Thursday, November 25, 2010
At that time, my family was living in Independence, Missouri. My dad was a plumber and my mother was a stay-at-home-mom because families could afford that luxury in those days. My uncle (my dad's brother) was an accountant at General Motors. This was a more executive level position than my father had, and we all knew how "rich" our uncle was. They lived in a much larger house in Johnson County, Kansas, which is still one of the most affluent counties in the country. They drove a brand new Cadillac, and he got a new one every year.
On this particular Thanksgiving, they invited us over for dinner. I think it was on a Thursday that year if I remember correctly. We all get dressed in our very best outfits and hop into our 1957 Ford Fairlane. A few minutes later we're crossing the state line and heading into Johnson County. The pickup trucks and older vehicles that had been driving alongside us on the Missouri side were slowly being replaced by Mercedes Benz, Jaguar, Porsche, Cadillac, and all manner of high dollar vehicles.
A few miles later, we arrived at the house. It was the first time we had visited, and I was very impressed. It was two-story brick house that would easily fit at least four ranch style houses like ours inside. A long, wide driveway led to a two-car garage. Inside the tiled foyer, everything was beautiful and glistening. It appeared to be decor that was never to be touched except for dusting. I believe they had a maid that did that, but they had given her the day off apparently.
My aunt had worked hard preparing the Thanksgiving dinner. The table was set to perfection with everything in its proper location. And there was a variety of foods, including mashed potatoes (in a rather small bowl), green beans (in an equally small bowl), and another small bowl containing corn. I quickly took a head count. Including my parents, my two sisters, me, my aunt and uncle, and their son, I couldn't see how this herbivore ration was going to suffice. We usually had more than that our house for just the five of us. And with eight, I knew someone was going to leave the table hungry.
Then my aunt brought out a platter that looked huge in comparison to the meager size of the item centered on it. She set the platter next to me. I glanced at it with a question in my head, which spilled out, to my mother's dismay. "What's that?"
"Why, that's the roast," my aunt replied.
When I saw that minature piece of meat lying on the platter I knew something was going on. These people were rich. You could smell the money when you walked in the door, along with the tantalizing aroma of something that turned out to be a little disappointing because of its size. I was pretty sure they could afford eight roasts like that one without making a noticeable dent in the finances. So, I thought, it's possible this roast is just for me and everyone is going to get a similar portion. My other thought, horrid as it seemed, was that this was, indeed, the entire supply of meat for the meal.
At nine years old, boys will sometimes embarrass their mothers unintentionally by opening their mouths and letting their thoughts spill out into an unsuspecting world. It seemed a simple question at the time, but the look in my mother's eyes after I asked it told me it was obviously something I shouldn't have asked. "Where's the rest of it?"
Of course my comment was graciously laughed off in a professional holiday fashion, but the steam coming out of my mother's ears told me I hadn't heard the last of this.
Although my carnivorous craving wasn't totally satisfied, I didn't leave the table hungry. While my aunt had underestimated the protein requirement of eight people, she had erred in the opposite direction regarding the dinner rolls. Soft, warm rolls with an ample slathering of butter were one of my favorites. There was an abundance of them, and I got more than my fill. So I was quite thankful for that.
On the drive home, my mother surprised me by telling my father that was the smallest roast she had ever seen. He replied by telling her that his brother was very tight-fisted and only allowed his wife a certain amount of money for household expenses, including food.
Suddenly, the big fancy house lost a little of its glow. I settled back into the seat of our Ford, comfortable and secure, with an increased thankfulness for my situation. We were heading back to our own home — a place where there was always plenty of food on the table. And plenty of leftover fried chicken in the fridge if you needed a snack late at night.