My Aunt Jo used to say, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” She uttered that phrase any time we complained or didn’t seem grateful for something she did for us. She always expected respect be given for the respect she tendered.
I can still remember the Thanksgiving Day when we cousins, grown and with kids of our own, put her favorite saying to the test. The table was filled with the usual overabundance of holiday foods. We had just started to fill our plates with seconds when Aunt Jo jumped up from the table and scurried into the kitchen.
“I almost forgot something!” she yelled from the depths of the refrigerator.
What could she have forgotten? I wondered. My eyes scanned the table which was brimming with a 20-pound turkey and all the veritable fixings—stuffing with meat and without, cranberry sauce whole and jellied, three kinds of vegetables and potatoes mashed, twice-stuffed, and candied.
Before I could wager a guess, she was back. She held a small salad plate piled with some sort of white food that had a swollen, bulb-like base.
“What’s that?” my husband asked.
“This,” she said, with dramatic pause, “is anus!”
I stopped mid-bite, turkey leg in hand. The room fell under a stunned silence. Parents, grandparents, kids and cousins all exchanged wild glances.
“It’s what?” My husband choked.
“It’s anus,” she repeated, placing the plate on the table. Everyone leaned in for a closer look.
“The clerk at the store said if you cut the anus, it releases a strong scent. It’s supposed to smell like black licorice.” She broke off a piece of what by now we had figured out to be fresh anise. “Smell the anus,” she insisted. The entire table broke into hysterics. I glanced up at Aunt Jo, who looked mildly humored, but in a confused way.
My husband reached for a piece of anise and popped it into his mouth. “Mmm—best anus I’ve ever had!” Laughter exploded and our teenage son cracked up so hard that no sound came from his mouth.
“What happens if you squeeze the anus?” Someone quipped. And the jokes continued nonstop.
At this point, I was rolling on the floor, unable to take in air. Aunt Jo remained unaware, trying to ignore the nonsense going on around her. Finally, my uncle ushered her into the other room. They whispered back and forth. She nodded then blushed crimson with embarrassment.
When she returned, her high heels clicking with the determination of each step, we hurried to compose ourselves. This time, she didn’t have to say, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” We could see it written all over her face.
“Help yourselves to the A-NISE (an’ is),” Aunt Jo announced with a deliberate purpose, “because tonight there is no pie.”
Suddenly, I remembered Aunt Jo’s second favorite phrase growing up. With shameful acceptance, I realized she was holding back the pie in order to give us what we had coming to us—we were “finally getting our just desserts.”