There had always been one Thanksgiving constant in my life, one tradition that pulled me through all those years at the children’s table, that made Thanksgiving Thanksgiving: Marshmallows were always melted on top of the sweet potatoes.
When I saw the casserole dish go into the oven, I softly asked Gary, “Umm, isn’t she forgetting to melt those mini-marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes?”
Gary’s mother heard me, stopping in midmotion, a look of absolute panic on her face, as if she had just discovered that Lancome was no longer giving out a free gift with purchase. She looked at Gary, who looked at me, who looked back at his mother, who looked at her son again, her thoughts now clearly channeled into his body.
“The grandkids don’t like marshmallows,” he whispered, as though he were trying to talk me off a ledge.
Gary’s brother’s family had just arrived, and Gary’s mom was throwing everything into the oven to rewarm it. There was no time for an incident. I wanted to go ballistic. I wanted to run through the floor-to-ceiling dining-room windows I knew were hidden behind the floor-to-ceiling blackout drapes. Maybe then I’d know if it was sunny or raining today. But instead I gritted my teeth and smiled and walked grimly into the living room where Gary’s dad and the boys were watching sports. At least I could watch some traditional NFL football— the Lions and Packers, or Cowboys and Redskins.
“You like sports?” one of the grandkids asked incredulously.
He’s had “the talk,” I realized.
“Wow!” he said, staring at me all wild-eyed, like Pam Anderson was his prom date.
I sat down on the couch next to Gary’s brother and immediately fell into the middle of the collapsing twenty- year- old sofa, my head coming to rest on the shoulder of his brother as if he’d taken me to a drive-in on our first date and I was gently nuzzling him.
I tried to straighten my spine enough to sit upright, and then tried to adjust my eyes enough to make out the picture on the TV his parents bought when Eisenhower was president. After a few seconds of hard staring, I realized they were not watching football at all: They were watching a Class 1A Illinois basketball game between Podunk High and Hooterville RVIII, watching guys who were five two playing center for high schools of two hundred kids and asking, very seriously, out loud, “Think these guys have a shot at the pros?”
I dribble better than they do, I wanted to yell. And I look better in a tank top.
I grunted my way off the couch and went directly to the guest bathroom, where I did the only thing I could: barred myself in until I could regain my sanity.
All righty, mister, pull yourself together, I thought, sitting on the toilet in a bathroom that looked like the middle of a birch forest in Wisconsin: pinecone wallpaper and carved wood toilet paper holders and baskets filled with twigs.
I sat and stewed.
I wanted my marshmallows, dammit.
I wanted my Thanksgiving to be the way it used to be.
Upset, I started to analyze the situation, never a good idea when you’re bitter: I knew for a fact that the grandkids were not allergic to sugar, since they’d had sixteen snickerdoodles and three fruit punches in the fifteen minutes they’d been here and were now just manically punching each other in the back.
I was near my breaking point, close to opening the bathroom door and screaming, “The turkey’s been in the oven for about nine hours. It’s done, okay? Those redneck oompa-loompas will never play pro ball, and there is no liquor anywhere in the entire house, so I’m close to drinking the rubbing alcohol out of this bathroom cabinet just to get a buzz. Give me something today, anything--just the tiny, stinkin’ marshmallows please!”
And then out of nowhere it hit me: I and both of our families were freaking out because we were all afraid of a little holiday change.
There was a knock on the door.
I put my head to the crack in the frame and heard Gary’s voice, speaking very calmly, like presidents do when they announce we’re going to war. “She’s adding the marshmallows,” he said. “And please don’t kill yourself in the bathroom. It won’t do any good. My mother will just decorate around your bloodstain with a few well- placed pinecone accessories.”
I laughed. I needed to laugh.
A few minutes later I emerged, and we were all finally seated at the table as a family. I felt good. This was all going to be okay.
And then, out of nowhere, the bomb dropped.
“What’s on the sweet potatoes?” a grandkid asked.
No one said a word.
“What is this?” the other one asked, picking up the ladle and then slapping it back down.
“Marshmallows,” I said.
“Gross!” they screamed at the same time. “That’s so gay!”
Time stopped, the earth slowed considerably, and the table turned silent. It was then that I actually saw the soul of Gary’s mom fleeing her body. Thanksgiving was officially ruined. I would never be asked back. Gary and I would now forever eat Swanson’s TV dinners alone at home on Thanksgiving, both of us crying in the dark and pretending that the apple brown Betty really wasn’t so bad, despite the fact that the corn had baked into one side of it.
But in the blink of an eye a holiday miracle occurred.
Someone farted—so loudly, in fact, that all of our water glasses as well as the cornucopia platter holding the turkey actually vibrated. Everyone started laughing, and, just like that, Thanksgiving was saved.
And Gary and I started a brand-new Thanksgiving tradition: We began to embrace one another’s families. And they began to embrace us, no matter the day or the holiday.
And those marshmallows?
Well, they never tasted more goldeny delicious.
Reprinted from the book It’s All Relative by Wade Rouse. Copyright © 2011 by Wade Rouse. Published by Crown, a division of Random House, Inc.