With apologies to all turkeys foreign and domestic, pumpkin pie is the food of the season. And in a certain home in Bethesda, pumpkin pie is the battleground of the season.
"You cannot publish my name or I might smoosh a pumpkin pie in your face," said a woman who called last week. That would be a great waste of both a pie and a gloriously handsome mug, I replied. So I made the first executive decision of that day: Abide by the caller's wishes.
She is a woman in her forties, she told me. She is doing "the entire Norman Rockwell family Thanksgiving bit" tomorrow. The assembled company and the menu never change from year to year. "It's me, my family, my three brothers, their families and my mother," the caller said.
One of the brothers has a wife "who's a little cuckoo about food," my caller said. "This woman is wonderful in every way. But she detects extra sugar where there isn't any. She thinks I'm part of a great big conspiracy to add pounds to her middle."
The sister-in-law has given birth to three children in the last five years. "That will rearrange your waistline no matter what," my caller said. Still, last Thanksgiving, "it came as quite a shock" when this sister-in-law "accused me of spiking my homemade pumpkin pies with extra sugar."
The sister-in-law didn't base her charge on anything scientific. "She said she had been eating my pumpkin pie for the last who-knows-how-many Thanksgivings, and she could tell just by tasting it that I had sweetened it up," my caller said.
So now, the hostess with the mostest is thinking of dropping pumpkin pie from the Thanksgiving 1999 menu. She was calling to ask me if I thought she should.
I locked onto the issue as if I were on a sugar high.
"The combative Bob Levey says you shouldn't let her push you around," I said. "Heck, it's your table and your menu. She's just a guest. Do guests usually get to weigh in -- pun intended -- about the menu? Can't she just pass on the pumpkin pie if she thinks it'll harm her middle?
"Then there's the diplomatic Bob Levey, and he says, `Why start a struggle that you can avoid?' It wouldn't be very hard to serve nonfat ice cream for dessert. Or to skip dessert entirely.
"But the third Bob Levey is going to win this one," I told the woman. "He's the earnest Bob. And here's what he would do.
"He'd plan to serve the same old homemade pumpkin pie as in years past. But as soon as the sister-in-law arrives, he'd ask to speak to her privately.
"He'd tell her that there is absolutely, positively no additional sugar in the pie. He'd be ready to show her the recipe and the labels from the ingredients if need be. Then he'd offer to make her a substitute dessert if that would make her feel more comfortable. Anything she wants within reason, and within the refrigerator.
"If this doesn't do the trick, the woman needs a psychiatrist, not a dessert."
Sally Martin, of Fulton, may or may not give thanks for pumpkin pie tomorrow. But she will certainly thank the U.S. Postal Service, $1,200 worth.
Sally runs Evergreen Stables, near Columbia. On Oct. 11, she went to the Fulton post office to mail her weekly earnings to her bank.
The earnings consisted of $1,200 in cash. Sally planned to convert the dough into a money order before mailing it.
Sally also had a bunch of already-stamped, already-sealed letters with her. Because of "the way we are today in this hurried world," she dropped an envelope containing the cash down the hatch along with the others.
A few days later, the Fulton postmaster telephoned Sally. Seems it had been raining cash for several days at the Postal Service's Southern Maryland Processing and Distribution Center.
Employees kept finding $20, $50 and $100 bills in and around the canceling equipment. They finally found the clue they needed: an unsealed envelope with a bank deposit slip in it. The slip bore the name and phone number of the stables, and the envelope bore a Fulton postmark.
The processing people called the postmaster, who called Sally. Just like that, she had averted a major, otherwise unrectifiable disaster.
The employees collected "every penny," said an aghast, abashed Sally. "It's a miracle.
"The post office gets a bad rap, and they deserve some recognition. Even though I'm the one who looks stupid, it's such a neat thing."
From Len Greenberg, of Sterling (who is skinny, by the way):
"My advice to anyone who's full-figured: Stop talking about going on a diet and go on one.
"Atkins speaks louder than words."
Speaking of diets, Fred Malcolm defines an optimist as the fellow who shaves before weighing himself.