Better yet, from my point of view anyway, Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday for men. It’s as if God Himself handed down the Ten Commandments, asked Moses if there was anything special he could do for the guys, and Moses replied, “How about a lazy four-day holiday featuring food and sports?”
How else could we guys have gotten a holiday with no shopping, no wrapping paper, no greeting cards and no decorating? In this modern age, we men don’t have to go out and fetch game for the feast. All we have to do is enjoy a giant meal, then jump in the Barcalounger, throw up the footrest and watch football on TV.
Of course, the yin/yang rule says that for a holiday to be so fine for men, it has to be at least a little bit of a hassle for the women. Back in 1993, wife Brenda had her big-hassle Thanksgiving. That year, it was Brenda’s mother’s turn to make Thanksgiving dinner for all of the in-law clan—the Kearses—down in South Carolina. But this time, mother-in-law Lula passed the job to Brenda and asked her to come home and feed the family. Brenda cheerfully accepted the assignment.
For Thanksgiving, Brenda makes pretty much the same dinner her mama made, which is pretty much the same dinner my mama made, and every Southern mama made, all the way back as far as anybody can remember. Besides the turkey, there’s cornbread dressing, giblet gravy and sweet potatoes. Somewhere in the Eisenhower years, the sweet potatoes were improved with a marshmallow crust, and the scratch-made biscuits were replaced with brown-and-serve rolls.
For her ’93 assignment, Brenda decided to expand the Kearse Thanksgiving menu just a little. When we took off for South Carolina, we were packing a case of wine—half red and half white—and a case of fine imported beer. “Your kinfolk are all hellfire-and-brimstone Baptists,” I said. “Do you really want to get them liquored up? I predict conflict. Remember the time uncle Fred hauled a trash bag full of beer cans across two counties just to make sure nobody from the church would see him dumping beer cans into the roadside Dumpster?”
“I’m willing to take the chance,” Brenda said. “I’m not going to make anybody drink the stuff. If nobody wants beer or wine, we’ll just haul it all back to Nashville.”
In the trunk, along with the Kearses’ first Thanksgiving alcohol, rode two HoneyBaked Hams. “Two hams means two less things for me to cook,” Brenda said.
Brenda and her sister Gwen cooked most of the day Wednesday and all of Thursday morning. They put appetizers on a table in the garage so people could pick up a few goodies on their way into the house. As a test, Brenda also put out two bottles of red wine and two bottles of white. She set out a few wine glasses hoping people would take the hint.
The Kearses started arriving about 11 o’clock. By noon, the four bottles of wine were empty. So Brenda put out more wine and two big stacks of red paper cups. The wine and cups were gone by 12:30.
“Maybe Aunt Esther got ’em started,” I said. “She’s the Lutheran, right?”
By 1 o’clock, dinner was spread out over several tables, and the Kearses were helping themselves.
Brenda and I went to the tail end of the serving line. By the time we got to the meat section, the HoneyBaked Hams were gone. There were no scraps, no residue, not even a smear of grease on the platters that held the hams. The only clue that there ever were hams was a pack of Kearses picking and sucking on the bones. They worked those bones until 9 o’clock that night. Then, mercifully, they went home.
The next morning at the breakfast table, Brenda’s daddy, Grady, complimented Brenda on her efforts. “That was a fine dinner,” he said. “And I want to reimburse y’all for those two hams.”
I caught Brenda’s eye and shook my head to give the “no” signal. First, the hams were gifts. You don’t let your daddy pay for gifts you bought him. Second, Grady grew up in the Depression and retired in the ’60s. In the late ’80s, Grady told me that beachfront houses on Edisto Island had gotten up to $80,000. In truth, empty beachfront lots were going for about five times that amount.
Grady didn’t need to know what the hams cost.
So Brenda politely declined. “No, daddy. The hams were our little contribution.” But Grady insisted. Brenda declined again. Then Grady insisted for the third time, putting the three-offer rule in effect. It’s just wrong to make your daddy bring a fourth offer.
Brenda relented, “Okay, daddy. You can pay for the hams.”
“Good,” he said. “How much were they?”
“Eighty dollars,” Brenda replied.
“Eighty dollars?” Grady straightened up in his chair. “For two hams? Girl, you can buy hams for 10 dollars apiece at the Piggly Wiggly. I am not paying 80 dollars for two hams.”
Grady reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet and handed Brenda a twenty.
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