I had always looked forward to Thanksgiving, my Mother is an excellent cook and her turkey was fantastic, and usually huge. If she couldn't find one big enough, she would cook two smaller ones. It was one of the things you could always count on.
Even the time when Dad experimented at deep frying a turkey, or the 'Turducken' debacle, Mom roasted her turkey in her tried-and-true-method, yielding excellent results. To be fair, Dad's second attempt at deep frying a turkey was successful, but that was after I had suggested he use an engine hoist to lower the turkey on a chain into the boiling oil instead of his expensive deep-sea fishing rod. They tend to melt rather quickly when suspended over a kettle of very hot oil and a heat source. Add a twenty-pound turkey, and you end up with hot cooking oil all over the place. He had to re-sod a large patch of the backyard.
So, when Dad retired six months after I got my Master's Degree and moved to a condo near my new job; they decided to downsize and bought a smaller house in a nice quiet neighborhood midway between the three of us kids. They moved in September of 2016, but the kitchen was sub-par in Mom's eyes and they immediately hired someone to remodel. That turned into a gigantic cluster, Mom didn't like having somebody, namely a contractor, change her carefully laid out kitchen plan to suit their abilities so, two more contractors later, the kitchen still wasn't done. It's fortunate that they have a pool because if they had any appreciable lawn area there would be a contractor or possibly two buried back there.
Dad came up with a plan that saved the day, although Mom fought it tooth-and-nail. We, as a family, would book a banquet room at the nicest hotel in town, The Pomeroy Suites, and have Thanksgiving dinner there. Mom was given carte-blanche to choose the menu, and dinner would be served family style in the small banquet room; if you consider a room that seats fifty people small. She also got them to bow to her demands to bake the pies herself and bring them in. Our guest list didn't come close to filling the room.
Our family, which also consists of my sister, her husband and their kids, and his Mom. Her husband Dave had coached our soccer team in high school and taught science the rest of the time, and Pauline was a realtor, she suggested a remodel before our parents moved in but kept her mouth shut afterward. Our Mom is not fond of being told "I told you so."
In addition, there was my brother Gus and his wife, Annie, and their three boys, and then uncles, cousins and a few friends, and Grampa Thoreson, so all-in-all around thirty-five people would be sitting down to dinner with us.
November 24th arrived and I arrived at the hotel early to help Mom oversee all the preparations. She promptly told the staff to remove the ridiculously large centerpiece from the table. "I wouldn't be able to see anyone."
Shortly before the family was supposed to arrive, Mom called me over, "Diehl dear, your Father is out front with the pies would you go and help him. And no tasting!" She ordered after me.
She knew me too well.
There wouldn't be any tasting anyway as Mom had baked the pies at a friend's house who was out of town, and she bought special stackable pie boxes for the occasion. Dad handed me two four-box carriers and grabbed another eight pies himself. A bellman offered to carry them for us, but Dad replied, "Are you trying to get me killed? My wife moved heaven-and-earth to make these pies, so hands off."
"Very good sir, I understand." And with that, he turned tail.
The lobby was getting busy with people arriving for dinner in the main dining room when suddenly I heard someone call "Diehl!"
"Sean, what a surprise, I thought you were going back home for Thanksgiving."
"We can't, the whole damned place is snowed in."
"Who's this?" My Dad asked.
"Dad this is Sean McKuen, he's a teacher at the junior high where Jonah goes."
"Nice to meet you, but these pies are getting heavy, and I don't want them crushed by some idiot with his nose in his phone. Are you on your own?"
"No sir, my sister is with me. We were just going to check in at the desk to have dinner."
"Well grab her up and drag her along and join us, we've got room for a bunch more and more than enough to feed them. Also, call me Gus, I can't stand being 'Sir'd'."
I grinned at Sean although I was a little uneasy. He and I had been dating for a while, although we hadn't done anything more adventurous than kissing. The thing is, I hadn't told my family that I was gay yet. I didn't really expect any grief over it, but I hadn't planned to tell everyone at once.
"Hey knucklehead, you wanna get the hell out of the way? You're blocking the door."
"Hey, all you had to do was say excuse me, mister." Captain Clueless said.
"If you pulled your head out of your damned phone, you'd see that you parked yourself in front of a doorway."
"Well excuse me!" The embarrassed man uttered.
"If there was an excuse for you, I'd have heard it by now," Dad said.
Sean caught up with us just then and grabbed the door handle edging the guy out of Dad's way.
As far as he knew, Dad was acquainted with everyone who would be attending, except for Sean and his sister Bridget, so he had no qualms busting this cypher's balls.
My Dad had been a career Marine non-com and he was not the type to tolerate idiots. If you were going to do something stupid, better you weren't around him or he would call you on it. He hadn't been that way around us as kids, but if you were a grown-up you better watch your step.
After twenty years in the Corps, he retired and joined the police department. He liked the work but hated the politics so, after five years of that, he quit and opened a personal security service. You know, bodyguards even uniformed security for weddings and other events. He would also train clients on how to react in dangerous situations, and enhance their powers of observation. It became quite successful and he eventually sold out to his partners and retired. I would really pity anyone who tried to crash this party.
"Well hello, who's this Diehl?"
"Mom, this is Bridget and Sean McKuen, Sean teaches at Jonah's school."
"Well hang up your coats, and I'll be back to talk with you in a bit, oh, you don't need to go to the lobby for a restroom, they're down that hallway, behind the door that's labeled 'restroom'." That's my Mom; Dads a non-com, she's a general.
We followed Mom with the pies and she had us put them on a cart, then told a server they were not to be touched until she gave instructions on how to serve them. The guy didn't even roll his eyes, he just nodded and pushed the pies into a cool room.
"It's now or never," I told myself. "Hey before we head back in, I need to talk to you both about something important."
"Can it wait, dear? We'll have people arriving soon, and I still have so much to do."
She started to walk around me, and I said, "No it can't, for once pull your head out and listen."
"Okay, I'm listening," she said in a tone that told me she didn't like being talked to that way.
"Alright, I was going to wait and tell you first privately, so you'd have time to digest it before we had a gathering like this, but with Sean here I need to tell you that I'm gay and he and I have been dating."
"But..., but, what about his wife?" Mom asked incredulously.
"Bridget is his sister dear," Dad said.
"Oh, that's a relief, I thought there might be trouble," she said.
"And?" I asked pointedly.
"And what?" Mom asked.
"Were you not listening, again, you never freakin' listen. Most of the fights you've ever had with Dad were because you don't God-damned listen. I just told you I was gay, or didn't that register? Or were you moving people around in that seating chart in your head?"
"Alright Diehl, that's quite enough. I heard you, did you honestly think I didn't know, or your Dad, for that matter. I guess you're like me, you keep things to yourself and I understand, but that's no excuse for rudeness."
"I don't think he was all that rude and he's right, you don't listen very well. I wasn't sure you heard him either. It was important to Diehl that you acknowledge what he said, but you just zoomed right past it."
"And Diehl, the reasons we may have fought in the past is our business, not yours, just like who you want to date is yours. Sean seems like a decent guy and if you like him, we'll probably like him too. As for telling the rest of the family, you do what you think is best; but how often do you have a chance to tell them all at once?"
I was stunned, the two people I stressed the most about telling my one and only secret were okay with it. Even more than that, I would have to think about what Dad said.
"Mom, I'm sorry I was rude."
"I suppose I had it coming, I just get so focused on this day, it's all-consuming. I'm sorry too, I should have said it was fine, and what your Dad said goes for me as well."
I hugged them both and Mom being herself said, "Watch my hair!"
"So, Diehl, are you falling in love with this Sean guy?"
"I may be Dad, he's everything I'm looking for in a man."
"Well. just know I was serious. It changes nothing between us. I've served. under fire, with gay men and they act just like the straight ones. I hope you weren't holding off telling us because you thought I would think less of you son."
"No Dad, I guess Mom is right to an extent, I am single-minded about some stuff. I've been so focused on getting my degrees and getting a job in the defense industry. I can't serve [in the military] because of having only one kidney, but I can contribute in keeping our guys safer when they serve. You know, I didn't actually come to grips with being gay myself until a couple of years ago. How did you know? I didn't think I was giving off any clues."
I shuddered for a moment remembering that car bearing down on me, the accident cost me a kidney and a lot of lost time at school. It cost the driver his freedom, he was drunk and ran right through the red light. He never even touched his brakes. Dad had to be restrained when they brought him in.
"You've always been more sensitive to other boys, and you would develop tremendous crushes on other boys, and some men, that you saw on TV or around our neighborhood. You told me when you were six that you were going to marry the little neighbor boy, Jimmy I think his name was, do you remember that?"
"Oh yeah, we were really close, we had no idea what all that meant. I just thought if you loved someone you should marry them."
"Well, you weren't wrong, but we should get back and greet people as they come in, okay?"
"Sure Dad, you're right."
"So what do you want to bet me that your Gramps will trot out the old 'me getting court-martialed story?"
"No bet Dad, has he ever missed an occasion to tell that one. I mean, it's a good story but I've been hearing since I could remember."
Dad had been a cop when the 9-11 attacks happened. He made it known that he would be willing to return to active duty and help keep our Marines alive by teaching them tactics learned in places like Lebanon, Grenada and Viet Nam. He returned as a Master Gunnery Sergeant for an MP [Military Police] unit and set about teaching young Marines how to survive and what to watch out for. He was also tasked with teaching new officers, or those with no combat experience, how to work with their non-comms.
On a patrol, a Lt. Colonel was observing an enemy installation but kept standing up and exposing himself to enemy fire, thus giving away their position. Dad knocked him down and warned him that if he got even one of his boys wounded or killed, he wouldn't make it back to base camp. "They have snipers too, Sir!"
The Lt. Col. was incensed and took him, under guard, to the commanding officer. The Commander listened patiently and said, "So you're bent out of shape because the gunny saved your ass from being tagged by a sniper? Also, why are you still wearing your collar insignia, do you want to be shot? Haven't you read my directive, have you seen anyone else wearing insignia in this A/O [Area of Operation]? I'm tempted to write you up myself. Now get your ass out of my office and stay here in base camp until further orders."
The Col. turned to dad and said, "Sorry Gunny, reserve officers are sometimes a crap-shoot. I'm transferring him to liaise with the Army's 15th medical battalion. He's a good administrator, but he'll kill a lot of our men learning to be even a passable combat commander. I just don't think he's got it in him. You're dismissed Gunny, get back to your unit and square them away."
As it turned out the Colonel's clerk was a friend of the family, and let that slip out during a party at Grampa Thoreson's. We call him 'Big Daddy Thoreson' because they're both named Karl Gustav. Big Daddy was also a Gunny he was in Korea but didn't see much action, but he was with the first bunch of Marine advisors in Vietnam. He and Dad are a lot alike in personality.
He and my sister's family were the first to arrive since Big Daddy lives in what used to be their pool house. The pool was beyond repair and they had it filled in because of their little kids. It gave them room to run around and gave Big Daddy the enjoyment of watching them grow. He and Jonah were particularly close, and Jonah and I are quite close as well.
Within fifteen minutes everyone was assembled in our dining room and the conversation was lively. Sean and Bridget were introduced to all and Jonah was watching him very carefully. He seemed fixated on Sean. He finally summoned his courage and walked around the table and stood between us, so I pulled him over onto my knee.
"Hi Mr. McKuen, why are you here?"
"We were in the lobby and bumped into your Uncle and Grandpa. Gus invited us to join your family instead of eating in the main dining room."
"Cool, I'm glad you're here. Hello, I'm Jonah Hooper, I'm in Mr. McKuen's class in third period."
"Nice to meet you, Jonah, I'm Bridget, I'm Sean's sister."
"Older or younger?"
"I'm younger by twenty-two minutes."
"Oh, you're twins, how cool."
"We've always thought so. Do you like my brother's class?"
"Oh yeah! Math is my favorite. well, science too."
"It's true," I said, "he's well versed on Astrophysics, I think he's destined to work at JPL or someplace like that."
"SpaceX actually, I'm very interested in Mars." Jonah corrected. He positively glowed with pride.
Krista and Katey, Jonah's sisters, came over and said hello. They talked to Bridget at length.
We were all interrupted by Dad calling order to the chaos of conversation.
"Please, everyone take your seats, the food is about to be served. It will be the same way we do it at home, except your Mom won't be carrying the platters this time."
"Who would like to say grace this time," Pauline elbowed Jonah and he stood.
"Okay Jonah, let's hear it loud and clear."
Jonah delivered a fairly brief but to the point prayer of thanks for the kinship and warmth around the table.
Big daddy rose and raised his glass, "To family, Huzzah!"
Everyone else rose and raised their glasses and also gave a loud Huzzah! It's been a tradition in our family for many generations supposedly from the time of the Napoleonic wars.
The food was excellent, but we had all received an email from Dad that told us not to say that it was equal to Mom's. In truth, certain dishes were better, and others weren't even close. The turkey was one of those, it was a bit dry and I said so, Pauline agreed.
"I told that chef he wasn't basting enough but he wouldn't listen. But the ham is good, of course, all they did was heat it and slice it." Mom complained.
Mom had ordered her ham from the same farm in North Carolina for years and it was always fantastic.
It was nice having the servers coming by and refilling the carafes of White Zinfandel and Martinelli's cider. The wine was quality stuff from Beringer... Mass produced but to high standards and very tasty.
I had decided that I would make my announcement between dinner and dessert, so I stood and tapped an empty water glass.
"With all of you gathered around, I want to take the opportunity to say something that may or may not shock you. I've struggled with it for a while but after speaking with Dad, I think this is the time. What I would like to impart to you, my family, is that I am gay. I plan to live openly, as a gay man, and pursue happiness. I have, in fact, been dating Sean for a couple months now. So, there you are."
It was dead silent for half a minute as people looked at each other. My cousin Jens broke the silence and said, "Oh thank God, I thought you were going to say you joined the Scientologists."
It was an opportunity for people to release the tension and most laughed. Another water glass rang and it was my nephew, Jonah. He stood and raised his glass. "It was a brave thing to make that announcement, and I want to wish you happiness, to my Uncle Diehl, Huzzah!"
Everyone stood and joined him in Huzzahs.
When everyone was seated, Jonah still stood. "I want to make an announcement too. Like Uncle Diehl, I am also gay. I hope you can all accept that."
Dave stood and hugged his son, patting his back. I stood again and toasted my nephew. "Jonah, it took a lot of courage to do that at such a young age. I wish you all the happiness in the world. To Jonah, Huzzah!" I shouted, and everyone joined me, led by Big Daddy.
*It is That Thanksgiving I shall always remember.*
I want to commend Juju on this story. I challenged him to write it and in 2 or 3 days, he came up with this gem. Being a new author, he has impressed me on several levels. Join me in letting him know when he does something right… and be constructive when you find him doing something different that you would have. Juju… just remember that feedback, both positive and negative is helpful to a developing Author, and if there is any 'established' Author who feels he doesn't need any criticism, my opinion is that he should set aside his pen (or word processor) and take up something like needlepoint. Congratulations on a fine short story. TrueFan
Huge thanks to Truefan for his help in editing and for encouraging me to take this on.