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The Misadventures of Johan O’Malley: A Thankless Thanksgiving

This chapter takes place less than a month after The Misadventures of Johan O’Malley: Halloween Gone Wrong.

This year, my aunt invited me to direct the annual Thanksgiving Day play. Every year, we spent Thanksgiving with my aunt in Plymouth, Massachusetts. As the Director of the Plymouth Historical Society, my aunt is busiest around Thanksgiving. She and my mom thought taking on this position would provide me with something for my resume and would instill a sense of responsibility.

I spent weeks changing last year’s script, casting, blocking and organizing to get the perfect holiday show. I even cast my friend Mike as a Pilgrim. His family planned on spending the long weekend in South Carolina and Mike wanted to stay in Massachusetts. I selflessly invited him to my family’s celebration. Ever since Halloween, he teased me about accidentally getting us involved in a cult induction. I had to do something to prove how awesome I am.

Now was my moment. I stood behind the large curtain standing in between me and the audience. This play was a huge deal to locals and tourists. In fact, it even had press coverage from The Boston Globe. Come tomorrow, my name would be printed in a major newspaper next to a raving review. 

“You ready?” Mike asked. He fidgeted with his tall black Pilgrim hat. 

“As I’ll ever be.”

This was my chance to show the world, at least the world of Plymouth, what a show I could put on. I would have not only the most entertaining, but most historically accurate, Thanksgiving play ever.

“So what’s this you’ve been saying about putting on a ‘realistic’ Thanksgiving play?” Mike asked me. “Have you ever seen a Thanksgiving play that wasn’t a historical representation?”

“Oh, they’ve glossed over it, but I plan on going deep. I’m going to show the parts the other plays are scared to show. Just wait until the grand finale!”

“Okay, Johan. I’m excited to see the reactions from the audience.”

Mike only had a few scenes at the beginning of the play. Everything after that would be a surprise.

Finally, the curtain opened and my masterpiece got to be seen by a large crowd. The kids went on stage and the audience went silent.

The captain pointed his crew towards the big landmark.

“Alright gentlemen, we have arrived. Let’s anchor this ship right here at Gloucester Stone!”

“Gloucester Stone?” Mike said to me backstage. 

“Yeah, apparently Plymouth Rock is now trademarked so I had to change some names around to avoid any legal issues. But I promise everything from here on plays out just like it did in history, just like history.”

“Okay?” Mike said, I could tell he didn’t quite understand what I meant. And by the tone of my voice and my grin I thought he was growing concerned.

People enjoyed the first Thanksgiving. I guess I could have left out the Turkey Trot in the beginning and the football game to cut the time down a little. I just wanted to show how the holiday has evolved over the years.

After they finished playing football, I had kids rush the stage all carrying different types of balloons. “Now it’s time for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade,” I had someone announce. This is probably another part I should have cut.

After that, the Natives and the Pilgrims all sat down together and shared a very nice meal. I wanted people to remember the times when the two groups were able to set aside their differences and share a nice feast. But that lasted all of two minutes before they were then trampling each other and brawling over half priced TVs and game consoles. I made sure that once the clock struck eight PM, both the Pilgrims and the Natives dropped what they were doing and rushed to Best Buy for the Black Friday Sale! I guess I should have thought more about set design because, in the midst of it all, the kids ended up shattering an actual flatscreen TV. But what did the church need a flatscreen TV for anyway.

Uh, Johan, I think you should do something.” Mike said, pointing to the chaos on stage.

I turned from the angry swarm of kids 10 and under toward my friend.” Why would I do that? We haven’t even gotten to the best part.”

The Natives and the Pilgrims all went back to their homes and were getting ready to go to sleep when suddenly all the Pilgrims came out of their homes and went over to the Natives to apologize. I heard a collective “Awww” from the audience as they took in the sweet moment between the two groups as they exchanged the presents bought from Best Buy. 

Then the Pilgrims started handing out mall coupons to the Natives and telling them that they were going to have to rush if they wanted to buy Christmas presents for their family members. But the coupons were going to expire in a few hours, thus leading to the Natives having to rush back out to the stores in the middle of the night.

But once they arrived at the Plymouth Mall, the Pilgrims were waiting there to rub it in the Natives faces that they got all the good deals. I thought the Natives would leave quietly like in my script and return home, but little Timmy threw an actual punch, which started a REAL brawl and not just choreographed like earlier. Hats went flying and headdresses hit audience members.

“Johan,” Mike screamed. “What the hell did you do?” Mike’s face went pale. 

“The Pilgrims were assholes after Thanksgiving dinner. Don’t worry, I did my research to make this play historically accurate.”

“I don’t think it quite happened this way. And what about Best Buy and the Plymouth Mall? I don’t remember the Natives and Pilgrims going to buy TVs together.”

I let out a chuckle. “You’re not sophisticated enough to understand my social commentary on the commercialization of Thanksgiving.”

Mike rolled his eyes at me and walked away. It gave me the perfect moment to take in my masterpiece. Just as the last child on stage said, “take that Pilgrim,” the curtain went down as dramatic music played.

Here was my big moment. I would come out to take a bow and the kids would hand me a bouquet of flowers that I bought myself.

I expected applause, but the quiet auditorium told me that I left people speechless. My art mattered. My thought-provoking commentary on capitalism resonated with every attendee. So, I took a deep breath, fixed my short dark hair and took my place at center stage. 

Just then everyone started throwing peanuts at me! Did they bring those or buy them at the concession stand? I thought everybody would love my play. Colonists were assholes overall, what was wrong with teaching that to children? And with a modern interpretation.

I didn’t know what to do so I just started bowing and thanking everyone for coming before rushing for the exit while yelling, “Remember everyone, history matters!” 

But when I got backstage, I had my parents waiting for me. And boy were they pissed! They didn’t yell at me. But I wish they had, because what they did was much worse.

“Are you guys mad at me? Did I disappoint you?”

“Did you hear something Jane?” my stepfather asked. 

“Why no, I didn’t Arthur. We better get home or our one and only son, Liam, will start to worry. Aren’t we so glad we only have one son who works hard and would never do anything to embarrass the family.”

“Mom, Arthur, are you guys serious?”

“Oh did you hear that Arthur?” My mother said as they walked out to the car.

“I think I did. It sounded disappointing and shameful. Now let’s get home to our sweet Liam before he thinks that we’ve been kidnapped by a history nut obsessed with Best Buy.”

I don’t know what was more annoying; the fact that my parents were giving me the cold shoulder the way that second graders do or the fact that I was actually hurt by it. I mean seriously, people brawled on Black Friday every year. I just wanted to show children that not everything that happened could be viewed through rose-colored glasses. It’s not like any of them got hurt in the real brawl…I hoped. 

“Okay, let me know when you guys are done acting like children!”

Everything became worse when we stepped outside though and I had to face the parents of the children in the play. They lined up, blocking me from my mom’s car. 

“Uh, hi everyone, I hope your children enjoyed being part of history.” Just then, I noticed Mike beside me giggling. Ugh, I wish he hadn’t witnessed another embarrassing moment. I thought I depicted what happened after Thanksgiving. But apparently teaching kids about materialism wasn’t what these parents imagined. But they should thank me because I was certain some of these children had asshole ancestors who were part of the problem. The parents should acknowledge the truth, while I enjoyed my turkey day. 

#

Needless to say, dinner was fairly quiet that night. We still had the usual Thanksgiving feast. But nobody wanted to address the elephant in the room. When I told my mom I accepted my aunt’s offer to direct this year’s Thanksgiving play, she got so excited that she invited all my extended family to come watch. Occasionally the silence would be broken by my aunt’s husband who would look at me and make an angry grunt. How was I supposed to know he was fifty percent Native American? I thought I made it clear that the Pilgrims were the bad guys. But apparently, my portrayal was “insensitive.” I honestly didn’t mean to upset anyone. I wanted to portray history, while also providing a commentary on how people celebrate Thanksgiving today compared to the first one in 1621. 

I decided to try changing the subject away from the play because nobody wanted to listen to my point of view any longer. 

“So, who wants to place bets on how long Aunt Jennifer will last with her new boyfriend?”

That only drew more angry glares in my direction. But it seemed to do the trick of getting everyone to think about something other than the play earlier. Less than a minute later, Aunt Jennifer walked into the house, late as always. 

“Hi everyone,” she said, taking off her purple peacoat and tossing it onto the leather couch. Everyone stood up to give her hugs. “My boyfriend is on the phone with his mom, he’s going to be right in.”

When it was my turn to hug her, she said, “I heard about your little stunt earlier.”

“Aunt Jennifer,” I started.

“Johan, it’s okay. I know you had good intentions. You just need to think before you act, especially when talking about sensitive subjects.”

“I didn’t mean to offend people. I honestly thought everyone would love my take on this joyous holiday.”

She just shook her head. “Alright everyone, Johan feels bad. Let’s move on so we can enjoy today as a family.” 

She sat down at the end of the table, next to an empty seat for her supposed boyfriend. I was beginning to think the dude didn’t exist, when Mr. Nordberg walked in. I almost spit out the gulp of cranberry juice in my mouth. Aunt Jennifer’s new boyfriend was my former world cultures teacher, who happened to be in that cult from Halloween. I hadn’t seen him since that night.

“Johan, this is Aunt Jennifer’s new boyfriend, Jason…sorry, Jason, I forgot your last name.”

“Wallace,” Mr. Nordberg said. Giving me a look that said “If you keep your mouth shut I’ll give you a 100 for the year.” At least that’s how I interpreted it. But the school said he was on medical leave, so I didn’t know if he could impact my grade.

“Oh, uh, hi Jason.” I said, reaching my hand out to give the most awkward handshake since the time Melody’s parents greeted me at the door and I was so nervous that when her parents reached their hands out to shake mine I freaked out and fist bumped his dad and then kissed his mom on the cheek.

“Johan, you like music,” my aunt said. “Did you know that Jason is in a band?”

“Really?” I responded “Well I’d love to come hear you guys play some time. Too bad at the moment I’m really busy writing this stupid world cultures paper.”

Damnit, I couldn’t have said another class!? Why didn’t I say I had an assignment for dance class?

I figured neither of us would call the other one out, so my secrets were safe with him. Thankfully before the conversation could get any worse my mom interrupted by showing us a photo of Liam winning some award at college.

My Aunt Jennifer interrupted us and announced that we were going to say a prayer. Which was strange because our family has never once said a prayer before a meal and we started eating a while ago. 

She then said that it was a prayer that Jason taught her and we could all just repeat his words to the best of our ability because the prayer was in Latin. I knew exactly where this was going.

Mr. Nordberg then started reciting the prayer the cult used when they attempted to make a sacrifice. I remembered it because one of the members taught it to me before the cops came and I thought he was joking.

Mr. Nordberg finished the prayer which was immediately followed by all my family members telling him how beautiful it was.

“What did you say that means in English again, sweetie?”

“Oh, it’s just giving thanks for good health and for all the people we have in our lives. Nothing unusual, anyway I’m starving, let’s eat!”

He had his eye on me the whole time and was sweating. But I wasn’t about to out him and have my family find out that I was almost initiated into a cult. Besides, my mom never found out about Liam being there. I had no idea who bailed him out or helped him escape. I was too afraid to even ask.

As expected, the table talk got political fairly quickly. My uncle John quickly got into a rant about PC culture.

“I’m thankful that we are still allowed to call today Thanksgiving and not something dumb. I know I will never refer to Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day, you all agree with me, right?”

Indigenous People’s Day? I thought it was called “Ingenius People’s Day”! No wonder Mr. Nordberg failed me for handing in a paper on Albert Einstein instead of writing about one of the Native American tribes we’d been studying the week before. I still hadn’t told my mom about that one and, judging by how much I knew about him at this point, I was sure Mr. Nordberg wouldn’t say anything either.

“So, Johan,” my Aunt Jennifer said all bubbly, I already knew where this was going, “do you finally have a girlfriend?”

For some reason, her adding “finally” hurt. It made it feel like finding a relationship was some sort of responsibility I had to fulfill by now. Although I think the real reason it hurt was because Melody could be my girlfriend by now if I showed up to her Halloween party. 

“The closest thing Johan’s ever had to a girlfriend is his Princess Peach Doll he would make out with as a child,” Liam said.

As much as I wanted to snap back at Liam with a snide comment of my own, at that moment I was just relieved that he said “as a child” because it meant that he didn’t see anything when he walked in on me making out with it in middle school. I promise I didn’t have some sort of weird fetish, I was just practicing for what I thought was going to happen with someone by now. When he entered the room back then, I quickly tossed the doll out the window.

“I have a lot of friends who are girls,” I told Aunt Jennifer. “And some have major crushes on me, but I tell them that I don’t want to start a relationship junior year only to be tied down… I mean we have to be separated when we go to college in less than two years.”

“Well, that’s very mature of you Johan. I wish I had your mindset when I was in high school.”

Aunt Jennifer married her high school sweetheart immediately after graduating. Not only did she get in trouble with my grandparents for having a secret relationship with an older man, but her husband got fired and then arrested for engaging in sexual relations with a student. My aunt divorced him right after the news broke because the student he was caught sleeping with wasn’t even her. It was her ex-boyfriend. Apparently their relationship started just minutes after he dumped her on prom night junior year. Which means that their teacher began a relationship with two students that night. All that betrayal and confusion at such a young age was probably why she wound up so strange. Apparently she has a type considering she once again dated a high school teacher with a wild secret.

“Yeah, I plan on waiting until college.” I said this to avoid the potential question next Thanksgiving. It gave me two years to get Melody to go out with me and maybe she also planned on staying in Massachusetts for college. 

“Liam, why don’t you give Johan some advice?” Aunt Jennifer said, “Johan, don’t you think Liam could give you some help with girls, considering he has a girlfriend and all?”

“Yeah,” I scoffed. “When pigs fly.” Just then a pig’s head flew in through the window. Shattered glass covered the wooden floor. Mr. Nordberg wildly screamed out, “How did they find me here!?” immediately, making me realize what happened. I rushed over to it while my family sat there in shock. I grabbed the rolled up scroll that was taped to its head. Mr. Nordberg ran over and read it with me.

Meeting at midnight in the field behind the barn. We expect all three of you to be on time and in uniform.

The shock of a pig’s head being thrown through my window was being overshadowed by the fear of them knowing where my family lived in Plymouth, an hour away from my hometown, and knowing there were three members in the house at the moment. And that fear was overshadowed by the confusion about how they couldn’t think of a more convenient and less disgusting way to deliver this message. 

Mr. Nordberg took the scroll, ripped it into pieces and proceeded to eat them, which I didn’t understand because there was a waste basket right next to him. “Damn kids. Halloween is a day for pranks, not Thanksgiving.”

I let out a sigh of relief, but I didn’t know what to do about the cult meeting. I gave Mr. Nordberg a look of panic, but he just shrugged. Oh well, I guess I always had the option of running away to Brazil and changing my name.  

But as long as my family didn’t find out the three of us were in a cult, then I’d say this Thanksgiving turned out a lot better than it could have.

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