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My Married Life: Thanksgiving with Jack's Parents

When Jack and I were first dating, I was a social machine. I was forever throwing parties and cooking for big groups of people. With my door-is-wide-open policy, the holidays were out of control at my house. I invited everyone who wasn't flying home to be with family to come for what I called Refugee Thanksgiving. I tended to get lots of people who either didn't have a family to go home to or who were estranged from theirs -- and together we'd reclaim the holiday (fist in air).

As a mediocre cook, I prepared things that would generate the most applause from the crowd (cough, still do). I baked my corn muffins in natural rather than cupcake liners. I made homemade applesauce, cranberry sauce, a pumpkin cheesecake or two, and tons of pies. But what impressed Jack was the way I made my sweet potatoes. It involved hollowing out oranges and filling them with my sweet potato mixture, then topping each orange with a marshmallow before popping the whole thing into the oven to melt and brown.

Anyway -- the dish clearly made an impression, because the first year Jack took me home to visit his parents for Thanksgiving, his mother brought it up, insisting I recreate the dish that he’d been "raving" about. Now, Jack's mother can really cook. So I didn’t exactly love the idea of being under scrutiny in her kitchen. But saying no would have been flat-out rude -- so I reluctantly agreed.

It quickly went downhill from there.

First, Jack's mother led me to the garage where she had a crate of oranges from one of those fruit-of-the-month clubs. The oranges were scrawny, scabby little specimens that could only hold a tablespoon or two each of sweet potato. What's more, they all had big blemishes. In other words, they were ugly. But what was I gonna do? Reject the lady's oranges? Ay, ay, ay. Next, she tried to get me to use canned sweet potatoes in syrup as a substitute for fresh ones. On this I was firm. I just said no. She was baffled and probably thought I was a little snooty and rigid. I was so uncomfortable that I'm sure I did a terrible job of articulating why.

In any case, I completed the dish in time to deliver it to the table along with the rest of the feast. A few minutes into dinner, Jack's brother served himself one of my teensy little orange concoctions, which I have to say looked particularly pathetic. In my memory, his orange had a big dent in the side and was covered with this-fruit-has-had-a-rough-life scars. He took a single bite (which was pretty much all there was to take) and said loudly, "This is it?"

If I could have crawled under the table and died, I would have. Instead, I just started laughing, and pretty soon Jack was laughing too. I mean, to the point of tears. I'm sure his parents thought we were nuts, but it broke the awkward tension, and everyone moved on to other topics.

As holiday horror stories go -- I know I'm lucky -- mine is pretty tame.

How about you guys? Have you been embarrassed/mortified/uncomfortable while visiting your in-laws for the holidays? Spill it!

-- Holly

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