Over the river and through the woods, grandmother is having a nervous breakdown this Thanksgiving. Her family -- or a reasonable facsimile -- is home for the holiday, a turkey is roasting in the oven, potatoes bubbling in the pot, pumpkin pies cooling on racks.
So why is Grandma trying to control a panic attack?
Anxiety enters with Joe, who has brought his current live-in mate, Fidelity, and her young daughter, plus several small paper bags.
"What's that?" asks Grandma, with pre-macrobiotic innocence.
"Groats," answers live-in mate. "Part of our dinner. We're vegetarians."
Grandma glances over at the stove where all four burners are occupied. "But we have plenty of vegetables. There's ... "
Joe cuts in. "Look, Ma, it's okay. Don't worry about us. We'll fix our own food, and you just go ahead with what you're having."
A primal scream is welling up in Grandma's throat, stopped by the doorbell. "It's Julia," she shouts, escaping up the hall.
She greets Julia and her family with relief. "You're not vegetarians, are you?" she whispers.
"Do these answer your question?" Each of the three children hands Grandma a bag imprinted with the Golden Arches. "Big Macs and fries for the kids," says Julia. "That's all they eat. Now, Mother, don't give me that look. They can be microwaved just before dinner."
Grandma takes a deep breath. "I don't have a microwave. But I do have a perfectly adequate dinner for everybody." The fast food deposited in the kitchen, Grandma herds everybody into the living room for hors d'oeuvres, wine and soft drinks. Julia's husband reads the wine labels and asks, "Is there any Evian or Perrier?"
There isn't. "What's wrong with the wine?"
"Nothing. Nothing. I'm just wondering if they contain sulfites."
He and Julia settle for iced tap water, which Grandma lets them get for themselves. She's having a glass of wine, sulfites or no.
"Uh, I don't want to put you to any trouble, Ma, but do you have any apple juice -- natural, unsweetened?" Joe asks. Live-in mate's little girl accepts a glass to wash down the raw carrot she's gnawing on. It's a bit linty from her pocket fuzz.
"Is the cran-raspberry juice all right?" Grandma asks her grandchildren.
"We don't like this stuff," the little one whines. "We like colas."
"All those artificial sweeteners aren't good for you," Fidelity speaks up. "And that cran-raspberry juice is loaded with sugar."
"Where's Charlotte?" asks Joe.
"She'll be here," says Grandma with more confidence than she feels. Her youngest was born a week late and has been late ever since. When the devil-may-care Charlotte arrives, Grandma hopes she'll steer the conversation away from steroids in turkeys, salmonella in eggs and an argument over whether shrimp has good or bad cholesterol.
In the kitchen, meanwhile, Fidelity is getting ready to stir-fry her tofu.
As Grandma makes the gravy, another figure comes in on her right: Julia. "If I could have a few places on the stove, I could heat up my Super Weight Loss Diet food."
Until that moment, Grandma has kept doing the usual Thanksgiving things, because she didn't know what else to do. But now she does. She walks out of the kitchen.
"Are our Big Macs and fries ready?"
"Right on the counter where you left them." Cold. Greasy. Who cares?
"Happy, happy Thanksgiving, Indians and Pilgrims!" Charlotte bursts into the house. "Come and get it while it's hot out of Charlie's Pizza Oven."
The family follows her into the dining room. Delighted cries of "Pizza!," "Right on, sis," "Now we're talkin' real food."
Grandma is in shock.
"Pizza's different, Ma. Don't worry about it." A long string of mozzarella dribbles from Joe's chin. Fidelity, abandoning her tofu, cuts herself a piece, putting aside the pepperoni. Julia's diet food gurgles down the disposal.
"Could we say grace?" asks Grandma. Heads bow.
"Thank you, God, for this family ... and this pizza ... that has brought us together. Protect us from salmonella, fanaticism, trichinosis, steroids, cholesterol of the wrong kind and conflicting research. Also keep us safe from protein deficiency and lactose intolerance." She takes a slice of mushroom and meatball pizza. "Not bad. Not bad at all."