Although she's never been taken into custody before and can't know for sure what will happen next, Andrea Baxter-Smith assumes she won't be returning to her house by nightfall. If so, she wants to be prepared. She's packed a small suitcase with some essentials—a nightgown, a bathrobe, toiletries, slippers, and clean underwear for the next day. As she waits for the police, she tries to imagine the place where they will put her. Perhaps it will be drafty. In that case, she'll need the small throw, the blanket she keeps in the sitting room for use on chilly days. She smiles. It will be good to have something comfortable and familiar, she decides.

From "The Village," a story included in Ann Robinson's debut collection,
Ordinary Perils. Copyright © 2005 Ann Robinson

Bernice thinks her mother would have loved a moon so large it looks fake. For the first time, she can really see a person in there, two eyes, a nose, and a mouth, and that person is looking through her into the house where Irving, her father, sits dozing and watching the news that never stops. On the television screen the winners of the marathon are smiling as if the moment will last forever, and their fists are raised in triumph to the skies. She starts to shiver and thinks she should get a jacket, but instead stands transfixed by the near moon's stare on this crisp spring night. There will come a day when she will have only herself to think about, but for now, there's Irving with his transient ischemic attacks, living half the time in a place neither of them recognizes. Thinking about how he must feel terrifies her. The least she can do is hold his hand, comfort him, stay with him until the end. The camera pans to the left, where two spectators are dragging a limp racer to the finish line, and she sees her father's face, reluctant to continue but determined to get there just the same.

From "Near Moon," a story included in Ann Robinson's debut collection,
Ordinary Perils. Copyright © 2005 Ann Robinson

Ahh, Thanksgiving. Depending on who's doing the cooking and hosting the gathering, it's either heaven or hell, and I imagine it has been thus ever since the first celebration of that momentous occasion at Plymouth Rock. If I close my eyes, I can imagine what might have transpired back then. Allow me to set the scene.
Pilgrim Woman to Pilgrim Man: "Rolfe, I told you I wanted that fowl eviscerated! And where is the Flibberty Gibbett I ordered from the Widow Parsons?"
Rolfe: "Sorry. Offal has never been my thing. But, hey, wart hog is on sale down at the market, already dressed and ready for impaling. Whadya say I pick one up? Oh, and there weren't any more Gibbetts, so I got a flapdoodle instead."
Hepzibah, sighing: "We had flapdoodle last year. What will people say?"
Rolfe: "What they say every year: Great spread, Hepzibah! As long as we get to see the game between the Mohawks and the Iroquois."
Here's what I think: when it comes to planning this particular holiday meal, times really haven't changed that much. Why, right here in the Monadnock Region of southwestern New Hampshire, women are getting ready to send their menfolk on frantic last-minute errands much as do their counterparts across America, knowing their husbands or significant others will return, invariably, with the wrong item. What's the difference between pine nuts and almonds, anyway?
Hepzibah and I have this in common--as the big day approaches, I begin getting nervous, wondering if I should be getting more ambitious with my menu. Perhaps duck would be a nice change, flamed at the table, fire extinguisher at the ready. Or pate de foie gras to start, cholesterol be damned. Or maybe a palate-clearing course of mouth-puckering sorbet, served in tiny glass cups I'll order from that gourmet catalog. One thing is clear--the main course should include a reduction; I don't know what one is, but I see it on upscale menus all the time, so I assume it's de rigueur.
But then I remember how my family looks forward to same old--the same old turkey, prepared in the time-honored, slow-cooked way, tented with foil, that sends delightful aromas throughout the house; the same old bread stuffing and sweet potato souffle, comfort foods that invite hearty eaters to request second portions; the same old peas and mushrooms, adding a welcome, earthy texture to the meal; the same old gravy, made from pan drippings at the very last minute, while candles are being lit and the littlest grandchild is being settled in his high chair; and last but never, ever least, the same old pumpkin pie with the no-roll pastry crust, a recipe we inherited from my mother, each slice topped with a cap of freshly-whipped cream.
Never mind that our grandchildren would probably prefer mac and cheese or peanut butter toast. We grownups know what we like, and it isn't goose bagged by an intrepid hunter (who happened to be my best friend's husband) and riddled with buckshot that pinged when we spat the offending hardware onto our plates. Never mind that everyone remembers the year I forgot to put the sugar in the pie filling, or the time our dog almost yanked the turkey off the kitchen table where it was patiently waiting to be carved (my husband caught the platter just in time and the dog was banished to the cellar for the remainder of the afternoon.) And who even complained the year the jellied salad didn't jell and flowed onto peoples' plates, drowning my flaky crescent rolls? They were too busy refusing another glass of the wine I'd selected, a beaujolais too nouveau for our taste. God bless my family--they're very forgiving. They know me as the hostess whose guest once ate my centerpiece, thinking it was a raw vegetable to be dipped and scarfed down with his martini (well, it was very dark on our backyard patio that late summer evening.)
I say this to Hepzibah, and all the other nervous Nellies who approach the Thanksgiving feast with trepidation: nobody's perfect. And I'm with Rolfe. Offal is perfectly awful. Go with the gutted hog, dude, and be sure there's plenty of ale to go around. You guys are going to need it when the game runs into overtime.

"Last Laugh" essay, New Hampshire Magazine, November 2003.
Copyright © 2005 Ann Robinson

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