In early November, my sister sent me a text message inviting me to Thanksgiving dinner. She recently purchased a house in the Bay Area and wanted to show it off. I consulted my wife and then texted her back to say yes, we would come. Her new home is less than two hours away and we didn’t have any firm plans for the holiday, so I figured why not.
Two days later, Sis texted me again to say that Thanksgiving was off. My parents had visited her and apparently indicated that they would never return. It seems that they were frightened off by the winding roads that lead to the mountaintop street where my sister now resides.
An hour later, my sister texted me again. “Thanksgiving is back on.” My parents had agreed to drive as far as a supermarket parking lot on the flats, where my nephew would pick them up and haul them up the mountain.
My parents stayed home anyway. Dad recently contracted a severe case of conjunctivitis and, despite the use of eye drops prescribed by a doctor, he has been unable to open his eyes very far, making driving out of the question. We offered to drive all the way there, pick them up, take them to Sis’s house in the Bay Area, and drive them home again. They declined on the grounds that Dad is probably still contagious and no one will want to be near him.
As if it weren’t bad enough that my parents would be spending Thanksgiving alone, the fact that Dad is unable to drive has created much greater problems. My mother, also age 83, hasn’t driven in seven years and expressed to me that she never plans to drive again. She says she doesn’t feel comfortable driving, and that it makes her feel a bit dizzy sometimes, and that she’s just too old. Nevertheless, she plans to renew her driver’s license when it expires in 2020. She just doesn’t plan to use it.
My parents live in a rural area at the edge of the rangeland where the cattle graze. I call it “the wild prair-ie.” The nearest supermarket is about 20 miles away, although there is a small grocery store about four miles from their house. I’ve been on the phone with my parents on an almost daily basis and they’re starting to complain about running out of their favorite foods. It’s not that they don’t have food and are going hungry, it’s just that they’ve used up the items they need to prepare the meals they like best. Not only that, but they need to prepare more meals than usual, as they aren’t going out to dinner several times per week as is their usual practice.
My parents celebrated Franksgiving, eating hot dogs and beans for dinner. Mom was annoyed that they had no buns on which to serve the franks, although not as annoyed as Dad is that he is out of bananas to cut up in his morning Honey Bunches of Oats. Yesterday, Mom reported that they are completely out of bread. “Not even the frozen kind?” I asked. My parents are famous for freezing many loaves of bread and defrosting a little bit at a time. Nope, even the frozen stuff is gone, she told me.
I asked whether we should drive down there (seven hours round trip) to get them some groceries. No, said Mom, they’re not out of food yet. I offered that, if she provides us with her grocery list, we can probably have what she needs delivered to her door. Then we checked online and learned that we probably can’t. My parents’ location is just too rural. I couldn’t find any online services that deliver to their zip code. Most likely, the best we would be able to do is to have canned goods shipped to them in the mail.
Sis says she may drive down there on her day off and take my mother grocery shopping. If not, my wife and sister-in-law will take care of it. That is, unless Dad is driving again. Now that Mom is putting the drops in his eyes instead of having him do it himself (and missing), things are looking a lot better.
We thought seriously about skipping out on my sister at the last minute and driving to the Central Valley to spend Thanksgiving with my parents instead. However, Mom begged us not to. She told me that Sis was already distraught that they weren’t coming and she’d be truly upset if we were to bag out on her, too.
I had no idea how right Mom was.
My sister urged me to invite all of my wife’s family to join her for Thanksgiving. Most of them had other plans already, however, and the driving that would have been required is excessive. Now, Sis has two adult children. Her son resides in the same town and agreed to come early to help prepare the meal. But her daughter failed to respond to her invitation. Sis even called her ex-husband in an effort to browbeat him into coming and bringing his daughter along. Of course, neither of them showed up. My niece has some type of ongoing argument with her mother and doesn’t wish to speak with her at the moment. As for my sister’s ex, well, he’s remarried and has obligations to spend the holiday with his own family.
Traffic on Interstate 80 was terrible on Thanksgiving morning, and it took us nearly an hour more than expected to reach my sister’s house. At one point, we nearly turned around and went home due to traffic being at a dead stop for close to 15 minutes. I’m glad we didn’t. Other than my nephew, my wife and I were the only guests.
Mom called while we were stuck in traffic to find out why we weren’t there yet. She said that Sis, having initially expected lots of guests, had purchased a 30-pound kosher turkey. I didn’t know that birds come that large, so I wasn’t at all surprised to find that she had been exaggerating more than a little.
My wife had made a fruit salad the night before and I put together a batch of fresh guacamole. We transported both in a cooler, along with my almond milk and a few other miscellaneous items. Well, it turned out that my sister had prepared a feast. Knowing my food restrictions, she served me sautéed tofu with mushrooms and onions, although it was my wife who actually cut everything up in preparation for cooking. Sis also fixed me roasted vegetables and a dressing prepared with gluten-free bread and vegetable broth. Both were delicious, and we had ample leftovers to take home.
After dinner, we retired to my sister’s living room, with its amazing picture window view of the bay, Oakland and San Francisco. I suppose living on a hilltop does have some advantages. Sis was stretched out on the sofa, my nephew busied himself watching videos about Japan on his laptop, and my wife and I relaxed in a pair of rocker-recliners while we chatted. Sis was facing us, while my wife and I had a clear view of the kitchen, where none of the leftovers had yet been put away.
Soon, Sis made up some soy mochas while my nephew sliced the pie. Actually, there were two pies, both Dutch apple, my sister’s favorite. One was “regular” and the other was both vegan and gluten-free for my benefit. The latter cost a hefty $15. Curiosity got the better of my sister and she decided to try my pie first. She took one bite, gagged, and spit it out. She began yelling that it tasted like lemon-flavored sawdust on cardboard. I assured her that there was no reason to be shocked. That’s more or less what a commercial gluten-free pie crust tastes like. Those of us who cannot tolerate gluten can either put up with it or not eat pie at all. I’m told that there are homemade gluten-free pies that actually taste decent, but I don’t cook and am happy to get whatever is available. This was the first pie I had eaten in about a year or so.
Sis gave me the rest of her slice of pie and we took the remainder of the pie home in its box, where I promptly demolished it. It really wasn’t as bad as she described.
I should mention that my sister has two cats. Butternut (alias Butt, Nut or just Squash) is a rambunctious orange tabby that sheds fur like there’s no tomorrow. Sis rescued her from a shelter in Albuquerque. Then there is Macchiato, whose coat features a crazy quilt of every cat color known to man on one side, while being nearly entirely white on the other side. Macchi was rescued from a shelter in Boise, Idaho. My sister moves around a lot.
Macchiato is fairly shy and made herself scarce during most of our visit. Butternut, however, is extremely outgoing and insists on being a part of whatever happens to be going on at the moment. When not perched on the coffee table or getting underfoot, she would jump up to her cat bed, high atop her scratching post. There, she could be queen and master of her domain.
The availability of a particularly large variety and quantity of food was not lost on Butternut. I decided that I had better describe what I was seeing. The squash meister had jumped up on the kitchen counter and was helping herself. “Your cat is eating your turkey,” I nonchalantly informed my sister.
“WHAT!!!” was her reply, causing my nephew to spring out of his seat and complain that his mother had nearly caused him a heart attack. Sis sprinted into the kitchen, removed Butternut from the counter and chastised her severely. Still, she did not put away the food. Instead, she returned to join us.
We lounged in my sister’s living room, she nearly asleep and me admiring the twinkling lights of the city while listening to my nephew regale me with tales of working in downtown San Francisco. It didn’t take too long before I noticed that Butternut was at the carcass again.
“Your cat is eating your turkey,” I repeated.
“Don’t say it like that!” yelled my sister. I guess I was supposed to jump out of my seat and make a hullaballoo instead of being calm about it. Once again, Sis removed her cat, but not before Butternut had lapped up most of the gravy out of the measuring cup in which my sister had served it. She made growling noises at ol’ Butt that I suppose were designed to teach her a lesson that her behavior was unacceptable.
And then my sister finally began to put away the food. The turkey, she indicated, would end up in freezer bags and would take her many weeks to use up for her lunches. Whereupon she began to portion out the remaining turkey meat, totally unfazed that it had been mauled by the filthy mouth of a cat.