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Green Bean Casserole
I was just about to peel my second Satsuma orange in preparation for the holiday’s unyielding eating habits, mostly to stretch my stomach before Thanksgiving, when something had caught my eyes. There, on a wonderfully decorated box of brilliantly gleaming oranges, was a trapezoid fashioned design, just about the size of an orange itself, that bore the words ‘to’ and ‘from’. Now this struck me as odd, as if someone is actually going to present someone with a box of Satsuma oranges for the holidays saying, “Here is a box of oranges, or Satsuma’s to be more correct” and then walk off, no, I can’t see this happening. You see, we as people have become so much more obsessed with material goods such as electronics and leather shoes from Nordstrom’s, that we have darkly ignored foods as, not a present, but a necessity.
Now picture this, say your good-to-do neighbors, your doorbell ringing, and, to your surprise, it’s the Walker’s. All of them, gleaming with self-confidence, joyfully packed together to defeat the gusty wind chill, are now at your doorstep, and, what’s this? They have dutifully presented you with a heavy box for the Thanksgiving party you hosted, and in return, they thank you with a present. You think, almost wishfully, that it is that coffee maker you always wanted, so, hurriedly, like a little boy on Christmas day, you open the gift. Then, to the Walker’s dismay, your face drops, and you show disappointment, because, of all things that somebody would bother wrapping, they have wrapped a box of little, seedless, natural oranges for you. However, you thank them, and white lie that it is “ just what you wanted!” They tell you how wonderful it is that you are pleased, and, between shuffling and exchanged “goodbye’s”, they disappear into a white blizzard. Now, as you stand in the doorway, in impossible belief of your gift, you close the door, open the box, and eat your first orange. You notice something, how wonderful simple the taste is, how sweet it is on a cold day, and how lively it feels on your tongue, you notice that it is, rather tasty.
So, as I finished eating my Satsuma, which was rather tasty, I plopped my already plump body on the couch, and waited the few lonely minutes until we had to drive to my cousin’s house on Mercer Island, for, and only for, Thanksgiving.
Mercer Island is a wonderful little community, well known, but not large. People on the island tend to be on the skinny side, perhaps the only fatty restaurant is the McDonald’s, and it is perhaps the only restaurant on the island. There are at least four places to buy coffee, two grocery stores, and, one Subway. So, perhaps, maybe, the reason that the islanders are so skinny is the fact that there are so little places to eat, and, of the places to eat, there is only one that might give you a heart murmur; that is if you have not had one.
The roads were wet, almost slick feeling, Washington is awfully rainy, and at times the weather can be torment to put up with. Our old caravan, a 1999, held up extremely well with the challenges that the weather has put on us, and I must say that it is a pretty reliable car, so, comfortably, almost with no worry, we zoomed down the highway, through damp roads.
When we arrived at their house, chipper and jolly for we were about to engage in some very momentous eating, we clambered out of our car and hopped to the door.
My cousins had lived comfortably, so in perfect reasoning, they had to their unlimited expense, gorged with lots and lots of food. In fact, and it was like this every Thanksgiving, there was usually so much food at the table that even our combined family of eleven couldn’t manage to consume the food. My grandpa, of course of Chinese heritage, loves to eat, and hates to waste food since food was a rare thing to come across in China, and worse he was growing up during a war. He even said that when he was a young boy, sad and true, he had one of those bellies that were large and round due to the lack of a basic necessity: food. So, actually my whole family, grandpa would try to eat as much as he could, all it meant was that the next few days would be a diet of crackers and water. (Crackers are actually kind of nice, just like the oats of uncooked oatmeal, since it technically inflates in your stomach due to the fluids it absorbs, therefore making you feel full: the crackers take up so much space in your stomach.)
Walking into their house, which is much bigger than ours, I felt somewhat overwhelmed with how much cleaner it was. The house was much better kept, no clutter in the corners, no newspapers aflutter on the ground, no stacks of papers, and not even one DVD case by the TV, they were all kept nicely on a shelf instead. This is somewhat absurd to me, how, I ask, is it humanly possible to achieve such order among a house? I have always been intrigued by the ability of some people who have been gifted with such a talent for order, my, are they lucky?
My cousin’s house fits easily in a lot surrounded by darkly looming trees, the kind of setting that Stephen King would consider suitable for a murder seen, dark, damp, shut off from the neighbors, private. There is a farm to the right of their house, setting a different smell in the air, perhaps that of a rotting body? But enough Stephen King, besides the dark trees, the little piercing sunlight, and the fact that the house is situated at the end of a long road, the house is quite charming, and rather welcoming. With all of the trees however, one should feel that they are in a sound-proof room, but instead it would be a sound-proof house, which is a very nice thing to know when you are a kid. I guess you could say that when I am at their house I feel somewhat compelled to be noisy, since after all, no one outside can hear the sounds of our voices from inside a curtain of looming trees.
The typical evening at their house on a Thanksgiving day starts off with, of course, greetings from everybody: grandpa, grandma, auntie Debbie, uncle Doug, Joey and Jennifer. Everybody is well-ordered, quiet, orderly people, just about the opposite of our family, so in every way, two worlds are colliding. Somehow the kids manage to entertain themselves, climbing into the loft, watching TV, playing a game console, or eating the appetizers. As a general rule, for most parties, it is if there are no appetizers, then it is that people should resort to other entertainment, although I personally prefer the food. Then, after about an hour of this, my cousins and brothers, including me, would all run to the kitchen, sensing that it is dinnertime, our internal clock telling us that uncle Doug has somehow gotten that twenty-five pound turkey out of the oven, and grab our plates.
It’s a sad fact really, that my whole life food has managed to take the spotlight, but because so, I have managed to develop the taste buds that only Italian people have.
“Hmm, judging by the texture, there is a about a pint of cream, and the unique kick is definitely oregano, and a little paprika to add spice. Ohh, is that red wine? That would go perfect with this cheese!” I can imagine a thin man, donning a black one-piece tux, a curled at the corner mustache, and a hand rubbing ponderously near his chin, saying this in perfect order. Did you know that France has 240 of the worlds 450 cheeses? That is even sadder than having food be the center of your life.
When we have all sat down to eat a feast, usually the host would say a prayer, a short one, mostly on how thankful they are for family and food and so on, after all, it is Thanksgiving, but now that we’ve say thank you, don’t we have to give something to the man above? And if so, what is that something? Can it be anything? I should go consult with my church. Then, after a seemingly yearlong prayer, I grab my plate faster than I could move, (which isn’t very fast at all), and rush over to the table. There are fluffy mashed potatoes; a dollop of sour cream and some freshly chopped green onions, cranberry sauce, which I have avoided, steaming rolls, and a large bowl of butter, softened under the heat of a roaring fire in the fireplace. Beyond the first few compacted feet of the serving table is a glorious wonderland, presented in no other fashionable way, one that makes not just the stomach, but the intestines growl. There is of course green bean casserole, the most prolific dish of the meal. Campbell’s soup advertises green bean casserole, commercials showing an “All-American” Thanksgiving, cunningly revolve the camera around a plastic model of green bean casserole, radio shows talk about green bean casserole, I was even reading in the bathroom a Good House Keeping once, and there to my inescapable experience of green bean casserole was a competition for the best tasting green bean casserole. Something is seriously wrong here, it seems that around this time of year, for every year of my life I am being followed and pursued by green bean casserole.
Now understand this, I say that green bean casserole is perhaps the most “prolific” dish due to the undeniable fact that besides the turkey, Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving, year after year, the one dish forever presented at the table is green bean casserole, and I have only tried it once. Perhaps the reason that I have veered away from the green beans is that I am unsettled by the fact that my auntie has cooked it. I’m not saying that she is a bad cook, maybe it would be more fitting to call her the worst of the good cooks, but it is true that even a college kid in a dorm could cook better than her. Now, please understand, Auntie Debbie is a wonderful person, and when she cooks she only cooks because she has to, otherwise they would be eating out everyday. It appears that her cooking skills left some items in the green bean casserole one year, and she didn’t even notice them, the measuring cup, spoon and fork that she left in the casserole. I wouldn’t have the slightest as to how they got in there, even worse how they would go undetected by a human, but that is not the only unnerving fact about dining with my auntie. It is the possibilities you have to think about. What if I found a human thumb in my bite of casserole, what if took a bite of the casserole only to find that my mouth was bleeding due to a toothpick left in the dish? What if I drank water and she forgot to tell me that the septic tank broke?
Moments later, after we had all gotten our food, the room would fall silent, only interrupted by the greedy chomping sounds that were the productions of our mouths. Then, under complete silence, I would rise for seconds, heading for the turkey and gravy.
The plate was so large that it required two arms to lift, and both had to be of exceptional strength. However, and lucky for me, uncle Doug had taken notice in my presence, locking in on my gaze, and thoughtfully asked if I had wanted more turkey.
“Of course, and a little gravy perhaps?” I would say exuberantly, excited for my third helping.
“Mitchell, haven’t you already eaten your share of turkey tonight?” My parents would say, sometimes in unison, which was quite embarrassing. Then form the background, also in unison, my brothers had to open their mouths.
“You mean, hasn’t he already had enough turkey for the year?”
Those words always got me, and it was true, perhaps I had eaten my limit. Although, always looking for loopholes, I anxiously glanced around the table; hopefully I would find something else to eat that had remained so far, untouched.
“Well, since I’m already up, and it would be such a pity to waste all of those calories that my body strained out of its system standing up, how ‘bout I get some green bean casserole? It’s vegetables, meaning it’s good for you.” I usually added extra emphasis on foods when I really was hungry, and in this case, the emphasis worked.
“Well,” my mom/dad would start reluctantly. “I guess it would be okay if you ate some vegetables.”
Of course I hardly ever touched the green bean casserole on my plate, I thought it scary and disgusting, so I would usually resort to picking off of my younger brothers plate, and thus he would never have enough to eat, which I suppose is the reason he is so skinny. And perhaps the reason that I never ate green bean casserole, no matter how hungry I was, was due to the fact that it could have been laden with lead, or again my auntie had left some mysterious object in the food, so usually I steered away from it. The most my feeble mind could do was poke fun at the dish, so as it came one day, I dubbed green bean casserole as the “Green Freak”, and amazingly my auntie thought the name quite fancy, she still makes it every year.
But the is one thing at I have always loathed, and it is inevitable, almost certain like a ritual, it is the horrible stomachache that follows after a day of feasting and gorging. (Not to mention the cramps, nausea, and devastation of a toilet down the hall.) But somehow I manage to pass the pain, and I’m not sure how it happens, some years I take a Tums before dinner in order to prevent the stomach pains, but alas, the pain arrives after dinner. I guess it’s something that I’ll just have to live with, something as bad as watching my dad fall asleep into a constant snore in the middle of a service at church, but worse. I just feel bad for whoever has to clean up that toilet down the hall though.