Grandmother Keller’s potholders, I have a set of four, there one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving. Each one has a cute little turkey on it. You can tell there home made, but that’s what gives them their charm.
I always loved them, but once I found out Grandma Keller’s secret, then it made me love them even more. It was the week of Thanksgiving. Grandmother Perry, Mom, and me had made our annual trip to O’Hurley’s for supplies for the big day.
I was picking up the green beans. Grandma Perry hates green Beans by the way. Grandma was selecting the desert ingredients, and Mom was picking the turkey. Grandma Perry was my Mom’s mother, she selected the ingredients for her corn bread. While Grandma Keller, my Dad’s mom, chose the ingredients for the traditional pre-meal breakfast.
By the trip to the store, we were all exhausted. Each of us pulled up a corner in Mom’s living room, and treated ourselves to coffee and marshmallow maple leafs. They’re a dessert Grandma Keller makes every year around this time.
“Grandma Keller, when are you going to give me the recipe for these addictive sugar bombs?” I had begged her since I started baking at thirteen to know how. She, who usually said yes to everything, always said no.
Grandma Perry looked at her. “She’s old enough now, it may help.” Grandma Keller nodded, while I tried to understand what was going on.
Grandma Keller put down her coffee, and began by asking me to grab two of those potholders. I brought them back as quick as I could. Before setting down, Grandma showed me the hidden pocket in each of them.
I was, as both Grandmothers had always said, “the most curious of their grandbabies.” My mind scrambled with guesses on what they were for.
I admit I was disappointed, at first, with the response. “They’re for recipes dear.” They both could tell my excitement had waned a little.
“Well don’t look so disappointed. If not for those potholders, you, or your parents wouldn’t have been here. Those little handmade squares rescued both our husband’s from a walking death trap.”
“Grandma are you trying to use that old line about men’s stomachs? I’ve seen the way Grandpa looks at you, remember. I think that pretty face I inherited from you both had something to do with it.”
Both of them smiled and preened their hair. Grandma Perry explained. “I’m not just talking about romance dear, I’m talking about rescuing them. They both worked for what seemed like, the meanest, angriest, unreasonable, and one of the cleverest women I’ve ever seen.”
“She was the Director of the local public television station, and your Grandfathers had been hired for a local cooking show. They were amateur chefs, mostly weekend grillers at the time, but they thought that was a novelty back then.”
Grandma Keller took over, when Grandma Perry looked at her. “Her name was Charleen McCormick. She was tall, skinny, blonde haired, beautiful, and came across as, well mean. I saw grown men quiver when she got angry.”
“Vivian’s Ned, and my Ernie were scared to death of her. One was a Vice Principal Of a school, and the other was an architect in their regular jobs. They didn’t need the show, but they hated to fail.”
“Vivian was a partner in Ned’s firm at the time. I taught history at Ernie’s school. We couldn’t stand these strong, confident men reduced to being afraid of someone who could care less about them.”
“I had met Vivian once, and didn’t know her well, but I knew I had to do something. I called the firm, and asked for her. I gave a brief explanation on the phone, and we agreed to meet.”
“Why are they afraid of her? I don’t understand how she can make two successful people quake in their boots Vivian?”
“Easy, she’s in television. She convinced them both to do this show, to prove how good they are. She played their ego, then threatens to take the very show she talked them into away at a moment’s notice.”
“Sounds like quite an operator. So, partner, before I agreed to this, tell me something. What’s your motive in all this?”
Vivian looked at me with that irritating know it all look she uses so well. I wasn’t phased, and gave her the same look back. “We could both pretend, but you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t feel about Ned, the way I feel about Ernie.”
We knew where we stood, even if we weren’t convinced the men knew yet. The two of us became fast friends, and set about how to outdo Charleen. The first step was to get Vivian in to the television station.
I had volunteered as the guy’s sous chef, which is how I got in. Vivian was also an interior director, so she volunteered to spruce up their set. Sometimes the easy way is the best way.
Now, I could build Charleen up as the big, bad villain of the story, and until Vivian got the job, we believed that. It turned out, that wasn’t the case. It turns out there was a villain, but it wasn’t Charleen.
The way we found out wasn’t exactly great either. The guys had been shooting a few episodes, and that day it wasn’t going well. Neal had burnt the lasagna, and Ernie had flubbed his lines. Yes, there are lines in a cooking show. Teaspoon and tablespoon for example.
The director called lunch, and we sent the boys to get sandwiches. The two of us were trying to strategize while they were gone. That’s when a short, small figure walked in. He stopped Charleen in the hall.
His overcoat cost more than the car I was driving. Tailored suit, designer tie, he even had a kind face. Until he opened his mouth. He didn’t scream, at least not in volume, but every word was a veiled threat.
“Charleen, how is our little television station today? I’ve heard some disturbing things about your pet project. As talented as everyone tells me you are, I couldn’t believe a cooking show was your best idea. I hope I won’t have to recommend a new station manager to the trustee board, will I?”
Charleen, who I expected to charge back, simply, and politely said, “I think they’ll surprise you Mr Fallon. These two professionals, not only can cook, but they’ve got personality. We just need to help them forget the camera is there.”
He countered with more obnoxious comments. Vivian, coolheaded, quiet, Vivian suddenly moved. “Mr Fallon is it. I’m Vivian Hendrix, yes that Vivian Hendrix, and I’m personally designing Charleen’s secret weapon, ‘A Turkey For Every Meal’.”
“I also work with Neal and Ernie, this Carla Hill, she’s an educator, and a collaborator of Ernie’s on the show. We’d love to tell you our ideas, when we’re ready, but for now, you and the trustees will have to trust this wonderfully brilliant woman they appointed to make the decisions. Have a good day, Fallon was it?”
With that Vivian locked her arm around Charleen and walked quickly away. I followed, trying not to drop my jaw. A few minutes later, Charleen finally spoke.
“Thank you, I think. I can’t stand that irritable, arrogant, pompous, hot air balloon. So, tell me, was the turkey thing an idea, or a bluff?”
Vivian laughed. “It’s always a bluff until the last hand. We’ve got one plus, we learned who the joker in the deck was. That’s a plus, until we met him, we thought you were the moron. Turns out you’re human, so that’s a plus.”
Grandma Perry innocently smiled. Charleen laughed. “I’m sorry, I guess I come across as pushy. This is my first top job, after years as assistant, and Fallon doesn’t help. He wants to put on more of his type of programming, the kind that sells merchandise.”
I had been thinking about Vivian’s idea. “I like the idea, Turkey for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ernie brought in Monte Cristo’s one day. We could do those for lunch. Only we could use turkey, dressing, gravy, and cranberry sauce on the inside.”
They liked that idea. Vivian also had a recipe in mind. “They’ll both need to do dishes for each meal, it’ll give the other the time to transition. We could do Thanksgiving Eggs Benedict, doing dressing instead of biscuits. It was also for that meal that I came up with the idea of these candies, but Cara’s were better than mine, so I gifted it to her, as long as I got some each batch.”
Charleen said excitedly. “Oh, non cook actually has an idea. My Grandmother made French Toast from sweet potato bread. She made it from left over sweet potato purée. It’s the only thing I know how to cook.”
We had our game plan, now we had to convince the guys. Charleen smiled. “I could sell them on it, if you want?”
I shook my head no. “If we’re going to work together, you’re going to have to stop terrorizing our guys. They’re so afraid of failing now they can’t think straight.”
A man’s voice spoke from behind me, startling me. “She has that effect on people. I know, I was absolutely terrified of her, until I kissed her. Five years, and two kids later, she still growls until she’s had her coffee, but the beast has no teeth.”
Ray McCormick hugged his bride, and she smiled. “I’m sorry I’ve pushed them, I think they have something special. We just need to find it quick, before Fallon pulls it away.”
Ray made a suggestion or two. Charleen said he was the cook in the family. Well, we bounced around ideas, but it was obvious to us all, we had to do something more. Something, not on Fallon’s radar, the problem was, none of us had a clue.
Vivian had been quiet, I wasn’t even sure she was still listening. Then, she stood up, went to the drawer, took out some potholders, and began ripping them apart. Then she put the shreds in her purse, and looked at Charleen.
“If I get something to you, can you see that it gets to Mr Fallon?” We’ll, she was somewhat reluctant, but she agreed. With that, we all went home. In a few days, Vivian brought in four potholders, and a book of recipes.
She gave Charleen orders to make sure Fallon got the one with the turkey on it. It didn’t matter how he got it, just that he had by the airing of the show. We all tried to get Vivian to talk, but she wouldn’t.
All she would say was that the least we knew, the better. The taping seemed to go better and better. Her Neal, and my Ernie seemed to find their stride. They also found their nerve, and we each started dating.
The big special went like clockwork. The guys even came up with some recipes of their own. Through it all, Vivian seemed to fret more. The closer we got to the day the special aired, she seemed more nervous.
Finally, the night before, the six of us were having dinner together at Ray and Charleen’s house. Charleen and I sat her down when the guys were distracted with something. “No excuses, no arguments, what’s going on? ” She said one word. “Blackmail.”
All the color drained out of Charleen’s face. My legs felt weak. I knew there had to be an explanation, but I went a little, how is it you put it these days, cra-cra! “More words! Blackmail, that’s not, you don’t even know the man! What could you possibly have on him?”
“Your darling, future Grandmother Perry, almost got her clock cleaned by your future Grandmother Keller Dear. Fortunately Ernie and Neal walked in the den right before it.”
Neal spoke first. “Viv honey, what did you do?” Instinctively, Ernie put his arms around me. Ray put his hand on Charleen’s shoulder. “My Grandmother taught me how to sew. She said that sewing potholders is what caused her to be able to marry Grandpa.
“Her family was wealthy, and forbade her to marry a poor store clerk. Grandma would smuggle out potholders with hidden pockets, and messages in them. She gave them to the maid, Grandpa’s sister, and she gave them to him. She would bring messages back in the potholders.”
“So you put a message in Fallon’s potholder? What do you have on him? How did you find out?”
“Its a little more complicated than that. I simply wrote, ‘How much do the trustees know about your private business dealings? When did they find out? What’s it worth for their silence?’ I was careful not to mention any of us.”
Now I wasn’t angry, only confused. Vivian held up her hand. “You know the other three potholders, I had Charleen give each of them to a trustee.”
“They’re messages said, ‘What is Fallon up too? Why is he so private about his business dealings? Why is he so anxious to force his way on the station?’ That’s the only thing on the notes.”
Neal winced. “That’s the only thing on the notes, but that’s not the only thing is it? You did something else. Where is it?”
“It’s in an envelope in the recipe book, hidden somewhere in the station. I figured I’d give him a fighting chance. After all, it could hurt him. Fallon doesn’t want to change the programming, he wants to do a lot more.”
“Everybody always calls a rotten person a big turkey this time of year, it’s cliche. The problem is, turkey is good, Fallon isn’t good, he’s a green bean casserole, with imitation onions!”
Charleen took trying to get a straight answer out of her next. “First off, I like green bean casserole, I don’t like Fallon. Second, what do you have to blackmail the man?!”
“Blueprints. Blueprints for the building he wants to put where the station is. He doesn’t own it, but if he can get control of the management, Fallon can manipulate the trustees into selling the building to his shell company, and he, will resale it for a huge profit.”
“I was trying to find some angle on him all that next day, after I thought of Grandma’s potholders. Everything just seemed too cutesy, so I gave up. Instead I went to the courthouse to file some blueprints. While I was there, I saw someone from the big firm in the city, Martianez Hutton. We used to date, so he struck up a conversation.”
“He mentioned that he was filing blueprints for the Macaw Group. The name sounded familiar, and I knew why. Blueprints, once filled, are a public record. Once he left, I got copies.”
Now Charleen was smiling. “The Maccaw Group is Fallon’s business. I know because he’s made donations to the station from them before, for the tax benefit, and influence with the trustees. How did you know who they were?”
“I’m also an interior designer. His company hired me to do their office, and I saw him there before. If the trustees get the potholder notes, and get to the recipe book first, they’ll have Fallon’s number, and it will kill his influence.”
“If he gets it first, he’ll get the blueprints, and see the final note. It should all go according to plan, I hope. It’ll all depend on one thing, that’s what worries me. I mailed a note to each of the four of them in time for it to arrive before the premiere. If they got them, it should work. That’s the one thing I can’t control.”
Neal hadn’t liked her mentioning the old boyfriend, it was all over his face. Ernie, my sweet intellectual had been mostly listening, finally he spoke. “That’s why you had me point out the recipe book shaped like a turkey. Your note told them what to look for didn’t it?”
She nodded. “Everybody thinks turkey on thanksgiving, it was the perfect place to hide in plain sight. I hid it in the station after theta ping.”
We went home soon after this. All of us stunned at the ‘recipe’ Vivian cooked up. Technically it wasn’t exactly blackmail. She explained that the message to Fallon didn’t tell him what to do. It only suggested that, his motives would be exposed.”
The problem was, he could always deny knowledge of it. His company was so big, one of his partners could have been working on the idea. I wanted a linchpin, a means of guaranteeing it all worked out.
I was talking to Ernie about this when we met for brunch the next morning. He expressed his strong opinion that I should not try to match Vivian’s efforts. “We’ve done more than we should, and all we can. Besides Neal and I maybe so dazzling, we secure the station’s future.”
Your Grandpa isn’t arrogant, he was laughing as he said it. He really didn’t think it would be more than a nice run up to the holiday. None of us had watched it before airing, and we all gathered at Ernie’s house to watch together.
We all had known the taping went well, but the camera caught the magic that Charleen had first seen. It wasn’t just the cooking, they were charming, and funny, and warm.
Calls started coming in from those who knew them. Then word started pouring in, they were a huge hit. Charleen got a call from the Trustees, each congratulating her on the success of it, and the recent shows.
One said they were sending a copy to the public television stations along the coast, for consideration towards them using it in their markets. They also shared some unexpected news about Fallon.
Charleen was grinning from ear to ear when she got off the phone. All of us were asking which one got the note in the potholders, and about Fallon. We wanted to know who got the ‘turkey’.
“Nobody! This Thanksgiving, we’re having baked ham. Fallon was arrested this morning, for bribing a judge over a business deal. He’s not going to be a problem anymore. None of them mentioned the potholders.
We were ecstatic, but confused. Did they all ignore the note that led to the potholder’s pockets? It seemed odd no one got it. Vivian said it didn’t matter, the station was saved, and the show was a hit.
Neal and Ernie were so happy, they volunteered to cook a complete Thanksgiving dinner, Italian style. We had all had our fill of turkey and ham, taste testing from the special. They also promised a special dessert, pecan creme brûlée.
We watched the parade, ate, laughed, talked about how relieved we all were, and then the boys served the dessert. When Viv and I cracked our brûlée’s, we saw something in them, blue paper. These two rascals had put ‘blueprints ‘ in our dessert.
Neal explained. “Mine is a piece of a blueprint from a jewelry store. Ernie’s is from his house. We figured you’d both kill us if we got these dirty, even with a fancy dessert.”
With that, the boys got down on one knee, and asked us to marry them. Tears and laughter were had by all. One of Charleen’s kids asked their Daddy why he didn’t get down on one knee. He explained Mommy and Daddy were already married. The little one’s response was, “Oh yeah, I forgot.”
Charleen looked at her husband. “Still, I think they upstaged you a little bit honey. How do you top diamonds?”
He smiled. “Simple, you add a ruby to it, for all the heart felt years we’ve shared.” As he put a ruby necklace around his wife’s neck. It turns out, among all his talents, Ray had connections in publishing. That’s what led to your Grandpa’s lines of cookbooks, DVD’s, and seven different tv shows over the years.
“Grandma Keller, Grandma Perry, that’s wonderful, I never knew the backstory to their career. Of course with Grandma’s larceny, and the statue of limitations, I can see why, but one thing. Did you ever find out why no one opened the potholders?”
Grandma Keller looked at Grandma Perry, who smiled and took over. “We got our answer the Monday after Thanksgiving. Dear, I’ve helped Grandpa with two careers, had two of my own between architecture and interior design, served on the city council, and have been somewhat successful.”
“Still, this intelligent, talented, college graduate, forgot to put stamps on the envelopes. They never were delivered. To this day, I never mention to your Grandfather or Cara that I’m going to the post office.”
We all laughed, then I had another question. “If the potholders were never searched, where did these come from? Don’t tell me you broke into the trustees and Fallon’s houses?”
Grandma Keller explained. “No, as a memento, Viv made a set for everyone in the family, and Charleen. Of course she’s family in our hearts, and the way you’re Momma tells me you’ve been talking about Charleen’s grandson, she may be legally related very soon.”