OYSTERBACK, Maryland -- Ralph, the youngest Boone Brother, has returned to Oysterback for Thanksgiving. Not so much because he wants to, either. Would you want to visit your family if they ran the Boone Brothers We Fix and Road Kill Cooked Here Cafe and Garage?
His elder brothers Gabe and Mike are all the family Ralph has, and he finds them embarrassing, if you want to know the truth. They're these burned-out old hippies who haven't figured out the '60s are over. The '80s were more Ralph's decade, when greed was a good thing. Actually, Ralph doesn't have much choice about coming back to town. He's been in Jupiter, Florida, but since the Special Investigations Unit began asking a lot of questions, and about the same time his fourth wife, Cyndee, left him for that pit boss she met in Vegas . . .
Well, coming home for a nice long visit seems to be a wise thing to do; he should be thankful this hick dump hasn't dried up and blown away. Oysterback is about the last place on the face of the earth anyone would look for him, especially Monte ''Big Tuna'' D'Abrunzio, who is someone you and I don't want to know about.
In Oysterback, Ralph is explained as a change-of-life baby.
Miss Catherine Swann dreads Thanksgiving, because that's the day that Mr. Hardee gears up for the Christmas-light season, and all 700,000 of his string lights have to come out of storage and be tested, strand by strand, before he can start putting them up all over the outside of the house the day after.
Hardee goes over them bulb by bulb, looking for the one burned- out light that will keep the whole chain from lighting up most of Devanau County. Strands of multi-colored lights drape over every surface in the house, up and down the stairs, around the living and dining room, through the hallway to the kitchen, around the corner and out the door.
Miss Catherine is terrified that if Hardee doesn't trip over the cords and break a leg, he'll fall off the roof mounting the Nona Classic Life-Size Santa and Eight Reindeer & Rudolph and kill himself. You try cooking a turkey under those conditions.
She and Mr. Hardee are going to eat their Thanksgiving dinner at the Ye Olde Colonial Watershed Bed and Breakfast Inn, if she can drag him away from his latest acquisition. Mr. Hardee has added a state-of-the-art Comp-U-Lite Talking Scrooge With Tiny Tim to his 37 secular and 14 religious life-size illuminated holiday lawn figures, which include the legendary and much-coveted Good Shepherd of Graceland Elvis Figure that has made him the envy of other Christmas lighters throughout the tri-state area.
For this, Mr. Hardee is very thankful. Before Miss Catherine can examine what she's thankful for, she hears a horrible crash and the sound of thousands of tiny plastic lights breaking.
After lurking fruitlessly in Faraday Hicks' wood lot over to Slaughter's Crossroads for several weekends, precariously balanced for endless hours on a tiny stand, sitting dead still through rain, sleet, heat and a couple of hard frosts, Junie Redmond, whose greatest Thanksgiving wish has been a deer to fill the freezer, has given up all hope. Looks like the family will be eating a lot of tuna noodle casserole and Hamburger Helper this winter.
On Junie's way back to Oysterback, an 18-point buck hurtles out of the woods just past Tubman's Corners and slams into the side of his truck. Mercifully, the deer is killed on impact, but Junie, a man who knows how to appreciate irony, is thankful for the meat.
Desiree Grinch, who knows which buttons to push and where quite a few bodies are buried, has begged, borrowed and blackmailed three 20-pound turkeys from various and sundry sinners around Devanau County, and is roasting them up in the kitchen at the Blue Crab Tavern. She and Professor Shepherd are whipping up 30 pounds of mashed potatoes to go with the 200 yeast rolls and three gallons of stringbean casserole they've already put together and stored in the freezer.
When the turkeys are done to a golden brown, Desiree and the professor will load them into her monster truck and take the whole deal over to A Safe Place, the women's shelter in Patamoke. Desiree Grinch is a woman who also knows a thing or two about being poor and in trouble. She's thankful she's still capable of moral ambiguity in a good cause.
Over to Miss Nettie Leery's, delicious smells drift through the house along with that ineffable air of tension that happens whenever Hudson Swann and Buddy Leery are in the same room for too long. Fortunately, they can focus their attention on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, rather than try to make polite conversation. Both have been warned about opening their mouths about politics and Starting Something.