My younger siblings, Terry and Dawn, are only a few years apart. Whenever an opportunity to belittle one another presented itself, they were both quick to pull the trigger. Since I am eight years their senior, sibling rivalry with them was nonexistent. I ignored them and they ignored me. When I left home for college, they were just two elementary school kids. When I got married, they were teenagers, still living at home.
And that’s where this story starts, way back in 1983.
Julie and I returned to our hometown for Thanksgiving at my parents’ house. It was just like that Norman Rockwell painting; family, close friends and laughter. After the feast, most of us retired to the living room to watch football and let the tryptophan kick in. My mother retired to the kitchen to load dishes into the dishwasher.
Now according to her rules, dirty dishes had to be prepared for the dishwasher. This preparation was exactly the same as washing the dishes in the sink. Using a spatula, she scraped each plate into a bowl (so as not to clog the garbage disposal,) immersed each dish into hot soapy water, wiped it clean with a sponge, rinsed it with the sprayer and then—and only then—placed the sparkling sanitized dish into the dishwasher.
My mother grew up during the Great Depression and we were reminded of this fact daily as kids. Nothing was wasted. Ever. A holiday feast, such as Thanksgiving, just put her into overdrive. Morsels of mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, lettuce, turkey skin, biscuit crumbs, pie crusts…all ended up in one collective bowl for Buddy, the neighbor’s dog.
About this time, Terry put on his coat and told my mother he was going over to a friend’s house for a while. My mother handed him the bowl.
“Feed this to the dog on your way out,” she said.
Terry agreed. He walked into the living room and handed the bowl to Dawn.
“Mom says you have to eat this,” he said.
My groggy sister took the bowl and watched Terry walk out the door. She tried to process what had just happened. My wife and I were just as confused.
“Hey mom,” she called out, “what’s this bowl of garbage for?”
You could hear the anger in my mother’s voice.
“For crying out loud, I told your brother to feed that to the dog!” she yelled back.
We roared with laughter. Dawn just rolled her eyes. I’m guessing Terry could hear us outside. Mission accomplished. A perfect surgical strike. He pulled the pin and simply walked out the door. I’m sure he was grinning as he drove away. We laughed until it hurt to laugh. Except Dawn; she didn’t laugh—which was the point.
Terry got the last laugh that year. Other years, it would be Dawn’s turn, but this is the holiday story that still gets repeated every Thanksgiving.