I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and her sisters
those several months that I lived with her after college. Maybe
because she was the oldest, my grandmother’s home was
the center of the gathering point for them before and after
they planned the Thanksgiving dinner. They did a lot of things
together such as shopping, going to bingo and baking. They
had the first conference and three-way calling ability from the
local phone company.

Watching them plan where this Thanksgiving dinner would be
held and who was bringing what, I was sad that these women
weren’t born later in time. They were ahead of theirs in
ways, but so old country in others. I realized just how old
country when the phone finally was for me and I stretched the
long cord to talk to my long-haired boyfriend in the
livingroom.

Unbeknownst to me, he had talked at length to most of my
grandmother’s sisters when I’d come home and find a
post it note to call him back. He surprised me by saying that
he would have dinner with us all. My grandmother invited
him a few days earlier.

“Did he get a haircut yet?� at least four of them asked
me simultaneously as I hung up the phone. He had not. And
the interrogation started: How good looking was he? Did he
pressure me to have sex, did he want fellatio, did I allow
cunnilingus? I was shocked that they knew these words and
that they were asking me. I told them to mind their own
business.

“Oh, God, she did not say no!� one of the sisters said
before going off in prayer in Italian. The rest persisted. So my
red face and I told them I would answer their questions after
they first did so for me.

It didn’t take eight ladies long in a round robbin to say
that their husbands had never seen their bodies naked and
that they had never had intercourse in any position other than
the missionary position. That was all they had ever done.

I couldn’t get over the fact that these beautiful women had
never allowed their husbands to see them naked and they had
never seen a naked man.
They had sex only in the dark and
were partially clothed?
I couldn’t hide my shock.

“No man has ever seen you naked?� I asked them as a
group. All but one head shook no. Only one answered aloud
that her lover and second husband had. You could hear
mouths drop.

That brave answer certainly took pressure off me to answer
their earlier questions. That sister told the others and me how
in love she had been for years with someone else. Then she
shocked her sisters by saying that her youngest son was not
her late husband’s child, but the biological son of her
second husband. Their shock soon passed, and in ways they
were relieved. They never really liked her first husband who
was not a nice man. They understood.

Before they left, we tallied up the number of people coming.
We added on my long-haired boyfriend, the four homeless
people, and for whatever reason, my grandmother said add on
four more. We were at 205 dinner plates. I had a hunch about
the man who called my grandmother and asked her about it.
She said she would tell me about it, but asked that I leave so
that she could make a private call. I knew who she was calling.

Thanksgiving Day arrived before we knew it. Some of us were
at the church hall by 7 AM putting the turkeys in the ovens
that the grandmothers stuffed and wanted immediately in the
ovens across town before anything had a chance to spoil.  A
few cousins with coolers went to get different side dishes that
needed refrigerated, placed in roaster ovens or on top of the
10 burner stove. A huge box of dinner rolls was dropped off.
Pies and more pies were delivered. A caterer had dropped off
the rented china a day earlier. Some cousins washed those and
started setting the tables.

One of the two feuding brothers arrived with his bottle of Ozo
and wine two hours early to make sure he was not seated next
to the other feuding brother. He was and that was intentional.
He started to leave, but returned when his wife and children
refused to follow him. We asked that he cap his bottles
because the molls had a stun gun. He swore in Italian and
complied.

Relatives started to file in around 2 PM just as an oven fire set
off smoke detectors. Someone jammed too many sweet
potatoes into one large casserole dish and it boiled over onto
the electrical heating element.

Snow was falling and the winds were strong as we opened side
doors to clear some of the smoke. The winds lifted the
tablecloths of some of the closest tables to the door and sent
them across the room and slammed the doors shut as the
sprinkler system kicked in and drenched all of us in the two
rooms. We had not a dry tablecloth or cloth table napkin left.

One cousin hurriedly took two of the tablecloths and 13 of the
napkins to her home to wash and dry them. At least the head
table would be set properly.

Some of us mopped up the sprinker water from the floor while
some wiped down the tables that were dripping wet. Someone
found plastic table covers in the church’s pantry and we
got those on the rest of the tables.

It was then that I sniffed and smelled the scent of buccala and
saw out of state cousins carrying in roasters of it. The well
organized team of sisters forgot to tell them that we were
having a traditional Thanksgiving and not the Christmas Eve
menu on Thanksgiving which was an idea kicked around for a
while but dismissed.

We agreed not to tell the grandmothers by phone about any of
the problems with the sprinklers when they called to ask how
things were going. My grandmother was to come with the
others, but opted to stop at her parents’ home to transport
her youngest sister who did not drive.

The two of them looked beautiful when they arrived. Their
hair was done and their dresses were out of this world. The
head table was set beautifully with white china, candles and
crystal glasses. The rest of the sisters and other two brothers
entered. My grandmother asked to speak with the two feuding
brothers in the kitchen area before dinner. I knew she had the
stun gun.

When the three of them were back there talking, she told
them that the sisters used their latest gambling winnings to
buy another headstone for their parents with the dogwood
flowers. She told them that the bronze headstone that was
removed from their parents’ grave was in storage and
would be placed on the grave of whichever of them started any
trouble during that Thanksgiving dinner. And she showed
them the stun gun.

The youngest sister was also taken in the kitchen ahead of
time. It was there as the buccala stunk up the place that she
met the son she gave away. The sisters knew immediately
when they looked at him which of their married neighbors
fathered this man because he and his dad looked identical.

We cousins ran our legs off playing waitresses and making
sure bowls and platters on tables had enough food. Each time
I looked at the head table, I saw 13 brothers and sisters
smiling and laughing through their elegant dinner. I looked
under the table and saw that most of the ladies’ dress
shoes had been kicked off.

I was so busy that it was about an hour into the dinner when I
realized my long-haired boyfriend was not there yet. Then the
door opened and I saw him. He drove 2 hours to get there, but
the weather added another hour to his journey. He wore a
suit and had his hair pulled back into a pony tail. He was to sit
with me, but my grandmother intercepted him five steps from
the door and led him to their head table. He was the only one
outside of the 13 brothers and sisters allowed at that table.

I sat with my family and kept smiling at him as he was
introduced to my grandmother’s siblings. He tried once to
leave and come over with us, but nothing doing. I knew what
was going on. They wanted to make him feel special and
wanted him close so that they each could threaten him with
bodily harm if he hurt me. I told him ahead of time to expect
that from them and he did. However, when he did break free,
he said one of my grandmother's sisters told him they had
never met a man who liked cunnilingus and they weren't
letting him leave. When I looked over at the head table, my
grandmother and her sisters raised their wine glasses  to me
and winked. I about died of embarrassment.

My newest cousin and his family were proud new additions to
the extended family. My grandmother’s youngest sister
was beside herself with happiness that she was reunited with
her child on this of all days. He lived about 2 miles from her
all his life and learned that he was adopted when his father
died the year before. My grandmother was instrumental in
getting his adoptive mother to agree to tell him. It didn’t
matter 40 years later that his mother was unmarried, but
back then it surely did.

My grandmother’s youngest sister is the only surviving
sibling today. She lives with her son and his wife and gets
around well for an 83 year old former recluse. Over the years
the rest of us have got together only at funerals and one family
reunion about a decade ago. There have been very few times
when some of the second cousins and I have gathered that we
don’t talk about that Thanksgiving and laugh at how those
old women pulled it off.

At this point in time, since so many of second and third
generation parents are no longer here, the rest of us will
gather on Christmas Eve minus the dreaded buccala, for an
extended Catholic Italian meal with those 19 delicious fish and
seafood dishes.

Before gifts are exchanged and the kids go home to wait for
Santa to come, we’re going to show movies made at that
Thanksgiving dinner two decades ago. Some of the youngsters
have no idea that their great grandmothers were so beautiful.
Some have never known what their grandparents sounded
like. All will go home with a copy of that tape on DVD as a
special Christmas present.

Likely, we will shed a few tears because there won’t be a
head table at our Christmas Eve dinner quite like the
glamourous one at the Thanksgiving dinner that my
grandmother’s sisters knew would keep their families
together and in touch long after they were gone.

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