Before I started fourth grade, my Mom moved us from Palm Desert back to Garden Grove—same house and same school. But now we had a dog that lived with us instead of my Dad. This was the start of the inane every-other-week-end/six-weeks-in-summer shuffling from house to house routine that kids of divorce must endure.
This was also the start of splitting the holidays. My Dad got Thanksgiving that year. I wasn’t looking forward to it as I was in a perpetually cranky mood about having to leave the desert and having to suffer the embarrassment of now being labeled a “kid from a broken home.” We were the first divorced family on the block! (We didn’t win anything—except scandal.) I remember my teacher’s comment: Toni does remarkably well–considering her parents are divorced.
Thanksgiving Day my Mom made my sister and me wear matching pink and white gingham checked dresses. Back then they were called Squaw Dresses, but they are similar to square dance dresses. Either way, not cool. The dresses had short puffed sleeves, a rounded neckline with white rick-rack circling it, and a white eyelet ruffle around the hem. I thought my sister and I looked we were trying out for the chorus line of Annie Get Your Gun. (We hated musicals.)
But my brother (a skinny kid with a butch haircut) looked worse. My Mom made him wear a navy blue sports coat that had a fake emblem on the front pocket, like he was a student from a fancy prep school. She paired this with a white turtleneck sweater. He looked like a cabin boy for the Howell’s on Gilligan’s Island.
Gee, we looked swell.
My Mom’s most famous line while growing up was, “Go outside and play!” This time she told us to go outside and NOT play. She didn’t want us to mess up our lovely outfits.
We took our suitcases outside, put them on the driveway, sat on the porch, and waited for my Dad to pick us up.
We waited…and waited. We couldn’t sit still. We ran around the yard. Played tag. Tried to climb the peach tree in our lovely outfits. And waited some more.
Hours passed. It got dark. My Dad still hadn’t showed up. My Mom yelled at us to come inside. She said my Dad probably wasn’t going to make it.
What a jerk, I thought. But at least I got to change out of that hideous dress.
“What are we going to have for dinner?” my brother asked. (He worried a lot.)
“I don’t know,” my Mom replied. “But it won’t be turkey.”
I was mortified. Great, I thought. More embarrassment. The only family on the block without a turkey. (I was bugged a lot.)
“Call me if anything to eat shows up,” my sister said on her way to our room. (She could care less most of the time.)
Instead, Mr. Davis (“Fred Fred”) showed up. I think he and my Mom had dinner plans that night and now things had changed. My Mom made cheese enchiladas with rice and beans for dinner. It was delicious. We all liked our dinner, even though it wasn’t Thanksgiving food.
Fred Fred brought a boysenberry pie that he had baked. He told us a story about how boysenberries came to be “invented” by a farmer in Anaheim named Rudy Boysen. I never believed the story, but I appreciated the effort Fred Fred made to entertain us and make us feel better about my Dad ditching us on Thanksgiving.
Which he did, as my Dad never showed up all weekend and never called. Later I think he told my Mom he forgot. And later I figured it out. He got a better offer from one of his patients—who later turned out to be the infamous Black-Haired Spaghetti. I’m sure he didn’t get any turkey either!
I dreaded going to school on Monday because I feared one of my classmates would ask me how my Thanksgiving was. I didn’t know how to lie fib make something up so I wouldn’t be embarrassed about the whole thing. I wished I could have said, “We were invited to the Ponderosa for Thanksgiving and Hop Sing made dinner and Pa Cartwright carved the turkey and afterward Little Joe took me horseback riding!”
But instead I told the truth when a girl named Linda asked me. She then told everyone in my class. But not because she thought having enchiladas on Thanksgiving was nailed (horrible). She thought it was boss (cool). So did the other kids. Whaddaya know, I was a celebrity that day!
Moral of the story and what I learned that year way back when: Even a weird Thanksgiving dinner can be a reason to be thankful.