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  • L.A. Kefalos

Over the River and Through the Woods

Thanksgiving dinner was going well until Aunt Lily started choking. At first, I thought she was just clearing her throat to make a toast. It was the glass of wine in her hand that threw me off. I knew the universal sign for choking was grabbing the throat with one hand. It was the first thing I checked for when I heard the first gasp for air. When I saw that her hand was wrapped around the stem of a wine glass and not her throat, I continued to consume my roasted butternut squash soup. It was upon the third gasp for air (the second was filed away in my subconscious and didn't make it to cognizant space until later that evening) that I looked up from my soup. My cousin Nick, Aunt Lily's son, was calmly asking her for the second time if she was okay when I reacted. There was no room for calm in this situation.


"No, she is not alright! Give her the Heimlich; she is choking!" I shouted.


Nick raced over to his mom and started performing the Heimlich maneuver. I stood up, leaving my soup behind, and continued orchestrating the emancipation of what turned out to be a piece of lettuce. I would like to say that I was a calm conductor but that would be a fabrication of the truth. It is hard to remain calm when someone's face is turning reddish purple. Well, it was Nick's face that was turning that color. My aunt Lily weighs close to 250

Photo by Simon Maage

pounds, and Nick was literally picking her up off the floor. After the third unsuccessful Heimlich thrust, I decided it was time to lash out with another order, "Someone call 911!" There, I had done my part. I looked around the Thanksgiving table to see how everyone else was reacting to the crisis. It all happened so fast, but I was able to take it all in. Most of my relatives had a look of complete horror on their faces. I say most because my parents, well, they behaved rather differently. My father stood beside me and tried to think of the name of another life-saving procedure he had just seen on television,


"Darn it, if I could just remember what they said to do, Nick could try it on Lily," he said to me as though he were discussing alternative ways to stuff the turkey. "I just saw it on t.v.," he continued, " I can't even remember what television show it was on."


On this Thanksgiving, I was thankful that I was not the one who was choking and that my dad was not the one who was saving me. When I turned to look at my mom, I was surprised to see her buttering a roll. She had even put on her reading glasses so that she didn't miss any spots on its surface. She seemed unaware of the 250-pound woman spewing wine and lettuce. I was unsure about my mom's reaction to the situation. Was she terribly upset and just reaching out as any addict would, finding comfort in that to which she was addicted, butter.? Or maybe she did not sense any inherent danger. Or maybe she was just hungry. In the end, it did not really matter. After the lettuce shot out of Aunt Lily's mouth, everyone joined my mother in buttering their rolls and partaking in Thanksgiving dinner. Well, everybody, but for me. I would like to say that I was so moved by nearly losing Aunt Lily that I was fasting to give thanks. Or, perhaps, that I was punishing myself for the volley of useless commands I shouted from the sidelines. There wasn't anything divine or good about being an armchair quarterback. Either one of these would have been a reasonable excuse for not eating Thanksgiving dinner. But my excuse was a little less meaningful, a little more shallow, a little less about giving thanks. Have you ever seen a hunk of wine-soaked lettuce shoot out of a person's mouth? If you haven't, you don't know how easy it makes it for one to fast.




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