The Treaty of the Religious Wedding Ceremony ended our War Over the Wedding Location with Andy’s parents. One of the conditions was that we would spend the Thanksgiving after our wedding with Jay and Sunny. During the week we were there, they would host a Chinese-style wedding banquet, mainly for Jay’s family members.
Andy’s parents called once before we left to get our flight information. Sunny asked Andy if there was anything we wanted to eat. He told her no, anything was fine. Which it was – FOR HIM. Andy can – and will – eat anything from animal brains (inaccurately, but oh-so innocently labeled “sweetbreads”) to Rocky Mountain Oysters (bulls’ balls).
I am much, much pickier. I ran in front of Andy, waved my hands, and mouthed, “NO ONIONS!”
Andy: “Oh, and Autumn hates onions. So please no onions.”
Sunny: “What? Onions in everything. Everybody eats onions.”
I walked away and reminded myself that if I ate nothing at Andy’s parents’ house, it meant there would be more calories available for Lappert’s ice-cream. Lappert’s ice-cream is the best in the world, because happy cows live in Hawaii.
With minimal post-wedding money and vacation time, we flew out at Zero Dark-thirty on Thanksgiving morning. We arrived in the bright Honolulu sunshine at about noon. On our way to baggage claim, I stopped for a Kauai Pie ice-cream cone. I was in mid-bite when I saw Jay at the bottom of the escalator to Baggage claim.
Jay yelled: “Too much ice-cream! You getting fat!”
Every English-speaking person on the escalator turned to see which fat Americans was stuffing her face. I turned red. Andy didn’t. I gave him the cone to finish.
Jay’s not a hugger.
I hugged him as soon as I stepped off the escalator.
I may also have wiped some ice-cream on him.
Andy merely nodded at his father and finished off the Kauai Pie. Cuz that’s how they roll. My uptight Anglo family looks like a bunch of touchy-feely Italians compared to Andy and his dad.
I pasted on my best smile. “Happy Thanksgiving, Jay!”
My father-in-law grunted.
Jay’s not a talker.
The luggage arrived. We collected it. In silence.
We drove to Jay and Sunny’s house. In silence.
The silence was somewhat torturous for someone from a big talky family. But after my humiliation the first time I went to dinner with Andy’s family and attempted conversation, I kept quiet.
The house was also quiet. Andy’s brother had moved to the mainland earlier that year. I’d expected to find Sunny in the kitchen, cooking up a storm, but the kitchen was empty.
“Where’s your mom?”
Andy looked at me like I was crazy. “Working.”
Me: “The hotel makes her work? On Thanksgiving?!”
Jay barked. “She gets time-and-a half!”
I whispered to Andy, “So your mom isn’t cooking a turkey or anything?”
The “you’re crazy, woman!” look was still on my husband’s face. He fanned himself. “Can you imagine the oven on all day in this?”
It was 85 degrees, with 95% humidity. There was no air conditioning. I could see his point, but I wondered what we would be eating for Thanksgiving dinner.
Jay opened kitchen cabinets. He pulled out pots and pans. I pulled Andy back toward our bedroom, asking, “So your dad cooks?”
Andy shrugged. “Nope. I don’t know what he’s doing.”
“Is he a good cook?”
“Should we go help?”
Andy proceeded to ignore the banging in the kitchen. Banging gave way to frying. Which gave way to burning.
I nudged Andy. “Maybe you should check NOW?”
“Don’t hear any smoke alarms.”
“Go check, please.”
Andy heaved a martyred sigh and went to the kitchen. He returned, shut the door firmly, and said, “Don’t go out there. He says he made Vietnamese pancakes.”
“Oh.” Images of turkey and mashed potatoes went up in smoke, joining the black cloud already hovering at eye level in our room. I tried to rally. “But pancakes sound nice! And it makes sense.” (Jay’s family fled the Communists in China by going to Vietnam. Then they fled the communists in Vietnam for Hong Kong.)
“Honey, those aren’t the kind of pancakes you’re thinking of.”
I pushed my way past Andy and opened the door.
Andy followed. “They’re supposed to have green onions–”
I paused, then soldiered bravely on. “I can cope with green onions. It’s just the big yellow and white onions that I can’t stand.” I shuddered as I stepped into the kitchen. I coughed, waving a hand in front of my face.
“Yeah, well, he made them with yellow onions.”
Sure enough, the plate-sized yellow cakes next to the stove were dripping with onions. There were so many onions, in fact, that the pancakes had lost cohesion. Jay held out a plate with a yellow mound. Charred strips of black made the pancake look like a jaundiced zebra.
Here was a dilemma. My debutante mother had brought me up with a strict code of manners. The code included smiling and eating whatever food your host served you.
But my mother had also told me the story of her first dinner with my father’s mother. Mom hated green beans. But she ate every bean served by her future mother-in-law. My paternal grandmother saw that Mom had eaten all the beans and thought, “Whew! I’m glad I found a vegetable that the girlfriend likes.”
Grammy served green beans at every dinner thereafter.
I took the plate. With a smile. I carried it over to the table and sat down.
Andy got a glass of water and joined me. Fortuitously, he did not have a plate. As soon Jay turned his back, I shoved my plate at Andy.
The man who ate eyeballs recoiled. “I’m not touching that!”
I glared at him. “It’s only because you’re full from all my ice-cream.”
A commotion at the front door saved me. Jay and Andy left the kitchen. I dumped my sad travesty of a Vietnamese pancake back on the pile and returned to the table. (Helpful Hints from a childhood scarred by too much heinous Hamburger Helper: 1) Never throw unwanted food in the trash, where it is easily spotted, and 2) The dog is a good option.)
Andy and Jay returned to the kitchen with Sunny. All three carried plastic bags.
Sunny wrinkled her nose. “What’s that smell?” She spotted the mess on the stove. “Ai-YAH!” she exclaimed, and threw a volley of angry-sounding Cantonese at Jay. Jay grunted back at her.
Andy set his bag on the table. He pulled out a cardboard box and placed it in front of me. It read: