When our grown children, grandchildren, and spouses assemble at our house for Thanksgiving, it’s a large party unto itself. We sometimes have one of several of my wife’s close single friends join us. This year two of our neighbor ladies were coming. Thanksgiving day was here.
“Great, everybody, I got plenty of digital shots with the camera remote, now let’s all go inside and enjoy a true Jones family feast.”
It was chilly but fair with overcast skies near noon in Alabama. Perfect photo lighting. I finished up the full family photos on the tiered front steps to add to another ‘one-time-a-year’ photo, followed by individual family and couples’ photos who wanted them. I have been doing this many years, including days of my Nikon film camera on Kodacolor and nothing but a self-timer that I’d have to set and run back to my place in the group, to get everyone in the photo.
Brisk air fueled everyone’s appetite and fresh in from outdoors, made all the smells of cooked dressing, fresh bread in the oven, and the turkey freshly removed and cooling even more delightful. So many family members came that we had to make the dining room tables into a “U” shaped with a narrow center aisle of single chairs. Just those extra five gave us the count, plus an empty, just in case.
In short order, all were seated, all the bowls of food at the table, and I stood at my center position with the turkey in front of me to carve just after the blessing. Everone adjusted seats with only the single center seat closest to me empty. The gathering quieted.
“Hello…hellooo, everybody,” came a loud female voice from our kitchen door, the entrance we all use at our house. “I’m here for Thanksgiving. I hope I’m not too late after twelve. Where is everyone?”
Oh my God, I thought. I recognize that voice. My wife did as well and sprang from her seat on one side. She almost got to the open door of the dining room when Miss Cat appeared. She exhibited all the flair and costume of Rosalind Russell in Aunty Mame, and at least as much makeup. Waving one arm to our crowd upon entering, she said, “Hi, everyone, I’m Miss Cat, Sandra’s classmate from high school.”
My wife, Sandra, now next to Miss Cat, exclaimed, “Oh my, You said you couldn’t come. I thought you’d be in New York.”
“I would have, but when I got up today, I discoveered a snowstorm has completely shut the area down. I can’t travel until tomorrow, and I remembered your invitation… so here I am,” again waving both arms outward presentation style. All the woman needs is to have one foot in front of the other and dip her knee for a perfect movie pose, I thought.
I was speechless. I didn’t even know she was invited. I would never have agreed to it. Anyone but her. Anyone.
“Miss Cat,” my wife said, we have one spare seat right in the middle row, upfront, please have a seat.” Other family members stood, slid their chairs into the narrow row, and moved out to make room for our last-minute guest.
As Miss Cat nodded and waved to the group taking her center front seat, I remembered all the reasons I’d rather her not be present. First, the name Miss Cat. Her name was Catherine Hickock Burns and whatever. She’d been married numerous times, and several were damn fine men that I liked. She divorced them all. Then because she hated her full name and last names of previous husbands, she decided that just “Miss Cat” would do because she never liked Catherine all that much either. She felt she deserved the title ‘Miss’ and made it part of her legal name. Always had money, some from divorced husbands, who probably paid plenty just to be rid of her once she sued for divorce. She was never unpleasant to me, but she posessed an uncanny ability to say precisely the wrong thing at the wrong time and make it sound as if she were paying a compliment.
With everyone seated, Miss Cat proclaimed, “Fred, don’t let me delay you, please go on,” again with the hand gesturing wave for me to continue. I’m so glad I have your permission.
I said the blessing, everyone said, “Amen,” and the feast began. Even as the food was being passed around, Miss Cat’s loud voice dominated other conversations.
She looked at one of my sons, “So, Peter, have you finished with your therapy for your PTSD from Afghanistan?” she said with a smile on her face.
Peter froze in mid-passing of the mashed potatoes with eyes wide. He didn’t say a thing. I glared at my wife, who had a scared-dog look as she glanced around and caught my drift.
After a pungent pause, Peter said, “Uh…no, not yet.”
“I think it’s just wonderful you served your country and made your family so proud of you,” Miss Cat said and smiled smugly at the compliment she just made.
“How’s old’s our newest grandchild,” my wife said, looking at a younger son and his wife with the baby in a back bedroom sleeping. That changed the focus of the conversation.
I knew it was just a matter of time before Miss Cat contributed another gem. Sure enough.
“Oh, Nancy, your momma told me you are expecting again. This is the first pregnancy with your new husband, isn’t it?”
My daughter stopped her side conversation on the spot, and most of my family quieted as well.
“Uh, no. That’s not what I told Mom,” and my daughter sternly emphasized the word Mom as she spoke and looked at my wife Sandra. “What I said was that we are planning to let nature take it’s course perhaps in the next year. That’s a long way from what you said.”
Everyone breathed a collective sigh, and the sounds of eating grew again.
All my family members seemed to glance among themselves, wondering what new gem of news or half-truth Miss Cat might spring upon us next. It was mostly self-pitying remarks about her plight as an author of children’s books and the money she’d spent to no avail to find a publisher, so she printed twenty-five copies for herself. It didn’t surprise me at all. I can’t think of anyone else less qualified to write a children’s picture book than Miss Cat, who chose never to have children herself. Maybe she could not have children, I thought, but I doubt it, and she’d never admit it.
Heading for the home stretch of the meal with plates being cleared for those wanting one of the delicious deserts, when Miss Cat struck again.
“Sandra, I don’t know how you do it…looking so young with all these children around.”
My wife was just beginning to smile and reply, but Miss Cat kept on talking.
“I mean your face with so few wrinkles after all the years. Nearing eighty, I guess. You’ve had another facelift, haven’t you? I want the name of your surgeon.”
Bingo! Crowning comment of the entire meal. I stood and said, “Cat, what can I get you for desert. I can see you can’t easily get it yourself.”
“Why, thank you, Fred. Yes, I would like a slice of that homemade pecan pie. And your forgot the Miss in my legal mane.” Never missing a beat, she continued, “and I guess it can be your piece since I see the pounds you’ve added since last summer, I’m sure you’re on a diet this Thanksgiving.”
“You are quite right, Cat.” I said just the name again with added emphasis, “Not only that, I have completely lost my appetite,” and I shot another exasperated look at my wife. She raised her eyebrows to let me know she understood.
Dinner adjourned, and some guests left. Others sorted themselves out as one of my grown kids started a game for anyone interested. Miss Cat announced that she’d stay as long as the welcome mat was out since she didn’t have anything else better to do at home. I bit my tongue to keep from saying, Yeah, with your personality, I am sure that’s the truth, but I kept my mouth shut.
The men gravitated to the den to watch a pro-football game on TV, and the others busied themselves cleaning up the kitchen, dishes, packing leftovers, and anything to help my wife. Miss Cat didn’t help, of course, announcing that she saw Sandra had plenty of help. She was one of the very last to leave as it was growing dark.
When my wife and I closed the door behind the last guest, I gave an audible, “Whew,” and turned to my wife.
“Whatever on earth prompted you to ask Miss Cat to our house for a meal at all, much less our Thanksgiving dinner,” holding out my hands in a questioning manner.
“Honey, I’m so sorry. I never in a million years thought she’d show up. I knew she always goes out of town for Christmas and Thanksgiving. I figured I’d get credit for at least having asked her since I do claim her as one of my good friends.”
I understood, and as I hugged my tired wife, I knew it’d been a hard day on her as well.
“At least she didn’t make it in time for the group photo this year.” It was the one bright spot, “I’m sure this is one Thanksgiving dinner I’ll never forget.”