Some of you may recall this story, while others will read it for the first time. This is the tale of my first venture to Maine. Since it happened at Thanksgiving, it feels right to share it now.
Thanksgiving of 1621 was a minor feat compared to the one of 2003. Sure, the separatists aboard the Mayflower faced their fair share of tribulations. They had 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 weeks. The Pilgrims, now reduced by half, thanks to a relentless winter and an outbreak even worse than those lurking on a Carnival Cruise, came upon the Wampanoag Indians at Plymouth. An accord was reached, and the harvest feast was shared between the natives and the new arrivals. For dessert, the guests served up a hearty dose of non-indigenous seeds and viruses.
Jump ahead several centennials to modern-times, when the colonists discovered New York City and much better clothing. My then-fiance and I had spent a whirlwind six months together before he proposed marriage. It was shocking to everyone, and bets were quietly exchanged by family and friends as to when we would 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. His family is big, with seven children. Meeting any individual from your significant other’s family can raise blood pressure. But meeting an entire Congressional hearing of them is an entirely different kind of health event. 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, possibly, scalped.
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 because my condition left me seeking a bathroom every four minutes, and I was certain my fiance 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, he asked if I was excited to meet his family.
“Sure, can’t wait,” I breathed while squeezing my legs together.
I imagined myself in more comfortable times, frolicking hand-in-hand with my non-inflamed bladder on a beach somewhere. He 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,” is said 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 stopped no fewer than 30 times to use the facilities. Fortunately, my physician was tracked down at home by his emergency service, which cited a highly unstable woman who was describing her symptoms as “peeing fire sauce and jalapenos.” The doctor phoned in a prescription 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 encountered in the wild, I was able to converse freely with the 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 the food to come and I recalled the earlier conversation in the car.
“I’ve heard all about the Fromunda cheese,” I told every sibling to cross my path. “I can’t wait to try it,”
They would smile politely before returning their focus to counting the holes in their Ritz crackers, so I figured this special brand of fromage was a stringently protected family secret. As the big meal was consumed, I found myself conversing with a sister and her boyfriend. While he and I had struck shore upon different ships, we shared a camaraderie as strangers from a foreign land. He had set foot upon their territory before, so I thought to ask him whether he had tried this elusive Fromunda cheese.
His eyes squinted in confusion, and my fiance’s sister snorted and elbowed her brother. “Did she just say Fromunda cheese?”
He looked at me, mouth agape, and issued a frenzied whisper, “Fromunda cheese is a joke!”
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.
“Fro-mun-da. From unda a man’s…”
That would have been the time to release a coughing fit of smallpox to decimate the local population, but the antibiotics coursing through my bloodstream left me clean as a whistle.
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 these guys 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.”