I'm a first-generation Italian-American. That slash says it all. It means that though I was born in the United States, walk American and, for the most part, talk American, my blood corpuscles are suffused with foreign tendencies for which science has yet to find an antidote. One of those predilections is this: if I invite guests to my home and discover that I didn’t make sufficient quantities of every food to feed them all, I’ll drop down dead of mortification, right then. I mean that. Since I don’t want to die yet, I’m always on my guard against this happening, wanting to make very sure I have “enough.”
The problem is my view and my second husband’s view of ‘enough’ are very different. My second husband is just “American.” No slashes. His family came over to the U.S. while not on The Mayflower, probably on the next boat after that one. My theory is that, at one point on that trip, the passengers forgot how to cook, and even more importantly, how to measure portions. That’s why when I met him, he was malnourished, and now, at age 55, after nine years of living together, I’ve only managed to put ten pounds on him. He still wears a size 34 waist trousers. On those last two points alone I rest my argument that “real” Americans don’t know how to eat the way we “Something-slash Americans” do. It’s because of this that I didn’t believe him when he told me we had “plenty” of mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner last year.
You have to understand how important the mashed potatoes are at my house. I’ve only recently discovered they’re my stepsons’ favorite food. “Mashed potatoes with homemade gravy” is what they specifically requested when I asked them what they’d like me to make with Thanksgiving turkey. And though it surprised me that this was their primary choice, since it’s such a simple thing, I set out to make the best mashed potatoes and homemade gravy they’d ever tasted. I even bought two turkeys, so I could roast one turkey the night before, use the pan drippings from that turkey to make the gravy way ahead of the time it would be needed, just to be sure it came out right.
The gravy turned out well, but it was the mashed potatoes that had me worried. I made those on the Wednesday before, too, then held up the bowl full and asked my husband, “Hon ─ does this look like enough?”
He barely glanced at them. “It’s fine.”
What did ‘fine’ mean? “Fine” as an answer was another Americanism of his. I just can never trust that response.
Luckily, Tim came into the kitchen. Tim is the youngest of the ‘steps.’ Apart from many other endearing qualities, he’s got a great sense of humor. I didn’t know he was about to use it on me.
“Tim, tell me the truth ─ is this enough mashed potatoes for tomorrow’s dinner?"
“Oh, here we go again,” interjected my husband. “There’s plenty.”
“Be quiet, I’m not asking you,” I admonished him. “I remember the first time you invited me to your place. I lost three pounds in two days.”
Tim started laughing, but my husband looked shocked. “What?”
“It’s true. Not that I couldn’t afford to lose them, but that’s not the point. Nobody ever gets enough to eat when you’re in charge of the meals.”
Tim was still laughing as his father stuttered in protest. I looked over at him and asked again. “Really, Tim, is this enough?”
At once Tim realized how vital the answer to this question was for me. So he stopped laughing at looked at me deadpan, “Well…if it’s just for me and my brothers…sure.”
With that, I turned to my husband and said smugly, “See? I told you.” And before either one of them could say anything more, I grabbed my car keys and headed towards the door. “I’m going to get more potatoes.”
“Wait ─ I was only joking!” Tim called after me, but it was too late. I came home an hour later with eight more Idaho potatoes (and three more sweet potatoes, because I wasn’t sure we had enough of those, either.) And as I boiled and mashed my second batch, both Tim and Pete were chuckling.
The two bowls of mashed potatoes were the last items out of the oven Thanksgiving Day. Having been made the day before, they needed thorough reheating. The original bowl made it to the table just fine, along with the sweet potatoes with bananas, baked apples with cranberry sauce and fresh cream, asparagus with mushrooms and garlic, sausage stuffing, three salads, turkey, and warm rolls.
But as I pulled that second batch of mashed potatoes out of the oven, the gods of Gluttony got their revenge on me. Their unseen Force slid that bowl off my oven mitt to drop and ‘slap shoot’ across the kitchen. Mashed potatoes, in all their creamy, buttery glory, spewed everywhere ─ on my shoes, my ankles, the kitchen cupboards and the wooden floor. I had to slide my way over to the dining room table, where ten dinner guests were looking at me in dismay.
To hell with it. Everything else was hot and ready on the table. Those potatoes were going to stay where they were until we were all done eating.
So, summoning as much dignity as possible with mashed potatoes sticking to me, I sat at the table, unfolded my napkin and placed it on my lap. “You see? This is just what I mean. Thank God I made two platters.”
But that wasn't the end of it. After clearing away the dishes, I noticed we still had a whole half bowl of mashed potatoes left. Mind you, these were not counting the ones we'd cleaned off the kitchen floor.
Tim saw me looking at the leftover potatoes in confusion. With a sparkle in his eye, he explained, "You see, what it was, there were so few potatoes left after the second bowl dropped, that we were all afraid to take all we wanted. We thought there might not be 'enough' for everyone."
It's a good thing I understood by then he wasn't serious. That's why they were able to resuscitate me after I fainted.
Guest blogger Patricia V. Davis is the author of Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss and Greece