Chapter 19: Potluck
Corrie’s grandmother’s apartment was so crowded that she and her mother could barely squeeze inside. It was hot from the electric heat and the press of bodies. Dozens of smells mingled in the air—sweat, soap, perfume, food. Overlaying it all was the scent of something that had burnt, and the smoke hung in a haze near the ceiling. The lights were bright and there was so much chattering that she couldn’t even tell where half of it was coming from.
Corrie loved it.
“Deb! Corrie!” Her grandmother squeezed through the crowd and enveloped them both (plus the casserole dishes they were carrying) in a hug. Despite the heat, she was wearing a spangled holiday sweater, and her hair looked perfect. “Good, that’s almost everyone.”
“Hi, Grandma!” Corrie would have hugged her back if her hands weren’t full. She and her mother had spent all morning constructing their dishes—Corrie had made a cheese and artichoke dip as an appetizer, and her mom had made a meat pie with lots of different roasted vegetables. Her grandma’s Thanksgiving was a potluck, and everyone had to bring a dish. Looking around at this year’s crowd, Corrie wondered how much food would be left over, and if they’d be able to send some of it home with people.
“Hi, Mom.” Corrie’s mom kissed her own mom on the cheek. “Why don’t you show us where to put this stuff and then introduce us to everyone?”
“Of course. Corrie, you can just put that on the coffee table with the other appetizers.” Her grandma pointed to a large woman in an eye-catching pink sweater, who was presumably just between her and the coffee table. “Deb, I’ll get you into the kitchen, and then we’ll come back and fetch Corrie.” She grabbed the lid off Corrie’s dish before walking off toward the kitchen.
Corrie squeezed through the crowd, which made way happily for her, and put down her dish on the coffee table, where there was just enough space for it. The table also held a fruit tray, a vegetable tray, and three bowls of different kinds of chips. The chips would go great with her dip, but right now the fruit was what was looking good for her, so she grabbed a handful of strawberries and pineapple chunks before making her way back toward the door.
A few moments later, her mother and grandmother joined her, and the introductions began. Corrie had a hard time keeping track of all of them, but they were mostly people her grandma had met either at the diner where she worked or at the soup kitchen where she sometimes volunteered. Some were homeless, some were fellow workers or volunteers, and one was just a random guy who’d eaten once at a diner and seemed bemused and delighted to have been invited to Thanksgiving dinner.
“And you remember your cousins Laura and Lauretta,” her grandma said, coming to the last two, a woman with long, graying hair and a teenage girl tightly clutching a can of soda. Corrie did remember them vaguely from a previous Thanksgiving. Laura was actually her second cousin—her mother’s first cousin—and she remembered her daughter Lauretta as a kid. Either it had been a really long time or Lauretta had grown up a lot since then.
Lauretta gave them a tiny smile. “Etta.”
“Right, Etta,” Corrie’s grandma said quickly. “Well, I’ve got to get to the kitchen and check on things. I’ve already burnt one pie! The rest of you get acquainted or eat appetizers or whatever you want to do.”
Laura and Deborah had greeted each other enthusiastically, and were now walking toward the appetizers, chatting. Etta watched her mother go with wide eyes. Corrie suspected she was shy, so she gave her an encouraging smile. “It’s a pretty big crowd today, huh?”
“Yeah,” said Etta. “I, uh, don’t really know anyone here.”
“Well, you do now!” Corrie grinned. “I made a really yummy artichoke and cheese dip. Do you want to go get some?”
Etta shook her head quickly. “I don’t think so. I’m not really hungry.”
“Okay.” Corrie thought Etta seemed really determined to stay in one place and not move, but maybe she could help her relax a little, at least. “So do you and your mom live in the city? You were moving down to New Jersey last time I saw you, weren’t you?”
Etta gave a tiny little nod. “My mom got a teaching job there, but we moved back here this summer, because she got a new one. We’re both at the same high school.” She named the school Corrie had gone to.
Corrie gave a theatrical groan. “Oh, no, going to the same school where your mom teaches! That’s got to be the worst.”
The corners of Etta’s mouth lifted a little bit. “Well, it’s not too bad. I’m a junior and she teaches ninth grade so I’m never going to have her for a teacher.”
“Oh, that’s not so bad, then. You’re a junior? Do you have Mrs. Garfield? I had her for English.”
“Oh, yeah!” Etta brightened even further. Corrie was pleased. School was something they could both be happy to talk about, and Etta didn’t seem so miserable now.