My husband, Lee, always cooks Thanksgiving dinner, and somehow it's always stressful. So this year I decided to support him more efficiently than ever. We got up at the crack of dawn and by 2:00 p.m. we had it nailed. The turkey was in the oven, the table looked stunning, the serving dishes were laid out in formation. Lee watched a football game and I took a nap.
When the family arrived at 4:00 p.m., everyone noticed our calm demeanor.
"No stress this year, Dad!" our 20-something daughters remarked. Which was true... until we entered the final stretch.
Lee was carving the magnificent bird, the side dishes were steaming, the rolls browning, the gravy was wafting its savory aroma, when someone discovered that 92-year-old Grandma didn't have her teeth in. She was already at the table, which was an ordeal in itself. So our daughters fetched the Fixodent, rummaged in her purse for the case that held her dentures, and, flanking Grandma on either side, tried to help her insert them. But there was great consternation, because 1) they couldn't tell the uppers from the lowers, and 2) they didn't seem to fit together anyway.
Neither of the girls had ever put in their grandmother's teeth (or anyone else's for that matter). They scrutinized the pink plastic choppers over the cranberry sauce and the butter plate, holding them up to the light of the chandelier, debating how they fit in her mouth.
Lee stiffened, appalled at the dental operation going on at the table minutes before his golden bird was about to be served. "This should have been done twenty minutes ago!" he grumbled.
His brother, who had brought Mom from the nursing home and was now lying on the couch munching clam dip, announced that she has two sets of teeth and they may have gotten mixed up.
"Terrific," Lee chimed between clenched teeth, waving his carving knife and telling the girls to hurry-it-up.
"Dad, we're hurrying!" the youngest protested. They squirted out the Fixodent, slathered it in the plastic grooves, pressed the dentures in place, then tried to figure out whether they were in backwards, and why Grandma's lower lip was sticking out well past her upper lip.
"Almost ready to serve!!" Lee threatened.
"Dad, she has an overbite -- on the bottom!" the eldest cried.
At this point, Lee's brother called from the couch that she may have brought both uppers, or both lowers, or whatever.
I petted Lee, trying to avert disaster. "Stay calm," I soothed.
Apoplectic, he ordered the girls to put the damn Fixodent away and get everybody to the table. Understandably both girls lost it, muttering at the injustice of it all, as Lee slapped the steaming platter of turkey on the trivet and I passed the sides. Not content to give up, the girls hastily switched the dentures (only to find they still didn't fit) and wiped the gooey adhesive from their hands just in time to bow their heads for the traditional prayer.
After the Amen, Grandma (always a trooper) spooned up her mashed potatoes and declared them delicious. The clicking sound of her dentures as she gummed the rest of her food punctuated the rest of the meal.
My friend, Gita, nailed the lesson of the day: "It's not about the turkey or the teeth. It's about the people and the love -- and gratitude."
To which Lee retorted: "When you've been working on a meal for two days, you can throw love and gratitude out the window, it's about the frickin' turkey." His final comment on the debacle was Marlon Brando's last utterance in Apocalypse Now: The horror!
The next day, Lee's brother called from the nursing home to report that Grandma's lower dentures were missing. Ultimately, he found them in her bedsheets and put the pairs in order, while she plied him with questions: "When is Thanksgiving? What are we having for dinner?"