It was to be our first Holiday dinner with his family. I was going to meet all of them for the first time at our shared home. We had moved up to the third floor of his cosy three flat in the Chicago neighborhood of Lakeview.
I scoured our apartment all day while I cooked all the traditions including pumpkin pie. The apartment below us was empty so I set up the dinning room table for champagne and appetizers. We would then move the party to our apartment upstairs for the big feast.
I set about donning the empty room with my best Visual tricks. The whole room glowed with Traditional holiday cheer. I placed greens (trimmed from the yard) and vanilla candles everywhere, used a whole bolt of crimson wool and yards of ivory ribbon on the table, the windows, and the chairs in the vacant apartment. Presents wrapped and positioned just so. The room was magical.
They came, we hugged, I smoozed big time. I even wore a bow tie. All was going well until Phillis (my monster-in law) announced she didn't drink champagne during the champagne toast. I glanced over to her son's surprised face.
"No problem," I scrambled to the kitchen for option B. “White wine anyone?” I could have sworn he told me she drank champagne.
"Here's to many happy family traditions." He toasted after refilling Phillis' glass. I choked and passed the beggars basket brie.
We moved on to the dinner table upstairs. New theme, High City, all glass and crystal. White lights in giant vases, Star of Bethlehem and white tulips everywhere. I thought I had them eating right out of my hands with my ham wrapped white asparagus spears, stuffed turkey and garlic mashed potatoes.
That was until his sister brought up the subject of the Big Bad Nursing Home just before dessert. I of course thought nothing less than brilliance in her suggestion to his Mom's application for the waiting list. It takes years to get into that country club, and her sister, Aunt Ginny loved it there.
That's when she lost it. Old Phillis' face turned red as she slammed down her silver fork on Gram's china. All hell broke out, along with one of my best china plates. She blew a gasket. Gravy went flying. “ You're all trying to get rid of me!”
“Oh don't be silly Phillis, that's not at all what Mary means. She just thinks that getting on the list...”
"Shut up you...you...What do you have to say about any of this!" She screamed across the table cutting me off. "You aren't even part of this family...Boo hoo hoo." She burst in to a blubbering melt down. Something about getting rid of her, selling her home, stuffing her into a place where old people die.
My significant other and his sister sprang to her side with tissues and "Oh my Mother," and "She didn't mean it," and “Mom you didn't mean it." Patting and smoothing her like a three year old 'porkypine'.
"We're not trying to put you in an old peoples home." I quiped from the other side of the table. "Don't be silly, I was only suggesting for the future it would be smart..."
"Shut up you." She hissed and blew her nose on my linen napkin.
I didn't even warrant a name. YOU.
Stunned, I excused myself and cleared the broken plate as fast as humanly possible. As I scurried off to the kitchen I whimpered, "I think I'll get desert ready, who wants coffee?"
After several minutes and much commotion in the front room my new love came to find me sulking at the kitchen sink. I was steaming mad. "Well I guess I know where I stand with your mother. YOU. Here take these cups out to the table. I'll slice the cheese cake in here. I'm not joining you all."
“Oh come on,” he begged. “Please, come out and join us for dessert. She didn't mean it. She's my mother, for God's sake...” those puppy eyes pleated. “Besides, you can't stay in here all night.”
I sent him out with the tray stacked with plates, silver dessert forks, hot cherry sauce for the cheese cake and napkins.
He almost had me. But I decided right then and there not to start out this relationship being second behind his Mother. I could stay in the kitchen all blessed holiday if I wanted to. As I started washing the dishes his family appeared one by one at the kitchen door threshold with their dirty plate. To seek my forgiveness or was it to replenish their cup of coffee? No words were spoken.
Finally Phillis appeared with her empty plate. “That was one hell of a cheese cake...I'm sorry about the plate.”
“Thank you Phillis. It was only a plate.” I waited for her to speak, searching her face for an ounce of respect the smallest hint of regret. Nothing came. Ever.
“ Well,” I said. “What say we open some gifts now.” I wiped my hands on the dish towel. Somehow I knew it was just the first of many stand-offs I'd have with my new Mother in-law. “ How about a little Champagne?”
(c) 2010 tgwithin