|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Gets A Surprise, Part 6|
Rowena set the bowl of potatoes on the table. “We're going to have to decide where to go for Thanksgiving,” she told Sammy. “Maybe we can go to your mom's place for dinner and mine for dessert, or vice versa. Or maybe—”
“Anything you want to do is fine with me,” Sammy said. “If we visit—”
He was interrupted by the telephone. With a groan, Rowena went to answer it.
“Hello, Rowena; this is your mother.”
Rowena closed her eyes. “Hi, Mom. Listen, we were just about to—”
“Have I interrupted your dinner? I wouldn't want to interrupt your dinner.”
“As a matter of fact, we were just about to start eating.”
“Oh,” her mother said, “you haven't started yet. Then I haven't interrupted anything.”
“Mother,” said Rowena. “If you could tell me why you called . . .”
“Rowena,” said her mother importantly, “we have to plan Thanksgiving.”
“Sammy and I were just talking about that. We—”
“You were? Oh, Rowena, that's perfect.”
Rowena took a breath. “What's perfect?” she asked warily.
“Your first Thanksgiving! I'm so proud of you!”
Rowena looked over at Sammy, who of course could hear only her end of the conversation. “Mother?” Rowena said.
“It'll be such a good way to impress your future mother-in-law. I'm proud of you already. Let's see; we'll invite your grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and Sammy's mother and aunts and uncles and cousins and—and everybody who was at your housewarming, how about that, except those friends of yours; let them go to their own families. So that's . . . let's see . . .”
“You're telling me you want me to cook Thanksgiving dinner? Mother, it's already Tuesday. That's just two days before—”
“Oh, Rowena. It's just a few simple dishes. And you're such a good cook. It won't be much bother.”
“I'm so excited!” her mother said. “I have to go and start the invitations, so I'll leave you to your dinner.”
“Goodbye, dear.” And she rang off.
Rowena gathered herself as quickly as she could. “Let me guess,” Sammy was saying, but Rowena was already dialing her mother's number . . . to no avail, as it happened; the line was already busy.
Rowena hung up the phone. Too late. It was too late to do anything about it now. She stood there a moment, her eyes closed, and took a deep breath.
A roast bird, some potatoes, vegetable, salad. Cranberry sauce. Stuffing. A couple of pies, baked the day before. Maybe three pies. A few bags of chips. She could certainly do that, even with so little warning. She went to her place at the table and sat down.
“Well,” she told Sammy, “we've solved the problem of where to have Thanksgiving.”
“What gets me,” Rowena told her friend Terese after dinner, “is I might have volunteered, if she'd asked me nicely. So I can't even throw a fit and say, how dare you, I won't, I never would.” She twiddled the phone cord a moment, then let it go.
“It's not the doing,” Terese was saying, “it's the getting railroaded.”
“And I wouldn't mind so much if she'd leave ‘my’ guest list to me. Or if—”
“If she'd stop acting like your mother,” Terese offered. “That is, your mother; not a mother.”
“I reminded her last time she called that I already did a big dinner and impressed Rosemary and Sammy. I said, ‘Remember the housewarming?’ and my mom said, ‘That was pretty good for practice.’”
Terese sighed. “Your mother,” she said.
“Did I do something in a previous life?” Rowena asked. “Something hideous?”
“Ask your sister.” Terese was grinning audibly. Rowena winced.
“She's another problem. Not as bad, but another problem. She's started calling me too. She wants to do some of the cooking.”
“Usually that's considered helpful,” Terese remarked. “In this case, I presume it's Thanksgiving With Joe And Harry.”
“What else? Just think: Peppered Poultry. Mashed Potatoes with Mustard. Pickled Peas. Won't Grandma be thrilled?”
“What's your mom say? Does she have a stake in Grandma's will?”
“Even if she does, it's got to be less than the stake she has in palming me off on Sammy's family. But . . .”
“What does Sammy say?”
“That everything's going to be fine. I can handle my mom, I can handle my sister, I can cook a great meal; I can handle everything.”
“Mm-hmm,” Terese said. “Problem is, he's right.”
“Big help you are,” Rowena said.
Suckered again, Rowena dutifully wrote out a list of her family's Thanksgiving-menu necessities, including appetizers, then asked Sammy about his family's traditional foods, and added a couple more. She looked the list over, frowning slightly. It was starting to get a little complicated. Still, if she could do the shopping tonight she'd have all of Wednesday evening after work to do the pies and so forth. If she started—
The phone rang. Rowena left her list and, giving Sammy a look, went to answer it. “Hello?”
“Hi, it's Maralynne again.” Her sister made this sound like an announcement of great importance. “Listen, I was thinking.” Rowena closed her eyes and waited. “Maybe if I brought an appetizer? To, like, get everybody in the mood?”
“What did you have in mind?”
“I was thinking maybe Anchovies in Beer Sauce. You know?”
“Uh . . . no, I don't know,” Rowena managed to say.
“I was thinking of doing something really fancy, like Beery Mushrooms in Turnip Cups. But I thought maybe the table would be crowded enough as it is. I don't know, though. Joe and Harry say they're real good for this time of year, and seasonal too. So I guess they're pretty spicy?”
“Seasonal means they're . . . well, this is the time of year people like to eat turnips.” Rowena cleared her throat. “Listen, Maralynne—”
“I could bring them both. Or do you think that's too much beer? Joe and Harry did a special show on cooking with beer, and—”
“I think,” Rowena said, “that that would be an awful lot of beer.”
“But guys like beer. And there's gonna be guys there. I mean, they're relatives, but they're still guys.”
“Only I'd have to know how many Beery Mushrooms in Turnip Cups to make.” Somehow, Maralynne fell silent a moment. “This could get complicated.”
“You know,” Rowena suggested, “you don't really have to bring anything. Nobody else is.”
“But I know how to cook now and I want to show off!”
“You could always show off your usual way,” Rowena said, knowing that her sister would in any case. “Look. Why don't you talk to Mom about it, okay? Maybe she has an idea.” Perhaps even, she thought, an idea of how to convince Maralynne to let Rowena do all the culinary showing-off. Or at any rate not to involve Joe and Harry.
She rang off thinking that she had, at least momentarily, palmed one problem off onto another, but the phone rang again immediately. Maralynne hadn't had time to call their mother; their mother had already called Rowena.
“How is the dinner coming along?”
“Not tonight's dinner; I mean Thanksgiving dinner.”
“So far I've only got a list,” Rowena said. “But today is—”
“So you do have a list,” her mother said. “That's good. Could you put ‘ham’ on there, if you haven't already?”
“Ham?” asked Rowena. “But we usually have turkey—”
“Well, this year we're having ham.”
“—and Sammy's family always has turkey.”
“Well, make it ham this year. You know, when I was a little girl—”
“I myself,” said Rowena, knowing it was futile, “prefer turkey.”
“Well, we took a vote and it's ham this year. Just thought I'd tell you before you went and bought anything.”
“I think there's somebody on Sammy's side who can't eat ham.”
“Oh, really, Rowena. It's just for one night.”
“Mother . . .”
“So anyway, I'm glad to hear things are going so well. I'll talk to you later.” And Rowena's mother hung up.
Rowena put the phone down, closed her eyes, and began to count silently. “What's up?” Sammy asked. “Was that your mother?”
“Who else?” asked Rowena wearily. “Apparently I'm to do a ham this year. Despite having told her your Uncle George can't eat it.” She looked over at him. “Right?”
“Yeah. Is she absolutely set on this ham thing?”
Rowena started laughing. She couldn't help it. Sammy gave her a sympathetic grin. “Stupid question,” he said. “Sorry.”
“What am I supposed to do? Cook both? Will they fit in the oven?” She went over to the oven, opened it, and peered inside. “A small turkey and a small ham?”
Rowena closed the oven door. “Am I out of my mind?” she asked.
“Compared to your mom?” Sammy gave the back of her neck a gentle rubbing. “Nah.”
“I'm just reminding you who's got the main problem here. At least, the main mental problem. The dinner problem is another matter, but you can handle it.”
“As opposed to the mother problem?”
“As opposed to how your mother handles herself.” He kissed her temple. “You'll be fine.”
“Yeah? Have you heard what Maralynne's thinking of bringing?”
“So put a sign on it saying, ‘Homemade by Maralynne.’ She'll be proud, and if anybody eats it, well, they were warned.”
Rowena laughed. “Maybe we should invite a doctor,” she said.
Rowena had to visit two separate supermarkets to find everything on her shopping list. She had to steer two balky shopping carts, navigate two sets of aisles, and go through two checkout lines, but finally she had everything she had set out to get. She dumped the second load of purchases on the table and was putting the things away when the phone rang.
“Hello, Rowena; this is your mother.”
Rowena put the cranberries down on the counter, then put her hand there too. She braced herself. “Hi, Mom.”
“Listen, Rowena, I've been thinking.” Uh-oh. “You remember those coconut macaroons your Aunt Dottie used to make?”
“The ones that made Uncle Harry ill?”
“Well, he doesn't have to eat them, does he?”
“Mother. I've done all my shopping already, and—”
“All done? I'm so proud of you. You know, some people go and leave—”
“Mother, I've done it and I don't want to do any more.”
“It isn't the most fun part, is it? Why, your grandma used to—”
“Mom, I don't have any coconut. And I don't want to have to go back to the store to buy some.”
“Of course you have to buy some, if you want to make macaroons.”
“I don't want to make macaroons. I'm already making the pies and—”
“The macaroons aren't for dessert. You put them out beforehand. You know, for nibbling.”
“I've got cheese, crackers, pickles, olives, raw vegetables, dip—”
“That sounds wonderful.”
“—nuts, chocolates, chocolate-coated nuts, pretzels—”
“Oh, that sounds good.”
“—lemon drops, root beer drops, cinnamon drops, brownies, and those little nut cookies covered in powdered sugar.”
“Sounds like you've thought of everything. Except macaroons.”
“I really don't think I need macaroons. I've got so much stuff as it is, and so much to do, and I don't have the coconut or the recipe—”
“I'll read you the recipe. Just a minute.”
“Mom. Listen. If you're so set on Aunt Dottie's macaroons, why don't you make them? Or ask Aunt Dottie; tell her no one does it like her.”
She was answered by the sound of her mother's phone being fumbled with. “Here we go,” her mother said. “Do you have a pen?”
“Mom. For the last time.”
“And a piece of paper. Go get a piece of paper.”
“Are you listening?”
“Your Aunt Dottie is going to be so proud,” her mother said. “She was afraid that recipe was just going to perish with her, and after all the work she did perfecting it.” Rowena closed her eyes. Her mother said, “Do you have a piece of paper?”
It was no use, Rowena thought, fetching the pen and paper. It was never any use.
“So now you're in charge of your Aunt Dottie's mental health?” asked Terese. It was Wednesday afternoon, and she had called during Rowena's lunch break to offer moral support.
“Apparently. I wish I knew who was in charge of mine.”
“Bad news there; I'm afraid it's the same person who got stuck with Aunt Dottie. Frankly,” Terese continued, “if I were you I'd try to find out who was responsible for your mom. And then I'd fire him.”
“And replace him with whom? Sigmund Freud?”
“Not a bad idea. Freud's dead, of course, but maybe your sister can get her psychic to channel him.” Rowena groaned. “Although,” Terese went on, “given what he'd have to say about the two of them, maybe she wouldn't do it after all.”
“Don't even mention my sister. Now she's taken to threatening me with Beery Pears and Pickles in Maple Syrup.”
“Pickles in . . .”
“Maybe I should have Madame Zelda channel Houdini,” Rowena went on, “and ask him how I can escape from all this.”
Terese laughed. “You'll be fine. Once the dust clears, you'll be fine.”
“Easy for you to say. You didn't have to go to the store last night with a two-page shopping list. You didn't have to go back again to get the coconut for Aunt Dottie's macaroons. And you're not going to have a million people cramming into your apartment, either.”
“A million relatives.”
“You'll be fine.”
“And may I remind you there's only one of me. Plus Sammy, but no one's going to expect much from him, or blame him for much either.”
“Then he's your secret weapon. Look. It's just one dinner, and you're a great cook. You had a lot of shopping to do, and you'll have a lot of cooking to do, but nothing you can't handle. You'll be fine.”
“I hope so,” Rowena said. “Otherwise, I'll have to get Madame Zelda to channel Freud to take care of me.”
“Oh, this is nice,” Rowena said suddenly. “This is such a good restaurant.”
“I'm glad we came here,” Sammy said. He had all but insisted they go out to get Rowena's mind off Thanksgiving—and her mother—and her sister's latest suggested offering, Parmesan Pickle Patties—and to, as he put it, “dirty up somebody else's dishes.” “Anyway,” he said now, “you've got enough work ahead of you, if you don't mind my mentioning it. Though if there's anything I can do to help, you just let me know.”
“You're helping already,” Rowena said. “Thank you.”
“You know what I mean,” Sammy said. “Real work. Heavy stuff, like preheating the oven for you.”
Rowena laughed. Sammy liked to tease her about her superiority in the kitchen, but he wasn't entirely helpless himself. “At least you know what preheating is,” she said. “I'm not sure Joe and Harry do.”
“Hey, this is a respectable restaurant. Don't talk about those two here.” Rowena laughed. She was having such a nice evening, even though they were careful not to linger. And she continued to have a nice evening all through dinner and the drive home . . .
. . . Where they were met with a message on their answering machine.
“Hello, Rowena; this is your mother.” Rowena winced. Her mother giggled. “And hello, Sammy; this is Rowena's mother.” More giggling. Rowena put her hands over her eyes. “Listen, I just got an idea for Thanksgiving; now, this is going to be so good. Do you remember that special gelatin ring . . .”
“Ugh,” Rowena said, to the recording. “I am not making that gelatin ring. Forget it.”
“I feel as if I have to take you out again,” Sammy remarked.
“At least I never gave her my cell-phone number,” Rowena said.
As planned, Rowena began her cooking by baking three pies that evening, the evening before the actual holiday. Sammy washed dishes, sliced apples, and did what he could; though he was very helpful, she still went to bed late. Thanksgiving morning she got up and began her preparations, only to be sent back to the store when her mother called to remind her that she needed to provide low-fat salad dressing and dietetic cookies; she got to the store just as it was closing for the holiday, and Rowena had to talk her way in. She grabbed the things she'd come for, paid, and left, literally out of breath. But by afternoon it looked as though Rowena, bustling in her fragrant kitchen, was going to survive after all; and not only survive but triumph. She was busy, even though she wasn't making a gelatin ring, and she was keeping Sammy busy; but she was also keeping to her schedule. Turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, rolls . . . plus the three pies and all those cookies, all baked and ready. Stuffing . . . and cranberry sauce; she mustn't forget that.
And another phone call from her mother.
“Mom, really, I'm right in the middle—”
“I just had to call and let you know to expect another guest.”
“Another . . .” Rowena had had to borrow chairs as it was. She looked over at Sammy, who was putting the salad together.
“Oh, I'm sure you'll have enough food for just one more person. But my Cousin Tab—you remember Cousin Tab.”
“No,” Rowena said, “I don't think so.”
“Well, she didn't have anywhere else to go, and it was just so sad, on Thanksgiving—”
“Okay,” Rowena said. “We'll make room.”
“Oh, thank you, Rowena; it'll mean so much to poor Tab. I'll let her know she can come.”
“Fine. Listen, Mom, I'm pretty busy here, so—”
“And you'll have the wild rice stuffing and the risotto for her.” It was a statement.
Rowena took a deep breath. “What wild rice stuffing and risotto?”
“Well, Tab is allergic to wheat, so she has to have rice. I thought a rice pudding also, but Tab says she'll just eat the pie filling and leave the crust; isn't that thoughtful of her? Saving you the work?”
“Mom, I don't have time for risotto! I don't even have the right kind of rice! It's Thanksgiving Day; the stores are all closed. Even if we had time to go shopping, which we don't. And wild rice—Mother, why do you—”
“Rowena! Think of poor Tab!”
“—at the last minute! Mother, people are going to be arriving in—” Rowena craned around to see the clock.
“Oh, thank you for reminding me; I have to do my hair. Goodness, I hope I have time! Thank you, Rowena; I'm sure everything will be lovely.” And her mother hung up.
Rowena hung up as well, then just stood where she was, staring at the wall. “Doomed,” she said.
“What's she done this time?” Sammy asked.
“She's invited some cousin of hers whom I don't think I've ever even met, and who can't eat wheat.” She turned at last to face him; he was still slicing tomatoes. “So now I'm expected to make wild rice stuffing and risotto. I don't have any converted rice; I don't even have another saucepan. Or a burner. And that poor woman . . . What am I going to do? This is—”
“You're going to do the one thing you can do,” Sammy said. “Call my mother.” He dumped the tomatoes into the salad and reached for the onion.
“Your mother? The one I'm supposed to be impressing with my efficiency and perfection?” Sammy laughed.
“My mother,” he said. “The one who already likes you and will be very glad to help.”
Rowena glanced again at the clock. “What can she do, at this point?”
“Call her,” Sammy said.
What Sammy's mother did was to show up ten minutes early, with one restaurant container full of wild rice stuffing, another full of risotto—and a folding chair.
“Oh, Rosemary.” Rowena gave her a hug. “Thank you.”
“You're very welcome,” Rosemary said. “Thank Cynthia, down at Raphael's. They don't usually do carryouts, but I called her up and she had this waiting for me all ready by the time I arrived.”
“You're a lifesaver,” Rowena said. “You and Cynthia both.”
“Do you have serving bowls for those? I've got a couple in the car, if you don't.”
“Oh—oh, thank you. I hadn't even—thanks.”
Sammy went out and got them, and Rosemary helped with the last few things Rowena really wanted ready when everyone arrived. And by the time Aunt Dottie turned up—let alone Rowena's parents and the strapping-but-delicate Cousin Tab—the appetizers were all set out and Rowena was working in the kitchen alone.
“And she never let on,” Rowena told Terese. It was the day after; Sammy, home now doing the dishes, had sent Rowena off to Terese's to relax. “Cousin Tab complimented me on the risotto and Rosemary said, ‘Rowena's quite a cook, isn't she?’”
“That must've made your mother happy.”
“That it did. So happy she apparently forgot all about that stupid gelatin ring she'd wanted me to make.”
“She's convinced she's got an ally in this get-Rowena-and-Sammy-hitched thing. As if Rosemary's going to push anybody to do anything.” She reached for one of Terese's grapes. “Unlike my sister, who absolutely insisted everyone try her silly Chocolate Morsels in Slightly Sour Cream.” She rolled her eyes in Terese's direction. “Which were nothing I would have chosen, mind you, but they could certainly have been worse.”
“You could do a lot worse in the mother-in-law department as well.”
“Hey!” said Rowena. “Not you too!”
“I calls 'em like I sees 'em. It sounds to me, though, as if you already had her as impressed as she needed to be.”
“I guess so.”
“And turning to her for help like that . . . I expect she appreciated it.”
“She . . . I guess she did.”
“So the only question remaining is: Did you impress your mother to the point where she can consider you an actual adult?”
“She thinks I single-handedly cooked an umpteen-course holiday meal for twenty people—you remember how packed this place was at the housewarming?—with the last-minute risotto and wild rice stuffing, and kept everybody entertained and off each other's throats, and made Aunt Dottie's day with those stupid macaroons . . .”
“A real Superwoman.”
“And a half. And she really believes I did it all myself.” Rowena picked up her glass of water. “What do you think?”
“That you've got Rosemary thinking you're strong and capable and mature enough to trust her to help, and that your mother thinks you did it all yourself and are still a child.”
“Got it in one.” Rowena sipped her water. “You must have been channeling Freud.”
Terese giggled. “That, and I know your mother. What does Sammy think?”
“That I did a terrific job.”
“Well,” Terese said, “he's right again.”
Rowena remembered all the dishes she'd prepared, the jokes around the table, Rosemary's special hug as she was about to leave, a hug which was not merely an acknowledgement of Rowena's heartfelt thanks. “You know something,” she said. “Maybe this time I'll agree with you.”
Volume II: Rowena Gets Serious.
Book 7: Rowena Gets A Surprise.
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