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Rite of Passage

Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life. — Sophia Loren

To say I was “looking forward” to Thanksgiving would be a gross understatement. I was giddy with anticipation. This would be David’s first time noshing the big bird with my clan, and I was just as eager to see my man become immersed in the pandemonium as I was to get caught up in the chaotic current myself. It was as if by participating in the one celebration he’d yet to experience with my people that David would finally become a bona fide member of my family.

David understood his role in the day’s festivities. My DNA lacks the gene for domesticity. Save for my mother, who furnished the table by virtue of necessity while rearing four daughters, the women in my family do not cook. David had gleaned from my nostalgic narratives that before my brother-in-law Sean took over Mom’s kitchen, our Thanksgiving dinners comprised overcooked turkey, potato flakes from a box, corn from a can, and Pillsbury crescent rolls, each of which was enjoyed with zeal, the level of which David couldn’t possibly understand. My mother did her best for many years, for which we were grateful. But blood is blood — with the same conviction she employs when declaring her strengths, Mom conceded her weaknesses and was more than happy to step aside to make way for a master.

Aware that as a man married into the family he was expected to conjure culinary delights, David carefully considered his contributions before shopping and cooking in the days leading up to the grand feast.

The big day was mellower than any I could remember at Mom’s. Jane and Jenny, who were also sharing Thanksgiving celebrations with their husbands’ families, were only around for a few hours; Dad was away in Japan on business. After Jane left and before Jenny arrived, Heather, Mom, and I played Scrabble outside as my two nephews splashed around in the Jacuzzi. Inside, Ollie entertained chefs David and Sean.

The dinner itself was subdued and short-lived. Heather’s friend Molly and her mother Maggie dropped by in time for dessert. Finally, when they could eat and drink no more, Ollie, David, and Sean selected couches upon which they could each slip into a food coma. Eventually, when the women were finished talking, it came time to head home. While Heather was putting her boys to bed, I woke mine — Ollie and David. As I made my rounds kissing cheeks, David finished packing our empty Tupperware and ramekins back into the boxes we’d brought.

Once in my own bed, my belly distended and the rest of my body appropriately uncomfortable, I reflected on the day — it had been nice, but not as momentous as I’d expected. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something had been missing.

The following morning, David and I were seated outside Bread & Cie when I fished my ringing phone from my purse. It was my mother calling for the third time in as many minutes. After some pointless small talk, Mom finally asked, “Did you happen to see that bottle of champagne in the black box that Molly brought?”

“Yeah, it was on the counter when we left,” I said.

“It wasn’t there this morning, and we can’t find it anywhere,” said Mom.

“Well, it was there when we left, so I don’t know what to tell you,” I snapped. Before she could mention it again, and I could tell by her intake of breath that she was about to, I added, “I’m out to breakfast with David right now; I’ll give you a call later.” I dropped my phone back in my purse and looked at David. “I think my mom just stopped short of accusing me of taking the Moët Molly brought over last night,” I said indignantly. “Can you believe that?”

David had an unsettling smile on his face, as if he were being tickled by a particularly intimidating clown. He leaned forward and, with a nervous giggle, said, “I snatched it.”

“I’m sorry, you what?”

David, sheepish in response to my incredulous glare, rushed to explain. “Your mom only drinks daiquiris. I struggled with whether or not to take it, but usually she asks us to take any leftover wine home with us anyway, and I had no idea that anyone had a plan for the bottle and—” While David gushed, I retrieved my iPhone, selected Mom’s name, tapped her home number, and passed it to him. David looked horrified. “What am I supposed to — Hi, Maria! It’s David. Yes, we had such a great time…um, look, about the champagne…”

I listened as David admitted he had the bottle and offered to return it that very morning. Before we could make it home, Heather was already calling to insist that we keep the bottle. She said she’d only looked for it because she and Molly had talked about popping it open but that it was really no big deal. “After all, you guys are always bringing great wines down here, you deserve it,” she said. But I was adamant — the bottle would be returned. When I relayed the call to him, David was mortified.

Once home, David retrieved the black box and set it on the counter beside a bottle of Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto. When I asked him what the Brachetto was for, he said, in a forlorn, beaten tone, “Restitution.” Seeing him like that, so flustered and contrite, had a bizarre effect on me — I felt content.

On the drive down to Chula Vista, I analyzed the situation aloud. “You’re all embarrassed and bummed and stuff, beh beh, but I have this uncanny sensation that your taking that bottle was a good thing, and not just because we get to eat those yummy leftovers for lunch.” David looked at me as if I’d just declared my regret for not voting for the old guy and Caribou Barbie. “Trust me,” I said.

Heather, Jane, and Mom greeted David with open arms. They fussed over the unnecessary gift of Brachetto and mentioned again that he should keep the champagne, that he would enjoy it most of all. There was an unmistakable and familiar enthusiasm in my mother’s tone when she said, “If you ever want something, baby, you just take it, what’s mine is yours, after all, you’re family!” Heather was just as earnest when she consoled, “Don’t worry, we all take stuff from here, especially when it’s something you just know is going to go to waste.”

As I sat and watched my mother and sisters, it occurred to me that I had never seen them so natural and relaxed around David. I had sensed this might happen. That before my family could ever truly embrace my man as one of their own, they would have to be convinced that he was just like them — flawed. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been so proud.

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