When Sandy walked down the hall into the living room Tuesday morning, she wondered what her husband, Jim would think of their house. He was away on a business trip until Wednesday afternoon. By the time he got home, she would have it all set up and messy beautiful. Her email invitations had said, “Boots and jeans.” But would they imagine just how casual she meant it to be? The floor needed more peanut shells, just like at their favorite pizza restaurant. In fact, she thought, that is where they should go for dinner Wednesday night. She would take him out to dinner. Get a few more ideas. Her son and his wife and the grandkiddos wouldn’t get in until late. She and Jim would have plenty of time to relax over dinner, talk about his trip, and enjoy some time together before the long weekend.
After her coffee and oatmeal, she spread the three lists out on the island, leaned on her elbows, her shirt sleeves rolled up, chin cupped in her hands. One list for what would bake in the oven. One for food that would be prepared and stored in the refrigerator. One for menus, with added ideas for meals the rest of the weekend using leftovers. The tasks were already in order, prioritized by length of prep time and use of the oven. Normally she wasn’t quite so OCD, but she wanted this Thanksgiving to be easy breezy. Certain people conflicts in the family had lightened up over the past year and she wanted, desperately, to be sure they stayed that way. But, not to worry. For now, start the pie crusts and mix the pumpkin bread. Turn on the oven.
Between tasks, waiting for the timer to ding, Sandy worked on the table. At each place setting she set out white plates. For place cards, she marked peanuts with a dark brown Sharpie, the letters of each person’s name. If the letters didn’t come out quite right, she smashed the shells and threw them on the floor. It wasn’t easy. She tried to make them fancy, ornate with swirly lines and flourishes. The bumpy shells were not a good writing surface, but she wanted to keep the theme. She decided that messy looked just as good, and it was better to fit each name on one peanut if she could. She experimented. Greg. Kendra. David. The longest name was Jessica. That took two peanuts. As she practiced and improved, the crunched, empty peanut shells deepened on the floor.
All day, the dishes rotated from island to sink full of soapy water and back again. Pie crusts baked. Pumpkin and cranberry breads ready to go in next. Sweet potatoes cooked, mixed, plopped into the baking pan, refrigerated until Thursday. Broccoli steamed, cheese sauce mixed, refrigerated in its glass baking pan. Water boiled, jello mixed with fruit, half of it chilled, then the other layer added and chilled. One by one, the items were checked off her list. She wiped up flour and spills and splatters, then made more messes as she worked.
For a late lunch, she made a sandwich and sat in the big chair tucked into the corner to admire her decorations, absorb the yummy smells. Bake the pies, almost done. She relaxed, imagined the room full of happy, comfortable people. To her, this work, this weekend was about reaching across the distance that was measured in more than miles.
As she was sliding the last pie shell full of liquid pumpkin on to the rack, her hand slipped, the pie tilted and splashed on the hot oven floor. It sizzled and smoked. Quickly, she set the pie on the counter and reached over to shut off the oven. That would have to cool before she could clean it out, then reheat it. She didn’t want the smell of burned pie overpowering the other wonderful aromas and interfere with baking the turkey Thanksgiving morning. She left the oven door open to cool faster. Well, it won’t take that long, she thought. She checked over her lists again. Almost done. Not too bad, only one major mess to repair, then finish cleaning up the kitchen.
The cat came down the hall and stepped into the living room. She stopped and sat, looking around at the changes, unsure. She decided it was safe, took a few steps into the room. A peanut shell crunched under her foot. With the foot held in mid-air, she froze, like a dog at point, then turned and ran back to the bedroom. Sandy laughed at her. We won’t have to worry about her coming out here, she thought.