This year, 2019, marks the 20th Thanksgiving I’ve spent with my wife in the over 21 years we’ve been a couple. In fact, the one Thanksgiving we didn’t share was when we were dating long-distance in 1998 and she sent me Thanksgiving in the mail—including a box of stuffing, a can of green beans, a can of gravy, a can of chicken to sub for turkey and a can of tuna for the cat.
Among the traditions my wife and I have at Thanksgiving time, one is the annual re-telling of a Horribly True incident which occurred during our very first Thanksgiving as a married couple. I have previously shared a highly summarized version of the story in an early Horribly True Tale. However, due to its very tragic and inexplicable nature, the story itself has evolved to become an oral tradition warning to future generations of humanity that some ideas are crack-brained and some people, while well-intentioned, are idiots. For many years I refrained from writing more about it simply to spare the feelings of certain parties involved (i.e. the crack-brained idiot). However, I realized this year that the one and only time I met the idiot in question happened to be at that Thanksgiving and this person has not only since fallen completely out of our lives but is also someone whose name neither of us can remember. This being the case, I figure I’m free to roll them anonymously and cheerfully under a bus by writing it down.
The horribly true incident in question occurred in Charlotte, NC, in the year 2000, our marriage newly minted nine months prior. It was not only our first Thanksgiving as a married couple, but also our first ever to host, taking place in our very first apartment. Some weeks prior, we put the word out among friends in the region and beyond that we were holding Thanksgiving at our place and anyone who didn’t mind the drive was welcome to come. Our friends John and Ramona Underwood, who were closest in Newport News, VA, accepted. Our friend and occasional Horribly True participant, Joe Evans, came up from Missisisppi. And our friends James and Denise Martin drove in from Mobile, Alabama. Being a hospitable kind of gal, the wife also invited fellow employees at her mall-retail place of employment. One of these fellow employees, a young lady we shall call Judy Iscariot, chose to accept the invitation.
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I was sent on several trips to the grocery store for meal preparation. I got a giant turkey, of course, as well as ingredients to make dressing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and other traditional Thanksgiving items. Our guests were also bringing dishes, so it wasn’t on us to cook to cook it all. However, one of the dishes that we were providing was the gravy. Even though we’d stockpiled giant cans of chicken broth well in advance, when it came time to actually make the gravy we just didn’t seem to have enough at hand. I was sent to the store multiple times for more broth, two of them on the day before Thanksgiving and then one on Thanksgiving Day itself. I don’t even recall what the problem was, other than broth is often used in so many other Thanksgiving dishes that it kept getting commandeered for those and none saved for the gravy. Despite this, a giant vat of gravy was eventually produced.
The guests arrived and the Thanksgiving meal was served. Having only a tiny breakfast nook of a dining table back then, we used it to put the food on so that everyone could file by buffet-style, taking their heaping plates on to the living room to eat while we watched an early tape of the first episode of the Patrick Warburton version of The Tick which James had “borrowed” from the TV station at which he worked. We all stuffed ourselves stupid and blessed the cooks for their efforts. Afterward, the men retired to the living room to watch traditional Thanksgiving “feetball” and the ladies all went to the kitchen to clean up. (This was in the year 2000, remember, before the towers fell, back when such roles were still divided along gender lines. This year, for instance, I cooked all of the Thanksgiving meal by myself and my wife and mother-in-law lounged around looking at their phones and watching football. So, see, times have really changed.)
Soon after the cleanup had finished, Judy Iscariot, who was the only guest not staying the night, excused herself to return to her own home, thanking us for inviting her. We said things like, “Sure,” and “Any time,” and “Come back soon.” Little did we know.
Hours passed, much digesting was accomplished and hunger began to stir again. As they felt the need, folks began to filter to the kitchen one-by-one for traditional Thanksgiving leftovers sandwiches. And during the process, certain phrases were uttered and then repeated among each of the guests. Many formed inquiries such as “Where’s the gravy?” and “Has anybody seen the gravy?” and “Man, I’d kill a man for some gravy about now.” Eventually, it was my wife’s turn at the leftovers and her turn to ask about gravy. She was then seen searching high and low within the refrigerator on a quest to find whatever opaque margarine container had been used to store a fraction of the gravy vat we’d made. On seeing this search, Ramona cautiously approached and in a small, hesitant voice said, “Um, there is no gravy.”
“Whuh?” the wife said, understanding each of Ramona’s words, just not how they related to one another.
“There’s no gravy,” Ramona repeated.
“What do you mean there’s no gravy?” Ashley said.
There came a pause.
“Judy… Judy poured it all out.”
“She poured it out?” Ashley said in disbelief.
“Yeah. Down the garbage disposal,” Ramona said. She then went on to describe how during the chaos of the kitchen cleanup, with everyone bumping into one another in the tiny space, trying to find where things should go, Ramona had turned to see Judy pouring the whole kettle of gravy down the drain of the kitchen sink. Ramona had tried to stop her, but Judy insisted that it was fine to pour it all out because, as Ramona quoted, “Gravy… doesn’t… keep.”
Allow me to repeat: Gravy, she said, doesn’t keep.
We were utterly staggered by the revelation about the gravy’s demise. We felt betrayed and bewildered all at once. I mean, just think what kind of bassackward horror show of an upbringing Judy Iscariot must have endured in order to bring her to a mindset in which she truly believes gravy doesn’t keep? A sad, dry, life devoid of moistened food, is the answer. Probably throws out leftover stew after the first day. Probably thinks you can’t resuscitate cold French fries and chucks them right in the bin. Has never been known to ask for a doggie bag in a restaurant in her life. That kind of sad.
Well let me just tell you—and you can pass it on to future generations of your own families—gravy damn well does keep! In fact, it gets better with age. And when you’ve used it to the fullest extent of its gravy properties, it then can become the base-matter for turkey soup. (And I refer you again to the previously mentioned Horribly True Tale, for which this story serves as a prequel, and which concerns the very same holiday and, indeed, bird.)
After dabbing the tears from our eyes and finding our bearings once again, we had to go sit down for a while and spend some time contemplating Judy’s well-meaning treachery. It nearly put us off our second Thanksgiving sandwiches—our dry, dry Thanksgiving sandwiches. Judy Iscariot had sold us out. She would forever more be cast from our tribe, banned from our village. All future Thanksgiving invitations rescinded. She could not come back any time, soon or otherwise. And despite what we said to our gathered guests that prior to digging into the Thanksgiving meal, we were no longer thankful for Judy Iscariot. Judy Iscariot was dead to us. At best, she would become a cautionary tale that there are true dangers in the world and that some friendships come with too high a price.
And now, this warning has been passed on to you.