brought the pies to the dining room table, which Maureen and Julie had already cleaned the crumbs off of, and set down, carefully, dessert plates, coffee cups and saucers. Everything has to be just so for Maureen, and Julie too for that matter. I love them both more than life itself, but I really wish they wouldn't take life so seriously. 

September 15, 2022 17:49

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11 comments

Graham Kinross
03:17 Oct 03, 2022

We’ve all had to suffer family problems like this. Very tense. Had my skin crawling thinking about similar situations.

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Julius Juryit
11:54 Sep 22, 2022

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Graham Kinross
03:15 Oct 03, 2022

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Benny Regalbuto
01:17 Sep 22, 2022

Ah, family drama! Gotta love it! The tension is palpable and the conflict is relatable, so good work on this. Just make sure to be consistent with your paragraph indentations. It keeps the story flowing.

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13:01 Sep 25, 2022

Thanks for your feedback Benny.

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Kendall Defoe
19:46 Sep 20, 2022

Why does this feel so familiar? An excellent story with much under the surface that should be considered (but perhaps not examined too deeply?) Thank you for this one! 🦃 🥧

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21:49 Sep 21, 2022

Thanks, Kendall. You make a valid point about much under the surface.

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Trebor Mack
05:35 Sep 19, 2022

Great minds think alike.

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21:49 Sep 21, 2022

😊

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Katelyn Akkerman
21:33 Sep 17, 2022

I liked the direction you took with this prompt and incorporated Thanksgiving into it (the perfect situation for awkward silences to arise lol!) I also enjoyed reading the story from the father’s point of view and getting a look into the dynamic of the family. We really shouldn’t take life so seriously, something I’m working on learning myself. Can’t wait to read more from you!

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16:37 Sep 18, 2022

Thanks so much, Katelyn. I agree that not taking life so seriously is a work in progress.

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