Crossed Genres magazine is asking writers to post free stories for Haiti. Here is my contribution; I specifically chose to post a humour story, since we can use all the smiles we can right now. The story is free to read.
I encourage you to visit http://crossedgenres.com/haiti/ today, to read the other free stories from various other writers. The page includes links to charities that are helping with the crisis, and could use any help they can get, no matter how tiny your contribution. Help spread the word, and if you're a writer or an artist, consider participating.
"I added onions to the mashed potatoes this time."
"I noticed! They’re absolutely fantastic. I love green onions."
“Are those like what they put on Japanese soups?”
“Yeah, but they call them spring onions, I think.”
“Nice. Oh, Diane, what was the name of that Japanese restaurant you told me about? It had to-to or yo-yo in the name?
Unbelievable. Every dinner is like this; Thanksgiving was like this, then Christmas, then Grandma Margo's birthday, and aunt Sylvie and uncle Jim's anniversary dinner, Easter dinner, you name it. I can't even remember a time where it wasn't like this. How do you even prepare someone for a dinner like this?
"Julia, your turkey's amazing!" uncle Claude says. "You should have cooked two of 'em."
Everybody laughs. Then grandpa Gaston, "We coulda got two. It was on sale, great price. Ham was on sale too, I got a bunch for next week."
"You'll need to invite us over!" says cousin Merrick. "Grandma's jelly-glazed ham is the best."
"Only if you bring some of this bean salad! What's in this, are these lentils? They're great."
I wasn't sure about inviting my boyfriend over for his first dinner with my family. I told him I had to prepare him before we left; he laughed, told me that everyone says that about their families, until I started explaining exactly why mine was a little… special.
Whatever you do, don’t talk about politics, I told him; grandpa Gaston and uncle Jim had a huge argument one year at Christmas over their different views on military spending. They've since made up; everyone knows better than to talk about politics now.
Don't talk about work; uncle Claude is always worried about his pension, and one of my cousins is always out of work. Don't talk about religion; we try to avoid remembering that aunt Lucy's daughter is now a scientologist.
"Oh, Sylvie, I found this great recipe for a lentil and cauliflower casserole. Remind me to give it to you after dessert."
"Thanks Diane! Jim, have you tried the glazed carrots? Lucy made them."
Don't mention any medical stuff, or you'll get Grandma Margo talking and worried about her latest bowel surgery, and uncle Jim would rather not dwell on the fact that his son from his first marriage is about to undergo sexual reassignment surgery two cities away.
Don't talk about what's in the news; aunt Sylvie's friend's son was just arrested for drug possession, and it was all over the six o’clock news last week. Don't talk about cars, or driving, or you'll remind everyone about aunt Diane's DUI.
Don't talk about school, Merrick's flunking out of college. Don't talk about money, babies, clothes, make-up, Macs vs. PCs, the latest sports game, the weather, current events, Abraham Lincoln's assassination, the latest episode of American Idol, or the economy.
"I love this salad."
"I know, it's the feta cheese that makes it so good. It was on sale, Grandpa brought me a whole container."
"I heard it's good for you, too. I mean, that's why the folk from the Greek areas always look so good."
"Oh! That reminds me-- Julia, I tried the best vinaigrette at this Greek place last Saturday..."
While preparing my boyfriend, I jokingly (maybe just half-jokingly) referred to these as 'the forbidden'. The topics-that-must-not-be-named. The whole family knows about them; like the proverbial elephant in the room, about which we must not breathe a word.
Only with this family, it's like a whole herd of elephants. Don't talk about 'the forbidden', don't talk about all the things that will set someone off and start the yelling, don't talk about the things that will dredge up bad memories and bring the whole evening down, don't talk about the things that remind everyone of their failings and their misery. Avoid 'the forbidden', and you'll have a nice, quiet, charming family dinner where everyone gets along and is happy.
So when you cut out 'the forbidden', what's left to talk about?
"Who's ready for dessert? Grandma made her famous upside-down pineapple cake!"
"We brought some of that French vanilla ice cream, it was on sale."
Food. That’s all. That’s it. Just food. And it works, damn it.
They're laughing, passing around plates and smiling at each other. Complimenting each other on
the dishes they made, talking about the tomatoes and the bread, now sharing scoops of ice cream around. I have to smile too. And I keep up the charade, keep up the sacred tradition of hiding away 'the forbidden', and take another slice of grandma Margo's upside-down pineapple cake, as we're all listening to the story of how she found the recipe in her mother's old cookbook that was hidden in an armoire, and how she tried to make it with peaches once, because the peaches were on sale. The cake tastes fantastic, and I say so.
Because it works.
I guess sometimes, it's not what you share as a family that keeps you together, but what you don't share.
"Did I ever tell you kids where I found this recipe?"
Pass the ice cream.