The big controversy at Thanksgiving had to do with the mashed potatoes.
Despite being from Southern California, we’re a pretty traditional, conservative family. We don’t divorce each other very often, and there’s very little in the way of feuding or murdering. So you can imagine that Thanksgiving, being the most traditional of holidays, would be especially “normal” for us.
And it usually is. We assemble at someone’s house, stopping first to steal some folding chairs from the church, and the women make the food while the men watch football. Those of us who have been gone for a while feign interest in what the cousins are doing now (“So … prison, huh? How was that for you?”), and everyone makes fun of everyone else while we pick at the food and get shooed out of the kitchen. After dinner, everyone lies around and dozes, and we use Grandpa’s camera to take pictures of him sound asleep with his mouth wide open. Then we play football in the street until someone hits a car window, at which point my dad says, “That’s all for me. I’m going inside,” and flees the scene like a frightened bunny. It’s your Basic American Thanksgiving.
The problem this year arose when we decided to have the festivities at my Aunt Beth’s house. Beth has always been my favorite aunt because we’re kindred spirits in many ways. But everyone else lives in Riverside County, which is best known for its gangs and drugs, while Beth and her family live in Orange County, an Oz-like fantasy world where the “seedy underbelly” consists of one homeless guy whom the police will shoot on sight if they ever catch him out being homeless. (It’s no coincidence that Disneyland is in Orange County: Orange County IS Disneyland.)
We think that moving to Orange County is what made Beth decide to do non-traditional things with food. Ordinarily, this is fine. Let her try her little variations at normal family gatherings, where we can just not eat it if we don’t like it (or, if you’re in my immediate family, insist you don’t like it without even trying it).
But when it comes to Thanksgiving, things need to remain traditional. Beth was talked out of glazing the turkey with cough syrup, and someone persuaded her against making the stuffing out of Legos, and we thought we were safe. What else is there to mess with?
The mashed potatoes. We didn’t think of this. I mean, what can you do with that? Mashed potatoes consist of potatoes and butter and milk. They’re so easy to make that even I, with my limited culinary skills, can order them at a restaurant, provided someone else is paying.
But word on the street was that Beth was planning something with the mashed potatoes. My mom talked her out of it — or so we thought.
The day came, and I was hovering in the kitchen, keeping on eye on the mashed potato-making process. Beth saw me watching and said, “Potatoes, milk and butter. That’s all.” I nodded approvingly and moved out of the kitchen. I should have known that someone with whom I was a kindred spirit would be more devious than that, because my mom reports later seeing Beth put sour cream in the mashed potatoes.
Why sour cream? Why not! Sour cream is nothing but fat and calories, two things that — believe me — no one at THAT dinner table needed any more of. And it’s not like mashed potatoes, a wonderful food to begin with, need the added flavor of what is essentially milk that has gone bad. So we can’t explain Beth’s motives, or why she tricked us.
Actually, being kindred spirits, maybe I do know why she did it: stubbornness. She didn’t like the family telling her how to cook. It was her house, after all. We should have been more appreciative. I bet that homeless guy wouldn’t have minded sour cream in the potatoes, if he could have gotten in a mouthful before the cops gunned him down.
This column was slightly shortened in publication, for space purposes, but I don't feel like explaining exactly what was cut out.
One thing I will mention is that in the newspaper, I said Beth was going to make the stuffing out of grass and twigs, whereas here I say Legos. Why the difference? Because Legos is funnier, and I didn't think of it until I had already submitted the column to the newspaper.
I would like to point out, for the benefit of any of my aunts who read this, that when I said Beth has always been my favorite, I did not mean to exclude any of you from being my favorite as well. And to Beth, I would like to point out that you really are my favorite. (There. That should take care of it.)