Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 992
Gus and Rosie Vincent arrive at Ma and Pa Vincent’s home, followed by the other aunts and uncles and cousins. Coats are taken off, there are greetings, and then the adults line all the young cousins up outside for the annual photograph. After the picture has been taken, Rosie Vincent instructs her children to go to the kitchen and greet Livia, the large, sweating woman cooking the family’s holiday dinner. Livia drills the Vincent children in the catechism, and when they do not respond, she answers her own questions.
Sophie, Bit, and Churly snitch candy from the dinner table while the adults, except for Rosie, have cocktails in the living room. Some of the children drift into this adult sphere, keeping silent while their parents and grandparents talk. Readers see the details of the room through the wandering eyes of the quiet children: books, a photograph of Ma when she was young, the portrait of Dr. Vincent over the mantelpiece, the fancy shoes with flat bows that Ma is wearing and that her granddaughters like best. Interwoven through these details is the superficial, anecdotal conversation of the adults, who talk without looking at one another.
Delilah, sticking close to her mother in this uncertain adult world, says she wants to go look at the lion. Rosie tells her daughter to ask Pa, but Delilah and Sophie cross the room to examine a shadow box rather than address their grandfather. Finally Rosie speaks for her daughter, telling Pa that the children would like to go see the lion. His affirmative response is snapped out as a threat: “Watch out it doesn’t bite you.”
A troop of cousins ascends the stairs to the third floor, where the lion lies on the floor of the farthest attic room. In the thin light, amid the scent of cedar, the cousins approach the dead animal. Bit is the only one who will dare touch the tongue, made of fired clay, and Sophie lies down next to it to touch her cheek to the lion’s soft ears.
Leaving Caitlin and Churly at the red-leather bar, Sophie, Bit, and Delilah proceed to the owl room, some of the boy cousins following. In this room are all kinds of ornamental owls. Along the hallway, stretching away from the owl room, are photographs and silhouettes of Vincent family members: Pa’s pictures of himself from his sporting, Harvard, and political speechwriting days; a picture of Pa’s famous brother. When the wandering children return to the living room, the grown-ups are arguing over whether the lawn at the grandparents’ house had ever frozen over and the kids skated on it. Uncle Charles remembers this and is corroborated by Gus and Ma, but Pa, in the stubbornness of his old age and contrariness, says no.
Dinner is served. Most of the cousins sit at the wobbly children’s table. Plates arrive at their places with everything already on them. Sophie leaves the table to go to the bathroom, and she stands in the hallway for a moment, listening to the sounds of the meal in the other room—the sounds of silverware on plates, voices, echoes. She returns to the table in the middle of a conversation that the adults are attempting to squelch, but that Churly wants to know more about. Ma has called someone a crook and Churly wants to know who it is and what he stole.
At this point Ma makes a strategic turn, changing the subject to the vacation house in Maine. This also turns out to be an unsafe topic of discussion: There is an argument about a porch that the house used to have. Was it torn down or did it burn down? Pa insists that it was torn down, but Aunt Fran says she thought it burned. Ma agrees and gives the signal to end the conversation. True to form, Churly disregards Ma’s cue and presses the subject, asking how it burned down. There is tension at the table; Sophie feels flushed. Pa repeats that it was torn down. Ma explains that the remainder was torn down. Pa glares at Ma.
Ma starts to stack dishes on the turkey platter, getting ready to remove the dinner things from the table. Pa and Ma argue over whether he is finished eating. Aunt Fran tries to move forward by tempting Pa with dessert. Pa obstinately curses Livia’s pies and then follows with a non-sequitur that silences the table: “Only occasionally you will disguise a voyage and cancel all that crap.” The children are uncertain amid this tension. As the family eats dessert, Pa mumbles a series of phrases that seem unconnected to anything presently going on. When his wife whispers something in his ear, he loudly responds, “Why don’t you go shoot yourself?”
The family dinner ends, and the family members disperse. Ma and Aunt Fran take Pa upstairs and then join the other grown-ups for coffee in the living room. To Uncle Charles’s query, Ma answers with finality that everything is fine. This time it is Delilah, not Churly, who challenges the signal to be silent. Unlike Churly, who pushes argumentatively, Delilah challenges out of bravery. Delilah asks whether Pa was mad at them. The question forces the issue of Pa and the family’s treatment of him. Gus says Pa didn’t know what he was saying. Rosie keeps silent, pouring the coffee. Ma says Pa wasn’t mad at Delilah. Aunt Ginny says that the turkey was delicious. Uncle Charles tells her to shut up. The family exchanges compliments over the meal. Ma gives all credit to Livia. Rosie says that Ma arranged it beautifully, to which Ma replies, “Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever arranged anything beautifully in my whole life.” Silence reasserts itself, and the vignette of the Vincent family Thanksgiving Day ends on a note of strained quiet and stillness.
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