Thanksgiving of 1621 was nothing compared to the one of 2003. Sure, the Separatists on board the Mayflower faced some tribulations. They’d been driven out of England after years of religious persecution, forced to find spiritual haven in a new land. They boarded a ship and sailed across the stormy Atlantic for two months. The Pilgrims, now reduced by half thanks to a brutal winter and an outbreak more rampant than any found aboard a Carnival Cruise, encountered the Wampanoag Indians at Plymouth. An accord was reached and the harvest feast was shared between the natives and the new arrivals. And for dessert, the guests served up a hearty dose of non-indigenous viruses and seeds.
Jump ahead some centennials to modern-times when the colonists had discovered New York City and much better clothing. My now husband, Greg, and I had spent a whirlwind 6 months together before he decided to propose. It was shocking to everyone, and bets were quietly exchanged by family and friends as to when we’d announce the arrival of our accidental baby. The presentation of the bride-to-be to the groom’s family was slated for Thanksgiving. I was nervous for myriad reasons. Greg’s family is big, a precursor to the Gosselins, comprised of seven children. Meeting any individual from your significant other’s family can raise blood pressure, but meeting an entire Congressional hearing of them can induce a heart attack. I empathize with the nervousness the newcomers must have felt when confronted by a tribe of natives for I, too, had to worry about being rejected and told to return from whence I came.
By the time we embarked on our journey up the New England coast to Maine, I was suffering something far worse than dysentery. I had a scourge only a woman knows. If Dante’s layers of hell included a 10th plane, it would be The Eternal Urinary Tract Infection. Anyone who has experienced the singular pain of urinating a fire-breathing dragon can attest that a road trip is the last thing an afflicted person should undertake. I was dreading the long trip since my condition left me seeking a bathroom every four minutes, and I was certain Greg would call off the wedding if he saw me seated upon a portable potty chair in the passenger seat.
As I squirmed in my seat somewhere along the path in Connecticut, Greg asked if I was excited to meet his family.
“Sure, can’t wait,” I breathed while squeezing my legs together.
As I imagined myself in more comfortable times, frolicking hand-in-hand with my non-inflamed bladder on a beach somewhere, Greg continued, “There’s a ton of food: Potatoes, stuffing, green beans, bread. There’s even an artisanal cheese.”
I hallucinated that he had said vaginal cream.
“Cheese. Great,” as sweat beaded on my forehead.
“It’s called Fromunda cheese. Family recipe.”
Visions of antibiotics danced in my head.
By the time we arrived, we had stopped exactly thirty times so I could use the bathroom. Fortunately, my physician was tracked down at home by his emergency service who cited a highly unstable woman describing her symptoms as “peeing Fire Sauce and jalapenos.” He had phoned in a prescription that we intercepted before arriving to the homestead. Like the new arrivals to Plymouth, I was relieved to disembark my vessel and I was ready to reap this harvest.
I had no shiny weapons, no furs or pelts, no spoils from our home to offer my native hosts. My dowry was limited to a pile of American Express debt, but they welcomed me anyway. While I had trouble understanding the tribal Mainers I had encountered in the wild, I was able to converse freely with Greg’s family. When they weren’t squinting at my stomach, trying to ascertain whether I might be carrying a girl or boy, we enjoyed an easy and spirited interaction. As the horde of family members swarmed the appetizer table, there was talk of football, family and the food to come.
“I’ve heard all about the Fromunda cheese. I can’t wait to try it,” I told every sibling to cross my path.
They would smile politely before returning their focus to counting the holes in their Ritz crackers. I guessed this special brand of fromage was a stringently protected family secret. As the big meal was consumed, I found myself in conversation with Greg’s younger sister and her boyfriend. While the boyfriend and I had struck shore upon different ships, we were both strangers from a foreign land so we had a camaraderie. He had set foot upon their territory before so I thought to ask him if he’d tried this elusive Fromunda cheese.
His eyes squinted in confusion and Greg’s sister, who had caught wind of the subject, snorted and elbowed her brother, “Did she just say Fromunda cheese?”
Greg looked at me, mouth agape, and issued a frenzied whisper, “It’s a joke! Fromunda cheese? I was just messing with you since you weren’t listening to me in the car.”
His sister and her boyfriend suppressed laughter as I inquired quietly after the meaning of Fromunda cheese. Like a finalist in the spelling bee, I needed to know the provenance of the word and hear it used in a sentence.
“Fromunda. From Unda A Man’s…”
That would have been the time to release a coughing fit of smallpox to decimate the local population. The antibiotics coursing through my bloodstream had left me clean as a whistle, though.
No wonder all the paintings of the First Thanksgiving depicted smiling and bread-breaking between the Natives and the Settlers. While serving up the Grouse, the Natives were saying in a language only they understood, “Look at the strange guests eating all this food we had to hunt. Think they want some Fromunda cheese? From Unda My Buckskin?”
Laughter would erupt from the Indians as the Pilgrims looked at each other nervously and said, “That sounds lovely. Pass it over.”
Erin Donovan moved with her family to the midcoast, where she constantly is told she says the word “scallops” incorrectly. She performs live and produces Web sketches derived from her popular humor blog I’m Gonna Kill Him. Follow her misadventures on imgonnakillhim.bangordailynews.com and on Twitter @gonnakillhim.