BY MARTIE FULP-EICKSTAEDT
One of the orange tabby kittens taking shelter in the garage had strangled himself in the window blinds. The names Tater and Tot only worked for a duo, so when she discovered the scrappier yowler had lost his life in a game of peek-a-boo, my cousin Mags renamed the surviving one Bojangles.
“Tater hung himself over the summer.” Mags clacked her Mountain Dew can down on the table and shrugged, then reached across the Thanksgiving spread for another scoop of mashed potatoes. My grandmother set down the knife she was using to butter her roll, wincing, wafting a light chuckle her way. My uncle blinked at his teenage daughter, then bowed a waggy head, muttering, “Clearly, she’s torn up about it.”
Before Thanksgiving dinner, I had smoked a joint, which may seem like a slight to the family, but they should have been flattered; I had used up the remnants of my stash in an effort to be pleasant around them.
“Well, this is a mighty good turkey,” my grandmother said, dribbling gravy over her second helping. She has always been gifted at tending conversation, keeping it alive and comfortable.
“I know you like ‘em plump and moist, don’t you, Gran?” The weed delayed my consciousness of the question I was asking. Across from me, my grandfather’s elbows flopped up against the table like slabs of dough, and my eyes widened from a spear of panic, paranoid that my question had come off as a roundabout, insolent remark on his diabetes. I cleared my throat. “I mean your birds.”
“I sure do like a moist turkey,” my grandmother said, taking a bite. I breathed, sank coolly back into my chair, though Mags had smirked to let me know she could tell I was high.
“I myself prefer ham,” my grandmother’s sister said, “but the day calls for turkey, so turkey it is.” Genteel disagreement came naturally to them. After their marriages, the matriarchs had unyoked in their Christian faith and politics, my great aunt a racist Baptist Republican, my grandmother a racist Lutheran Democrat. The previous Christmas, after I came out as gay, I overheard them talking in the kitchen while baking a chocolate pie together.
“I think it’s fine,” my grandmother had said over the whir of the electric mixer.
My great aunt clicked off the mixer and plucked out the gloppy whisk to rinse in the sink. “It’s fine as long she isn’t telling the younger ones about her lifestyle choices.”
I wondered if she was only referring to me having a girlfriend, or if “lifestyle choices” also included me dropping out of college to decorate birthday cakes at Publix.
“I’ve got good news,” my grandmother said now, pouring herself some more water. “My friend Sally is off the waiting list for a liver transplant.”
“Oh, that is good news,” my mother said. She told a story I had heard many times before about a woman from her church who had donated her bone marrow to a pure stranger, a young father of three with cancer, saving his life. “She just felt called to do it.” My mother leaned down to pet Bojangles, who was rubbing his head against her jeans. “Isn’t that amazing?”
“Maybe I will do that,” I said through a mouthful of sweet potato casserole. “Maybe I will donate my bone marrow to a stranger, and it will make my dumb life worth the waste.”
My mother grimaced as though she had stepped on a glass splinter. “Okay,” she said, “that’s enough.”
My grandmother chuckled, and this is how we know she is not to be trusted. Even so, I smiled; what fun, at least for a moment, to think she had truly found it funny, to fancy myself a delight.