Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks


And it is Thanksgiving. The oval table is crowded with food. Outside it is cold and a rainy darkness has fallen. Each brightly-lit home might as well be a galaxy in space or a ship at sea. The kitchen is steamy and warm.

"You know, Charles," my grandparents had always called my mother Charles because they had expected a boy. "It just so nice that everybody got to make it this year."

But my mother isn't listening. She's dutifully counting out my father's prescription medicines. There's the blood pressure pills, the heart medicine, the vitamins. My mother is a little nervous because she still pretends to her mother that she doesn't smoke.

At that moment, my grandfather pulls a hissing white enamel pan from the oven. His specialty. Baked breaded catfish. But wait! There's no place to set it down on the table. This is the land of plenty so a bowl of overcooked vegetables is exiled to the counter top.

My grandfather, the better cook, with pot-holder in hand surveys the scene proudly. His finger counts each plate and bowl. "And everything.." he double checks to be certain, "and everything on that table came from our garden.. or from our pond." He beams down at me with a smile. "Not a store-bought thing."

My grandmother seems skeptical. "Now, Sam..."


"You know good and well those arsh-potatoes didn't come from our garden."

"Why, Amy, you know they did." He looks at me with astounded disbelief.

And off they would fly into a back-and forth pointless battle, arguments that would sputter on for hours. Those disagreements never seemed to end. Neither of them could concede defeat.

"Come and get it." my grandmother would call, "Supper's on the table."

My sister and I would scramble to the bathroom to wash our hands. Indoor toilets, even one as primitive as this tiny space was a luxury in my grandparents' time. Even in my own time, I recall the first home they had had an out-house, full of imaginary monsters and all too real spiders.

We all squeeze around the table, a logistical affair requiring leadership and consent. We naturally give no forethought as to how we will escape again after thirty minutes of gluttony. Our minds are clouded by the meal-scape.

"You all better get in here," my grandmother says, "fore I throw it out." An idle threat, indeed. My father and mother, now confident the weather will hold for the long drive back to the city, finally enter and take their places.

The big goblet of iced tea, the rim powdery and brown, finds it place between the plate and a bowl of cooked cabbage. My grandmother is the last to sit. She, like a little nervous bird, always had a talent for spotting the unnecessary item that had been forgotten. The dull cake of butter, the crackers nobody would touch, the Sweet and Low packets. I scoop the customary three heaping spoonfuls of sugar in my tea. The crystals filter down through the brown haze like snow. And finally, it is complete. There is a pause as if somebody is about to take a picture. Everybody seems to drawn one deep breath, one last smell of this bounty from the land of plenty. And it is perfect.

I can hear my grandmother say, like placing a great carved oak frame over this picture of a family feast, her voice, thin and echoing from that moment to this one. "It's just so nice for all of us to be together." 

Excerpt from "All Together"

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