Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. I offer this appropriately themed short story as a little gift on a holiday whose centerpiece is often the food. I hope that you find it to be a tasty bit of prose.
Grace Under Pressure
by Andy Black
The best explanation was that the grace had been too long. That was the crux of it. Everything else was perfect. The place settings had been put out days ago. Other than the six silver candlesticks topped with plain but elegant white tappers, food was the only centerpiece, and what a glorious one. The bird was magnificent. Nancy had worried, as she collected the turkey on Tuesday, wondering if her oven was spacious enough, but that turned out to be an idle fret. Once brined and basted, the bird was roasted to a buttery brown that would have made Norman Rockwell weak in the knees.
At the last minute, thick medallions of tender and moist meat were carved from the carcass and shingled across an oval serving platter placed at one end of the table. The other show piece was an entire head of cauliflower cooked until al dente, bathed in a sour cream and white cheddar sauce, encrusted with an outer layer of chopped walnuts and baked until golden taking up it’s place of honor anchoring the other end. Tucked in down the length of the extended table were a variety of other sides and condiments.
The roasted verts with crumbled bacon and sautéed mushrooms, splashed with a balsamic reduction gave off an earthy aroma that rose hand in hand with the bright tang of the vinegar. The requisite bowl of creamed onions still bubbled rather volcanically, the thick white sauce dotted with brown spots earned when the dish was finished off under the broiler. A coarsely chopped orange and cranberry relish glistened richly in an oblong, maroon bowl, and for those still firmly rooted in the 1950s a simple white plate held the contents of a single can of cranberry jelly. Half of it was cleaved into coins looking much like sliced beets arranged like fallen dominos, while the remainder was left untouched still bearing the ridges from the can. Traditions are hard to break.
The baked sweet potato casserole blanketed with brown sugar and butter could almost be served à la mode as a dessert, the topping transformed into something between a crumble and a caramel. There was a platter of spiral sliced ham for those not fond of fowl, a massive mixed green salad, and of course there were hand-mashed potatoes (enhanced with sour cream, garlic and some parmesan cheese) as well as two healthy sized dishes of traditional stuffing. If that was not enough to satisfy the desire for carbohydrates, there were ramekins of softened butter and baskets of rolls that could be used for sopping up gravy.
“My God, Nancy that smells heavenly,” Kate called over to the kitchen. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Nope. Just about done here,” said Nancy as she licked some cold gravy off of her thumb. “Why don’t we get everyone around the table?” She slid the gravy boat into the microwave to rewarm it, punched up a few minutes and hit start. “Daddy can you say grace once we’re all seated?”
The crowd of nearly a dozen jockeyed around each other and they all took up seats and scooted into the table oohing and ahing at the spread. Wine was poured, candles were lit, the chandelier was dimmed to half strength, and finally Bill, a former lay-pastor, bowed his head and started a slow and measured grace.
“Heavenly Father,” he began “bless this gathering and the hands that prepared this bountiful feast. Give us the wisdom, Lord, to make the right decisions and grant us the vision to see our way down the right path.” He continued for a while in this vein touching on the themes of fellowship, community, the weather, nature, safe travel, and God’s glory and closed with, “We thank You for Your grace and love, and the strength that we gather from it. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, thank you ‘For each new morning with its light/For rest and shelter of the night/For health and food/For love and friends/For everything Thy goodness sends.’ Amen.” The group answered in unison with a chorus of returned Amens, which was followed immediately by the beep of the microwave.
Nancy had been itching to get up through the entire prayer. She did not mean to let the gravy go the full five minutes and it was practically molten. Using hot pads she carried it out and set it down beside the turkey. “Ray could you please serve everyone turkey? The platter is probably too heavy to pass.” He nodded and picked up the gravy boat to move it out of the way. “Careful—” Nancy began but that’s as far as she got. Ray yelled as the hot china burned at his fingers. The entire gravy boat—unattached from the saucer— tipped and slid off and into his lap.
“Damn it!” he screamed and suddenly leapt up from his chair as red hot gravy seeped into his crotch. In the process he bumped heavily against the table and one of the tall candlesticks toppled over and rolled, still lit, towards eight-year-old Kerri. Her paper napkin ignited and the girl screamed. Bill who was sitting to Kerri’s left picked up the girl’s glass of Mountain Dew and used it to douse the flame. The fire went out but most of the soda ended up in the bowls of cranberry relish and creamed onions. At the same time Kate from across the table saw the day-glo green drink splashing towards the side dishes and lurched for the relish—the dish she had brought—to rescue it. Her arm glanced off her wine glass sending it toppling. The glass hit the edge of the turkey platter and exploded showering the turkey and a few nearby sides with a spray of Cotes du Rhone and spearlike juliennes of Riedel crystal.
The group froze in a silent aftermath tableau. Ray stood at the head of the table with gravy still dripping from his zipper. Bill had Kerri’s empty glass in his hand and Kate’s arm remained extended across the turkey platter reaching for the swamped relish bowl. Nancy was eminently aware that all her preparations were for naught, the meal, now seeded with broken glass was ruined. She was shooting invisible lasers the length of the table at Ray when she noted, “As I was saying, the gravy is hot.”
* * * * *
Ray pulled on his overcoat, which thankfully covered his gravy stained slacks. There were a few splatters down the right leg of his pants despite efforts to clean him up, but they were not too noticeable. Forty-five minutes later Ray retuned with a large white bag emblazoned with a black and red Boston Market logo and two smaller bags from Ariake Japanese Restaurant. Ray held up the bags in both hands. “Two whole rotisserie chickens and a few sides for those looking for a more traditional meal, and a wide selection of sushi from the only other place I could find open on Thanksgiving with carryout.”