By Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily
It’s usually about a week before Thanksgiving when I get what’s become a predictable phone call.
It’s mom wanting to know if I’ll be at the family Thanksgiving dinner. It’s the same call she’s made for the past 20 years or so. And for many of those Thanksgivings I’ve had to tell her that no, I couldn’t make it back.
That includes the seven years I was in Alaska about 4,000 miles away, which never really registered with her that making a trip back would’ve been a little inconvenient.
Last year as we went through what’s become an annual ritual of her asking and my having to decline, Mom hit me with, “Are you sure? Maybe we could invite the Keiths.”
Instant flashback 38 Thanksgivings ago to 1984.
I was 16, had just realized the freedom of having my own car (a $300, 1971 Plymouth Satellite with 200,000 miles on it) and finally had my first “real” date.
I’d been out with girls before, but always was driven by my parents or hers. This was the first time taking my own wheels out alone with a girl.
That girl was Lori Keith.
By that time, the Keiths and Johnsons had been family friends for years (and still are). I had known Lori since we were about 8.
And of course, I had somewhat of a crush on her all that time.
For about a 10-year stretch or so, our families would take turns hosting Thanksgiving dinners. That year was the Keiths’ turn.
But first there was the date, which happened the night before Thanksgiving.
I worked at a little mom-and-pop deli/pizza parlor at the local mall and got an employee discount. Also, it was in the same mall as the movie theater, so I picked Lori up and we went out for some pizza and a movie.
The pizza was great, as was the movie (I think we saw “The Terminator,” but can’t remember for sure).
As I was trying to muster up the courage to hold Lori’s hand, she grabbed mine.
This first “real” date was going great.
Then the movie ended, and while walking out to the car, Lori suddenly stopped, bent over and projectile vomited all over her shoes and the parking lot.
Guess the pizza wasn’t so great after all.
I knew she was embarrassed, and I didn’t know what to do other than run back into the theater to grab some napkins.
I remember thinking I must not be that great of a date if she has to throw up before it’s even over. And it goes without saying that the post-movie ice cream I’d planned wasn’t going to happen.
So, I took Lori home while she apologized the whole way and expressed how mortified she was.
Before getting out of the car, she made me promise to never tell anyone about what happened that night.
I held up my right hand: pinky swear, double-dog-dare I promise. It’s our secret.
Of course, the first thing I did when I got home was tell my mom — after also swearing her to secrecy.
Then came the kicker. Mom reminded me I was going to see Lori again the next day because we were going to her family’s house for Thanksgiving.
For the most part, the day went well. We pretty much just pretended the night before never happened and everything was fine.
Then we all sat down and had a great dinner. In that blissfully content moment after you’ve stuffed yourself with Thanksgiving but haven’t yet thought about the cleanup, mom blew the lid off our secret.
Seems after I spilled the beans the night before, mom went to her sewing machine and made Lori a little gift — a plastic-lined barf bag with a green-faced teddy bear stenciled on it.
She handed it to Lori, who immediately shot me a look that pretty much confirmed that first real date would be our last.
We actually did go out a few more times, but then went our own ways in school and life.
But the families remained close for years after and on that one day we’d all get together to stuff ourselves, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the mostly heavily embellished retelling of the somewhat unappetizing story of how Greg made Lori puke on their first date.
Like watching “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” regurgitating the story of Greg and Lori’s not-so-excellent adventure has become a Johnson family Thanksgiving tradition.
Decades later I’d heard that Lori still has that homemade barf bag, and to my knowledge, has never had to use it.