Clash of the In Laws
It all started with a green bean. The fire, the assault, the trip to the hospital; they can all be traced directly back to that green bean. And except for the year when my brother’s girlfriend’s left boob fell out of her shirt and right into her sweet potatoes, it was the most entertaining Thanksgiving we ever had.
My parents and younger sister, Molly and I left for Grandma’s house late Thanksgiving morning. (Unfortunately my brother, Greg and his new girlfriend, Inga were off skiing in Vermont). On the way over, Mom told us who was going to be there.
“Mark and Candace. And Ida, I think that’s everyone.”
We all looked at her. Aunt Ida was Mom’s older sister and it was well-known around the family that Ida and their brother Mark’s wife Candace hated each other. Ida could be loud and Candace was often melodramatic about things, but no one quite knew exactly what the cause of the friction was; apparently there was some incident that happened years ago.
Every year one of the two would make an excuse to get out of going to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, so this would be the first time they’d be together in several years.
“So Ida and Candace are both going to be there?” Dad asked with a grin.
“Won’t that be interesting.”
Once we arrived and greeted everyone, we all settled in—Dad instantly grabbed a bowl of cashews and sat down in the living room where Mark and Grandma’s brother, Harry, were watching the football game. Molly was snagged by Candace and Harry’s wife, Louise, who were in the dining room, Mom helped in the kitchen with Ida and Grandma, and I just wondered around the old house.
As I neared the kitchen, Grandma was just coming out with a handful of silverware. I heard Mom and Ida talking inside.
“What about Candace?” Mom asked. I stopped to listen.
“Well, you know how she is,” Ida replied. “I specifically told her not to bring anything. I mean, I was polite about it; I just told her we were going to have more than enough food and she didn’t have to trouble herself.”
“I’m guessing she troubled herself,” Mom said.
“Oh, yes. Look.”
I peeked my head into the kitchen. Ida lifted some aluminum foil off of a small square cooking dish. I couldn’t quite see what was in it.
“Oh, of course, her famous green bean casserole.”
“Yup. Looks great doesn’t it?” Ida asked sarcastically.
“Well, maybe she’s learned to follow a recipe better.”
“Let’s hope so. I still remember that pecan pie she made years ago. It tasted like horse sh-“ Just then Ida noticed me standing there. “Uh, hey, Peter! Hope you’re hungry, food’s almost ready.” I smiled and headed to the living room.
About 20 minutes later, the food was set out on a side table in the dining room. After loading my plate, I went to sit down and noticed Candace looking at me. I realized I hadn’t taken any of her casserole and I quickly turned back and scooped some onto the very edge of my plate. She smiled at me as I sat down.
I sat across from Molly and we exchanged funny faces throughout the meal. When she was done with everything, except of course the green bean casserole, she started playing with it — smearing it or trying to shape it into different things.
Mom, who was sitting next to her, noticed her doing this and put a hand on her arm and gave her the universal face for “cut that out right now.” Molly stopped and after a moment, when Mom had started talking to Mark about something, she picked up one of the green beans. She stared at it and stuck her tongue out. I smiled.
Suddenly she picked up her fork and looked around. She placed the bean on the end of the fork and pulled it back like a catapult and aimed it at me. I shook my head but never really thought she was going to do anything.
What happened next, I later replayed in my mind several times. Molly had her elbow on the edge of the table. Harry, sitting at the far end, spilled some cider on himself and quickly got up, bumping his leg on the table. This caused the table to shift slightly and Molly’s elbow slipped off the side. Suddenly the green bean was airborne.
Time seemed to slip into slow motion at that moment. I remember Louise trying to clean up the spilled cider. Mom was still talking to Mark. Dad was shoveling a forkful of stuffing into his mouth. And I remember watching that green bean descend toward Aunt Candace who was sitting next to me.
I distinctly recall thinking I could probably reach out and grab it before it did any damage. But at the same time I was really curious to see what would happen.
And just like that, the slow-motion ended. The green bean struck Candace on her left cheek and dropped into her wine glass. She screamed.
“Oh my God, what was that!?”
Everyone became quiet. Candace looked around and then noticed the green bean in her glass. She immediately stared across the table at Aunt Ida. I had never really gotten the expression “if looks could kill” before but suddenly I understood it completely.
I glanced at Molly; she looked horrified but I could tell she was thinking about saying something. In retrospect, if she had, it probably would have diffused the whole situation, but she most likely thought Candace’s wrath would have been aimed at her so she remained silent.
No one said a word. Candace grabbed a napkin and stood up. She wiped the gray smudge off her face.
“So, that’s it, huh? That’s what you think of my food?”
Ida looked confused.
“I might not be the best cook but at least I try.”
“Um, Candace, what are you talking about?” Ida asked.
“What am I talking about? This.” She picked up her glass and tipped it over; the bean and a few drops of wine fell to the table. Candace grabbed the bean and held it up. “This is what I’m talking about. You threw this at me!”
“I most certainly did not. Why would I do such a thing?”
“Why are you lying?”
Ida’s face suddenly turned red and she got up. “First of all, I didn’t throw the stupid green bean at you; I wouldn’t touch that thing let alone eat it. And second of all, if I did throw it, I’d have every right after what you did.”
I looked around the table. Mom was staring at Candace. Dad amazingly was still eating. I was a little nervous but also excited that we might finally find out what the feud was all about.
Finally, after another moment of anxious silence, Mark stood up and put his hand on Candace’s arm.
“Why don’t we get back to our food, okay? I’m sure it was just an accident.”
Candace’s eyes never left Ida. “This was no accident. Your sister has hated me for years.”
Mark glanced at Ida. “Can’t we just forget about it?” he asked. “That was a long time ago. Can’t we move on?”
Ida laughed. “Move on? How can you say that, Mark? After what she did to me?” She lowered her voice a little. “I still can’t believe you married this nut job.”
Perhaps some kind of intuition told me at that moment to get out of the way. I quickly slid my chair back and to the right, as far from the table as I could possibly get. That still didn’t prevent me from getting hit with a spray of cranberry sauce, however.
With kind of a grunt, Candace lunged across the table and grabbed the collar of Ida’s blouse and yanked her down. Ida was stunned but quickly recovered in time to seize a handful of Candace’s hair. They both shrieked and fell forward onto the table. Plates and glasses clattered together and food went flying.
Mark grabbed Candace and tried to yank her off. Mom did likewise with Ida but they weren’t budging. Dad was busy shielding his piece of pumpkin pie.
Just then Grandma entered the room holding a basket of rolls. “Oh, dear,” was all she said and turned around and went back into the kitchen.
The old table groaned beneath the squealing, grappling women and I thought it was going to break. But something else quickly grabbed my attention.
“Mom, lookout!” I shouted. In all the commotion a candle had fallen and the table cloth was slowly burning.
“I got it,” Dad said, and, after taking a sip, dumped his glass of cider on the flames.
“Something’s wrong with Harry!” Louise shouted. Candace and Ida stopped wrestling and we all looked at Harry who was slumped over the side of his chair.
As we sat in the hospital waiting room, I glanced around at the other people sitting there. Most likely none of them were there as a result of a Thanksgiving brawl, I thought.
Molly sat next to me reading a Hi-Lights magazine. Ida sat on my other side and Dad sat across from us gnawing on a drumstick. Mom and Mark were talking to a doctor at the front desk. Candace, holding an ice pack to her head, was standing near the elevators.
I turned to look at Ida. Her shirt was ripped and she had bits of turkey in her hair. Part of her face was a little swollen. Before I really thought, I found myself asking the question.
“So, Aunt Ida, why don’t you and Aunt Candace like each other?”
She looked at me and smiled and then quickly grimaced. “It’s kind of complicated.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well…” She suddenly looked around and then leaned down and put her face close to mine. “Can you keep a secret?” I nodded. “I really don’t even remember anymore.” She winked.
I couldn’t tell if she was serious or not and I never got a chance to find out. Just then Mom walked over to tell us that Harry was going to be fine; it was only a bad case of indigestion.
Back at Grandma’s, after Mom gathered her stuff together and Dad made himself a thick turkey sandwich, we hit the road. Ida stood in the driveway and waved to us as we pulled out. Behind her standing in front of the living room window, I could see Candace, still holding the ice pack to her head, giving Ida the stink eye.
I smiled; I couldn’t wait for next year.
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Portland Fiction Project
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