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:
27 thoughts on “Thanksgiving with Jay (#97)”
I hope there is a follow-up to explain why they wanted you there for Thanksgiving. Perhaps it was for the Chinese reception. Hope there are red envelopes! (See I have learned something!)
Holidays just don’t mean as much to Andy’s family. As immigrants, a bigger paycheck means more. But don’t worry, T-day part II is under construction. And then…onto the banquet.
And yes, there will be red envelopes.
<> So much for being concerned with the one item you don’t want to eat. Yay for Marie Callendar’s Pie. Yep… pie saves the day every time!
Andy still thinks it’s hilarious that I even considered eating those pancakes. Pie was much better. But it’s got nothing on my dad’s!
It’s not necessarily that holidays don’t mean much to immigrants, it’s that the holidays that mean a lot aren’t celebrated. I’ve always volunteered to work Thanksgiving (it being a quintessentially American holiday and all), because I’ve never celebrated Thanksgiving, and it’s not a special day to me the way it is to my American colleagues. So I’m more than happy to make time and a half so my colleagues can stay home with the family for turkey and tryptophan overload.
And yes, I am, once again, working this Thanksgiving.
A good point. Asian-American Lani recently wrote a post on her mixed/ limited feelings on American holidays. She’s a lot like Andy, and I guess a lot like you. Holidays are just not a big deal to her.
It’s very nice of you to work on Thanksgiving. I never minded working late on High Holy days when my Jewish colleagues left early, but Thanksgiving? When almost the entire country is celebrating? Even if it’s not your favorite, it’s still a kind gesture.
Once again, another fun post! Can’t wait for the follow up posts. 🙂
The inter generational/cross-cultural aspects are interesting. I would say it just depends on the family–some families want to assimilate and/or enjoy American holidays for the opportunity to have the whole family together.
My Nissei grandmother and everyone in her generation (WWII), for them assimilation–proving that they were “American” was very important, so they observed and celebrated all holidays, right down to the food (well mostly).
And then there is my good buddy who moved to the States from China when he was 15. His parents and extended family celebrate thanksgiving, Christmas, etc with gusto. They enjoy having the family around.
Now the food…that’s a different matter.
Enjoy your thanksgiving Autumn! Where are you guys going this year?
Was your grandmother in Hawaii? Or did she go through the misery of an internment camp? (Not America’s finest moment in WWII.)
Andy’s cousins are very different — they celebrate the holidays with a big family dinner down in Orange County. We will be joining them this year. How about you?
My grandmother is from Hawaii. Maui girl before she moved to Honolulu. She wasn’t interned (Hawaii had its own internment camp at Honouliuli). if her father was still alive during WWII, he would have been interned. He was influential in the local Japanese community and published a Japanese-language newspaper.
As for WWII, my grandmother’s five older brothers served in the 442nd (Europe).
Glad you are celebrating locally. Andy’s Cali relatives sound like a lot of fun. 🙂
This year I’ll be celebrating with some friends. I’m kinda hoping to travel next year…
I hear “Friendsgiving” is more fun than Thanksgiving these days! Sounds good.
So if you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
I should be more like Lani and ask my readers important questions such as these. Maybe for the 100th post. Which is coming up fast!
Probably the East Coast. For the Fall weather and the color!
I endorse you travel plan! Would love to go back to the Northeast for the fall. The best week is probably the second-third week in October. t least for the White Mountains.
Hope that was your first and last Thanksgiving pancake but not your last ice cream cone or pie! Another runny story about cultural differences. Will this year’s Thanksgiving have turkey?
Yes! This year there is turkey. But we are only responsible for mashed potatoes and maple pie. 🙂
And I think there might have been more ice-cream, but mostly malasadas!
Never heard of maple pie but like the sound of it. Enjoy!
It’s a maple CREAM pie, technically. I put a picture of one on my pie post. 🙂
Are you going to travel some more or hunker down?
I’m hosting, I’m the only sibling with a house this year (some good stories there). 🙂
Oh man, onions! That’s nasty!!! I equally hate onions (especially the white ones). Thank god you dodged that bullet!
My boyfriend also doesn’t really care about Thanksgiving or Christmas. He has to work every Thanksgiving and Christmas, but doesn’t seem that grumpy about it. He said his family never did much for the holiday either. I’m always surprised at how, despite living in America for decades, the holidays doesn’t rub off on some Asian families.
Anyhoo, glad you got some pie! I missed pumpkin pie more than turkey when I lived abroad.
How did you live in China and dodge onions? I wasn’t aware that was possible!
Yeah, I think it’s all on what the parents embrace. If they love it and it’s filled with happy memories, kids carry it on. I take it your mom was all over Thanksgiving?
Marie Callendars! Yea! Wow. You were really hit on several AA fronts: 1) you will get fat (sigh), 2) parents working on American holidays, 3) takeaway! (gulp)
Wow, it’s like AA bingo! I win! Wait, don’t I need at least two more spaces? What would they be?
Heheheheh. Wait. Do you want to win? 😛
Of course! I’m so competitive, I feel like I must even win at being miserable. 🙂
I know I say this a lot in my comments but I just can’t get over how much it feels like you are writing about my fiance and his family sometimes! My fiance also eats any part of any animal and pretty much anything else that is put in front of him. His dad also doesn’t hug (although I have never been brave enough to try!) or speak often. His mother also never stops speaking (except when she is deliberately freezing you out, which is somehow worse even though it doesn’t seem possible).
Oh, yes, I know what you mean. When Sunny stops talking, her disapproval is palpable. I can hear it.
The ability to eat anything is an amazing skill. I wish I had that.