Long Island, N.Y.—We're 11, not an even number, but a number that's enough to fill two dishwashers and washing machines with dirty plates and linens. Our hostess, the indomitable Bonnie Ross, my mother-in-law, decided not to strain herself this holiday, and instead encouraged her guests to bring key dishes while she prepared the free-range turkey. ("It's three times the normal size and never was locked up in a pen eating other animals' innards," she says.)
Bonnie wanted us to enjoy one another's company and food. She succeeded.
Can food represent its creator or its bearer? Bonnie sends her son Keith (my husband) and me on a bread mission and we return with a crusty pain rustique. Are we sweet, tangy and hard-to-get-to-know, yet become softer with each subsequent bite? I decide to follow this assumption and have some fun in the process.
Bonnie divides the turkey into white and dark parts on a keyboard-sized platter, while she presses together her overly lined mauve lips, considering the taste of her Cosmopolitan. "No wonder this tastes off; I forgot the Cointreau! Sorry, everyone!" I'm not surprised that Bonnie forgot something, since her memory lapses at least once day, but at least it wasn't crucial to the dinner, like forgetting to remove the plastic-bagged organs from the free-range turkey.
Bonnie's red-haired daughter, Kim, made a red pepper soup. Again, my theory works. The soup matches Kim's hair, is simple in adornment (Kim favors Land's End and L.L. Bean) and is spicy, like Kim's temper in airport security lines and Long Island traffic. Kim blows out one of the red candles to help make room for the artichokes that resemble soft roses with sienna-tipped petals.
When Scott (Bonnie's younger brother) and his common-law wife, Joanne, join us, I learn she had an abscessed tooth a few days before and could only chew her food on the left side of her mouth. She represented her state of mind with a fruit platter containing soft purple grapes, thick pineapple slices dripping with juice and cantaloupe chunks pushed to the outer sides of the circle like shy girls entering a party room. I've asked Bonnie why Joanne and Scott haven't married yet. In fact, two years ago, all of their families gathered for their Memorial Day wedding that didn't happen—much to the chagrin of long-distance relatives. My mother-in-law believes Scott's teenage son from the second of his two ex-wives has something to do with it. The boy is failing his classes and dresses like Nelly. Joanne has an ex-husband and two grown sons and would probably rather stay on the outskirts like her cantaloupe than cleave officially to Scott's broken family.
Kim's partner Kathy and I clear the table and we both notice the absolute disaster at the sitting place of Henry, Bonnie's husband and Keith's stepdad. Lettuce leaves, bread crumbs, turkey chunks and a gravy spill mark this man's spot and solidify my opinion that this guy is a born slob. Henry's a nice slob, though, who cares about his family by giving us rides to the airport, lifting our too-heavy luggage and throwing big birthday bashes for our young son.
We set the table for dessert: two pies from Kim and Kathy, soft chocolate and raspberry sugar cookies. "Pass the coconut down this way, honey!" Scott insists to Joanne. In 20 minutes, only two crust crumbs remain.
Our odd number retires to the living room to sip and slurp coffee, take photos and plan for the weekend. Tomorrow night, we're going out to dinner.