The food sucked. Of that nothing more needed to be said and we all agreed on this point. The turkey was the culinary equivalent of particle board: pressed, packed and glued together, then sliced in uniform khaki colored slabs. Festively, someone had thought to drench it with translucent slime, which when warmed assumed the proximity of gravy, but still resembled 30 eight oil. It was quite a spread. There were several meats: Turkey, chicken and what had once been some kind of fish. There was a variety of tinned then reheated vegetables. The freshest and best flavored was the vanilla pudding.
I take no responsibility for Thanksgiving dinner at Shoney's. To be honest, I sort of looked forward to it: no cooking, no clean-up, no having to get the house in reasonable order. Driving around Charleston, I'd seen a sign up at the restaurant in Kanawha City. They promised oysters and seafood. That sounded pretty good to me, but of course, we weren't eating in Charleston. No, much maligned Charleston wasn't good enough for everybody. We had to eat in the culinary center of the state: Summersville.
There were reasons. There are always reasons to do something as monumentally stupid as eat at the equivalent of a rural truck stop during a high feast day. I'm sure each and every reason was explained to me, but I only have fuzzy remembrances of them now. Some of it was the reasonable excuses about hating preparation and clean-up of the meal. Part of it had to do with a grandmother, who doesn't like to travel. Another part had to do with a sister-in-law who might or might not be bringing her sort-of transgendered girlfriend, who simultaneously amuses and annoys me. They were traveling a great distance, but didn't make it in time, which was really a pity. I was keenly looking forward to seeing them.
Everyone took it well. We chewed through and managed a second plate a piece. My daughter, who has an aversion to any food containing water, thought the food was great. That she would rave about the food made perfect sense. She had multiple plates of syrup-boiled ham and pineapples, loaded up on the cottage cheese and even ate a slice of the restaurant's very own extra-special pumpkin pie.
I had a great time.
I got to watch people. I watched the gay men with their shaved heads and perfectly shaped mustaches eat dinner and gaze lovingly into each other's eyes. I watched middle-aged and likely divorced hunters, still wearing patterned greens, glare at their food and eat sullenly. There were a few families like ours. The smart ones ordered off the menu and skipped the steaming shit being served at the bar. The dumb ones, like ours, circled the serving area like frustrated flies and looked to the door and their wrist watches.
I watched an old lady watch my daughter. There's always one. She was working up the nerve to say something, but never did. She might have noticed I was looking right at her. Yes, I was aware my daughter was flailing and making strange noises in a public place. No, we don't need an exorcist. Have a nice Thanksgiving. I saw a mother and son, possibly the ghost of some possible future. The boy was pushing fifty. His mother had to be seventy by my math. They were both wearing new holiday sweaters, the kind that usually have reindeer or trees on them. He was ruining his by refusing to swallow the things that went in his mouth didn't agree with this tongue.
At long last, the meal was over. We collected our jackets and muscled our way to the door. The waitress reminded us they were open for dinner today, too, and not just lunch. I couldn't speak for anyone else, but I was already calculating the quality of the sandwich I could make just as soon as I got home. It turns out I could make a pretty good sandwich.