Giving Thanks with Martha and Frank
by Margaret B. Davidson
Gabrielle stared gloomily out the car window. "Looks like snow. That's all we need!"
"No problem, we're almost there." Jonathan cast his wife a sideways glance. "Come on, honey, we visited your folks last Thanksgiving, and now it's Martha and Frank's turn."
"I know. It's just that your parents are so, well, so formal. I know they mean well, but it's hard for me."
"I know it is. You're used to your big, rollicking Italian family."
"You enjoy my family too. At least you've always said so."
"I love them. But my folks are good people too, and there's no way we're gonna hurt them."
"Of course we're not, but you act like such a stick when you're around them, and that just makes it worse for me."
"I know, and I'm sorry. When I'm with Mother and Father I just kind of fall into behaving the way I was taught as a kid."
"I guess we all do that; revert back I mean." Gabrielle's face brightened. "I know, I'll insist on helping Martha with dinner, and maybe she'll loosen up a bit. It's hard being uptight with your hands halfway up a turkey's backside."
"Here we are." Jonathan pulled into the driveway of a large Tudor house. "Courvoisier and bed for me."
"Maybe they've downgraded to Christian Brothers."
"Okay, I'll behave."
Gabrielle came downstairs next morning expecting dinner preparations to be underway, but the kitchen was deserted.
"I'm in here," Martha trilled from the morning room.
Gabrielle found her mother-in-law ensconced behind a coffee pot the size of the Trevi Fountain.
"Yes, please." Gabrielle took note of Martha's perfectly coifed silver hair, and ran her fingers ruefully through her own tangled curls. I will not be intimidated, she told herself as she took the delicate china cup Martha offered. She thought longingly of her chipped Garfield mug lying unwashed in the sink back home.
"As soon as the men come down we'll have breakfast in here, and then move to the conservatory. The morning light through the windows there is quite delightful."
"Yes, that would be lovely. But you will let me help in the kitchen won't you, Martha?"
"Everything is under control, dear. I didn't invite you here to do the cooking. How is your family, Gabrielle? I haven't seen them since the wedding. Such a very large number of your cousins and aunts in attendance, I barely was able to…"
Jonathan and Frank appeared at that moment, so Gabrielle was left in the dark as to what Martha had been barely able to do.
Frank placed yet another of his beloved WW11 albums in Gabrielle's lap. "This picture was taken just before the Nantes…" Gabrielle stifled a yawn. Three hours ago Frank's stories had interested her, but now she was curious about only one thing. Who was doing the cooking? There was no turkey in the oven because if there was she'd have smelled it when she'd passed the kitchen en route to the powder room. She looked over at her mother-in-law sitting placidly before her needlepoint screen, pulling one silken thread after another through the canvas and talking to Jonathan about the vagaries of the stock market. Gabrielle had tried several times to catch Jonathan's eye, but it seemed he was deliberately not looking at her. Why the heck didn't he ask his mother where dinner was?
"Frank patted his waistcoat, and glanced at his fob. "Ah! It's about that time. May I offer you a sherry, Gabrielle, my dear?"
Just then the doorbell rang. In most houses doorbells jangle, but in Martha and Frank's house the doorbell tinkles, charmingly. Martha left to answer it, leaving the door slightly ajar. Gabrielle, surprised her in-laws hadn't mentioned that more guests were expected, strained to hear what was going on in the hall.
Good grief, how many guests had they invited anyway? It sounded like an army marching back and forth out there. Gabrielle was dying to get up and take a look, but Frank was plying her and Jonathan with questions as to their liking of the Amontillado.
More footsteps; then the sound of the front door closing. Martha appeared in the doorway.
"Dinner is served."
Jonathan swallowed a mouthful of stuffing. "Everything's delicious, Mother."
"Yes, wonderful, Martha. You do have such very good ideas, my love." Frank beamed.
To Gabrielle the food tasted bland - as though something important had been left out; an ingredient that would have made the meal more robust. Not that it mattered because she'd adjusted to the situation quite well by making liberal inroads into the very excellent Pinot Noir. In fact she was beginning to feel quite good about Martha and Frank. They really were rather sweet. But why was Jonathan frowning at her? Silly old stick.
"Yes, I think," said Martha, "that having the food delivered worked out rather well. I so wanted to visit with you Jonathan, and with dear Gabrielle, and I didn't want to waste any of our precious time together working in the kitchen."
"Are you quite alright, dear?"
"Oh yes, I'm having a great time."
"You know I was thinking, Gabrielle, that next year I would invite your family to join us for the holidays. After all, we really are one family now and it would be lovely to share our different traditions. Other people's traditions are so interesting. Tell me a little about yours, dear?"
Gabrielle accepted another glass of wine from Frank, ignoring Jonathan's scowl. "Well, um, I'm not sure you'd call them traditions exactly, but, well, Mom always yells at Dad because he's massacring the turkey by using a dull knife. He insists the knife is sharp enough, but Mom says there hasn't been a sharp knife in the house since she married him. He says that with a tongue as sharp as hers they don't need knives. Then Mom and Marlene, who everybody thinks is prissy, both get on Dad's case about his belching in front of company. By the time dinner's over everybody's screaming at everybody else, but it doesn't matter because nobody's listening to what anybody else is saying anyway."
"Oh, and last holiday, Marlena's kids got Rodolfo so wound up he barfed his Kibbles all over the dining room rug and then Dad stepped in it and trailed it right through to the living room, and that really pissed Mom off!" Gabrielle hiccupped. "Ooh, sorry. Think I've had a little too much wine."
"Yes, I think you have." Jonathan snatched up the bottle and plunked it down at the far end of the table."
"Good to see the girl loosen up a bit," announced Frank.
"Well, you do have an awfully large family, don't you dear, so perhaps we'll just keep things as they are after all."
"What breed of dog is Rod-- What did you call him? Know a little about dogs myself. Used to hunt a bit myself don't you know...
Martha and Frank stood framed in their doorway, and Gabrielle turned to give them a final wave as Jonathan pulled into the street.
"I think it went rather well, don't you?" said Gabrielle.
"I can't believe you got drunk!"
"Lighten up. I got tipsy, not drunk. Anyway it broke the ice, didn't it?"
"They think you're great! Jeez, if I'd ever pulled a stunt like that I'd never have heard the end of it. I think they were actually fascinated by your description of your family."
"Why not? I told the truth about the way my family is. If I told Mom and Dad about the way your family is they'd be equally fascinated. The way my family behaves is not wrong; the way your family behaves is not wrong. They're just different is all."
"You always get philosophical when you've been drinking." He smiled.
"Martha and Frank really love us, don't they?"
"Yes, they do."
"And I love them too."
"I'm glad to hear you say that, because they've invited us back for Christmas.
Margaret B. Davidson was born and raised in England. She now lives in upstate New York with her husband and cat. Margaret's husband provides moral support for her writing endeavors, while the cat helps with the typing. Contact Margaret.