Thanksgiving memories: vampire pelican chez Aunt Clarabelle

dear Mr. Addams, how did he know?
With the approach of Thanksgiving, my thoughts turn to my little sister, because one thing for which I'm always thankful is my sister's approach to life. She just keeps on. She showed her early promise the year my parents agreed to have Thanksgiving dinner at my aunt's (Pop's older sister, to be precise). To their dying day they quarreled about who had consented to go, each blaming the other, but we went. Aunt Clarabelle was the worst cook in the family and everyone knew it.

For a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old, the whole trip meant agony - no comfy corduroy pants that could be thrown in the wash after a busy morning peeling things, no goofy table decorations, no wonderful smells from the kitchen, no lazing around on the floor watching the parade. None of Mom's ineffable gravy. No secret recipe yummy stuffing. No, no, no. The morning was spent in hair agony, Mom having decided that her sister-in-law should see us at our cutest, girliest worst. This meant long hair cylinders, that is, sausage curls, and big bows. My scalp has never forgiven her. While she was working on Little Clotilde, I brushed out my cylinders, not realizing that while the brushing might get rid of the sausages, it wouldn't make my hair go back to its normal stick-straight flatness. The sausages were replaced by something that stood up straight and - "You look like shrubbery," said Little Clotilde. I think I was hoping that if I looked weird enough Mom would leave me home.
random eBay offering of old
pic of patient little girl
Plaid dresses, Mary Janes, tights, ribbons all duly applied, a few cruel rubber bands and a lot of Brilliantine on me, we trudged out to the car. Pop was optimistically checking for flat tires, loose rim, broken tail lights. "Any cop who has to work today will be in a lousy mood," he explained. "I'd rather stay home than get into it with some $&@!?%## over nothing."

Alas the car was fine. "We who are about to die salute you," Pop declaimed as he opened the doors for his ladies. And off we went to the land of pink silk lampshades and plastic slipcovers.

Pop wrinkled his nose as we stepped indoors, nothing smelled bad, but there weren't any enticing aromas either. I thought I detected Lemon Pledge. It's a bad sign when a meal is being cooked and the family dog chooses to hang out in front of the television.

The grown-ups were issued teeny cocktails, and Little Clotilde and I were offered a choice of ginger ale or prune juice. Aunt Clarabelle was a big reader of magazines, and she shared the information that the shortcut turkey tips, the stuffing recipe, and the creatively approached side dishes were all new to the repertoire this year. Pop looked around for a larger glass, humming. "Are you humming?"

"Oh, sorry, a tune from some opera just popped into my head and now I can't get rid of it, you know how it is..." Pop had a wicked grin that we always looked forward to, here it was and Little Clotilde and I were almost dancing with anticipation.

"Don't fidget, girls, what opera?"
"Ah, Donizetti!  - ah - the magnificent Lucrezia --"

At that moment Mom grabbed us by the elbows, one a side, and bustled us to the pink-and-gold powder room to wash our hands. She used the privacy to remind us again that we were guests, we would mind our manners, we would not poke one another, we would try to eat what was put in front of us without making awful noises, and each of us would find something nice to say or allowances would be withheld.

Aunt Clarabelle had been putting finishing touches on her platters and apparently Uncle Er wasn't an opera-lover, for no one seemed to have taken offense at Pop's humming, and we were waved over to the table. Silver was gleaming, dishes were shining, laden with - hard to tell. I recognized celery and olives and a bowl of throbbing homemade cranberry relish. At the sideboard Uncle Er was trying to subdue a burnt pelican, which despite being dead, was fighting back.
Meaningful glare from Mom - my turn. "What a pretty table!"

And now for Little Clotilde: Big smile, cute little arms held out wide, "OHBOYOHBOY! Everything I don't like!"

This is a good place to stop.

Oh, right, Uncle Er. He disliked the name his parents had given him and chose one he liked better as soon as he could. Pop considered this ridiculous and refused to indulge Er by calling him by his new name, and Er refused to answer to the old one. To keep the peace, Pop just called him Er, and we children respectfully called him Uncle Er.


  1. The dog-- definitely a bad sign. Hilarious! It's hard to mess up the Thanksgiving basics, but some manage.

    1. Hi, Lane! Yes, looking back, my aunt's awful cooking must have taken true dedication.

  2. OMG - I could weep for you and the lost Thanksgiving, but then you wouldn't have a good story....

  3. Good gracious,Wendy, although the food was tragic, we laughed and hooted all the way home. And the enthusiastic declamation of "Wow, everything I don't like!" has become not only a family classic, but a well-loved expression among a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. So no weeping, please.

  4. Your sis must have been your hero for some time after that!


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