There is an odd little holiday in the English calendar known as Boxing Day. It apparently refers to an upper-class custom of giving servants their own day off, the day after Christmas, along with a small box of money and food.
In other words, leftovers.
We here in America have our own, even odder observance involving leftovers. It takes place after Thanksgiving. But not the day after. No — the observance I speak of takes place in the home, within minutes of the feast’s conclusion.
I spent many years in total ignorance of this event until one year I stumbled into someone’s kitchen while it was going on. A bunch of women were huddled around a table, conversing in low voices and doing something that appeared to involve a lengthy assembly line of little plastic containers.
“What’s going on here?” I asked them.
Four faces looked up. “We’re dividing up the left-overs among all the families.”
“That’s nice. But wait — there’s 4 sets of everything on the table, but there’s 5 families this year. So where’s my set?”
Four serving spoons froze in midair, waiting for someone to answer my question.
Finally, the hostess spoke up. “Your husband said you didn’t want any.”
The spoons resumed their work as she continued: “So if you want any more information, you’ll have to ask him.”
My first chance to ask my beloved about this was in the car, on the way home. “Dearest,” I said, “you know I love you, but what’s the big idea about telling everyone we didn’t want any leftovers?”
I was miffed because sometimes I think that’s the very best part of the holiday. Open the refrigerator door and have a little bit of Thanksgiving all over again on your plate — without any of the arguments about whether tomatoes are a fruit or a vegetable.
He shrugged. “Sweetheart, trust me, I can’t explain it right now. You know how your writing books always tell you to “Show, Don’t Tell”? Well, this is something I’ll have to show you. Which means it will have to wait until we get home.”
Naturally, I sat quite patiently through the rest of the interminable journey. At last, we were home, when my life’s partner said, “Come into the kitchen, Judy. Right here by the fridge. Now open the door, reach in, and see if you can take out that thing in the back.”
“No, not the Chinese take-out. Behind it.”
“No, not the rotting carrot sticks. Behind them. Way, way back, on the bottom shelf.”
Obediently, I did as I was told. My fingers touched something I couldn’t see.
“Oh, what is that?” I said.
“Just bring it out,” he said, “and tell me — what do you think it is?”
I brought the item to light…then shrieked, and reflexively hurled it away from me. The plastic container seemed to skitter across the floor.
“What is in that?” I yelped.
“I was going to ask you that,” my husband replied, “but I’ve been a little afraid to.”
“Why is it furry?” I asked him. “And blue? And how long has it been in there?”
“All good questions,” he replied. “I think it’s a kind of tarantula. Why you would put one in our refrigerator is beyond me. But you see the problem about Thanksgiving — how could I bring new left-overs into a world that contained something like that?”
I didn’t know what to say. We both knew I was the one who put most leftovers into the fridge. We both also knew I seldom if ever even looked at them again. The truth is, I hate the idea of throwing anything out…but I seldom want to eat it, either. I feel about most non-Thanksgiving leftovers the way my little brother once said he felt about olives: “I like them… just not enough to eat them.”
Which is how things end up fuzzy and blue.
“Should we open it?” I asked, trepidation in my voice.
We ended up throwing it all away — lock, stock and tarantula.
So now we’re trying out a new system. I have to write a date on anything that goes in the fridge. So does my husband— “October,” or “Spring,” or “A.D. 2018” — and I must eat them, or toss them, while forensic science can still tell us what they are.
Maybe we’ll have it working by next Thanksgiving.