Sweet Christmas Palaver About Onions and Oranges

From Susan Parker
Tuesday January 06, 2004

“What brought you to the United States?” I asked Irit as she stood in my kitchen, drinking a Diet Coke. My nephew Bryce ran into the room laughing, grabbed onto the back of my knees and hid from my neighbor, five-year-old Clyesha, who was chasing him while holding a new doll swathed in a pink blanket. Clyesha had on pajamas decorated with green and red dancing reindeers. On her feet was a pair of fuzzy bedroom slippers. 

Bryce shrieked as he ran out of the room and Clyesha followed, sliding on the hardwood floor and disappearing around the corner. My mother tapped me on the shoulder and asked where I kept the peppercorns. I pointed to a cupboard on the other side of the room. My father struggled nearby, cursing under his breath as he attempted to carve the turkey. “This knife is dull,” I heard him growl. My sister-in-law, Yuka, stood at the stove and stirred the gravy with a wooden spoon while sipping a glass of white wine. Harvey sat in the living room chatting with my husband, Ralph. Lynn and Rachel mixed the salad dressing and asked if I had serving utensils. “Over there,” I said, nodding to the drawer that my brother was rifling through, searching for an olive pitter.  

I turned my attention back to Irit. “Why not come to the United States?” she asked, answering my question with a question. “Doesn’t everyone want to come here?”  

“I don’t know,” I said, moving out of my brother-in-law’s way as he carried a bowl of Brussels sprouts into the dining room. “I’ve never lived anywhere, but here. I don’t know what it’s like to leave family and friends behind and move to a foreign country.”  

“Well,” said Irit, “think of it this way.” She moved closer to me as Hans pushed through the crowded kitchen, looking for something to wipe up a spill in the dining room. “Don’t worry,” he said as he passed by again, a wad of paper towels in his hands. “I’ve got it under control.” 

“You know what it is like when someone gives you an onion and says that it is sweet?” asked Irit, grabbing my attention once more.  

“I guess so,” I answered. 

“Do you want another drink?” shouted Teddy Franklin as he squeezed by me. “I’m making one for your mother. She still can’t find those damn peppercorns.”  

“Yes,” I said and handed him my glass. I turned back to Irit. “Go on,” I nodded, “I’m listening.”  

“When someone gives you an onion,” she repeated, “and says that it is sweet, you believe them, yes?”  

“Yes,” I answered, more firmly this time, but just then Andrea walked into the room and I got distracted by her black leather dress with the slit up the side.  

“I’m here,” yelled Andrea.  

“We can see that,” said Teddy Franklin, handing me my freshened drink. “Now where’d your Momma go?” he asked, but he didn’t wait for an answer.  

I turned my attention back to Irit. “Okay,” I said, “about those onions.”  

“Yes,” said Irit. Her husband Clint came up behind her and asked, “Where are the photos of Juji and Niju? Harvey wants to see them.”  

“Upstairs in my coat pocket,” she answered and turned back to me. “Where was I?” she asked.  

“The onions,” I prompted.  

“Ahh, the onions. They are sweet, but then someone gives you an orange and says, ‘Try this,’ and you do and it is much sweeter than the onion. It is much sweeter than anything you have ever tasted and you know then what you have been missing all those years when all you had were onions. You see?” she asked, peering over her glasses. “That is why I came to the United States from Israel and stayed. That is why Clint left Romania. Perhaps it is why Hans came from Nicaragua and Yuka from Japan. We all like onions, but oranges are sweeter.”  

“Time to eat,” shouted my father as he carried the big platter of turkey into the dining room.  

“Don’t forget the stuffing,” instructed my mother as she followed after my Dad. “Next time you go to the store, you need to buy peppercorns,” she whispered into my ear as she passed by.  

“Here’s the gravy,” said Yuka.  

“Here’s the olives,” said my brother.  

“We’ve got the salad,” said Lynn and Rachel in unison.  

“I’m not hungry,” said Andrea. “I’ll just eat some pie with ya’all later.”  

“I’m starved,” said Hans.  

“Here’s a photo of our dogs,” said Clint to no one in particular.  

“The Brussels sprouts are cold,” said my brother-in-law. 

“Let’s eat,” shouted Ralph.