IT WAS the day after Thanksgiving, and the leftovers cried out from the fridge.
These weren't ordinary leftovers, either. No, these were the leftovers of the gods, prepared by my mother, my aunt and my wife, LaVeta. These were the foods of my childhood, and they included every unhealthy dish that made the movie "Soul Food" a staple for DVD bootleggers.
But I wasn't planning to live my food fantasy through some grainy reproduction of the Vanessa Williams classic. No, I would eat my soul food in person, but I knew I wouldn't have much time.
My son, the leftover king, had spent the night at my mother's. But after he finished wreaking havoc in her refrigerator, he would be back to put a dent in mine.
Still, I couldn't start eating without first surveying the feast. So I looked in each container with the utter joy of unbridled greed.
The meats were the stuff of legend. Turkey that was succulent, and filled with enough tryptophan to knock an elephant on his butt. Chicken, fried to perfection, and piled high in a plastic bag. LaVeta's specially braised ham - cooked with pineapple, honey and a delightful dash of chili pepper.
There was macaroni and cheese, potato salad, candied sweet potatoes and collard greens. Then there were the desserts.
My mother's sweet potato pie was on the second shelf, next to her peach cobbler. Two slices of my aunt Juanita's 7-Up cake were thrown in for good measure. In the freezer, locked in an unassuming Ziploc bag, was a generous helping of LaVeta's homemade chocolate-chip cookies. Next to those was a container of her homemade maple butter pecan ice cream.
After surveying the fridge, I started with a modest plate, but I prepared it like a leftover veteran. I warmed a chicken thigh in open foil in the oven to maintain the crisp skin while locking the moisture inside. My plate would go into the microwave, but there was a strategy for that, as well. My mac and cheese went in the middle of the plate. It was flush against the sweet potatoes, which would serve as a barrier between the chicken and the greens. Stuffing and turkey would go on the other side, and the potato salad would be added later, to keep it cold.
I ate my plate knowing that the leftover war would begin in earnest when my son got home. An hour later, he proved me right.
I knew I had an advantage because LaVeta had arranged the food in the refrigerator. My son puts the leftovers away when he's home, strategically hiding food in the vegetable crisper in preparation for a predawn refrigerator raid.
Usually, when the food disappears, I can't pin it on him. This time, I was ready, because the food was in little containers that we could easily count. I thought that would make a difference, but I was wrong - terribly wrong.
The boy went at the refrigerator with an almost military precision. It didn't matter that he'd already eaten at my mother's house. He was going to systematically consume every leftover, and unless I was going to tell my son he couldn't eat - something I'll probably never do - I was powerless to stop the carnage.
Bits of turkey and stuffing splattered the wall as he mowed through his first plate. The smell of chicken wafted through the house as he masterfully worked the microwave. The toaster went into overdrive as he added slices of bread.
He quickly finished the first plate. An hour later he was at it again.
The boy was merciless in his total destruction of the leftovers. He was ruthless in his utter greed. He was a cold and calculating eating machine.
He was, in many ways, just like me.
He beat me this Thanksgiving. But there's another food holiday on the way, and on Christmas, I'm taking no prisoners.