My thoughts on everything from albacore tuna to zebras
| It was early. Too early. It was a habit I had reluctantly developed many years earlier. Up, out of bed and get moving. Breakfast could wait. Pop said I should have been a farmer. Work three hours and then get breakfast. I slipped into my jeans, flannel shirt and made my way down the stairs. The bedroom door stuck a little, but I had learned to push against it while I turned the well worn knob, trying to keep the noise to a minimum. The other bedroom doors were closed yet. Even so I could smell the coffee from the kitchen as I snuck down the steps. On the couch at the bottom of the stairs lay someone sleeping and the fold out bed in the living room held my two sleeping nieces. My mom was busy in the kitchen and the faint aroma of onions sauteing on the stove mixed with the aroma of the coffee. My Dad sat at the kitchen counter with a cup of black coffee in front of him. In his hand he held an apple and his small pocket knife. Between bites of apple, he looked at me, smiled and said,“It’s about time you got up boy.”
I laughed and asked him why I needed to get up early on Thanksgiving. He grinned. I surveyed the kitchen. The dining table had boxes of cereals, bowls and glasses for the breakfast eaters. Mom worked feverishly in the kitchen She wished me a Happy Thanksgiving and then fired off a list of things she needed me to do, that ranged from getting the turkey out of the fridge in the basement all the way up to going to pick up Baba when she called. I stepped out onto the back porch and pulled on my work boots. I grabbed a coffee can of dog food and a jug of water. For a moment I eyed up the pumpkin, apple and mincemeat pies, baked the day before and now staying cool on the back porch. I helped roll out the pie crusts and peeled the apples. My favorite was the mincemeat and I eyed it up expectantly. I saw the relish tray had been added to the display so I reached under the saran wrap and popped a black olive into my mouth as I stepped off the porch onto the patio.
The crisp autumn air felt good to my lungs. It had a faint smell of decomposing leaves mixed with the wood smoke from the fire Pop kept burning in the basement. I inhaled deeply and watched the wisps of white escape my mouth as I exhaled. A heavy frost lay on the grass and the roof of the garage. The sun was just starting to clear the hemlock trees and it sparkled off the frost. The withered vines of tomatoes still clung to the stakes in the garden and the remaining green tomatoes were turning brown from the frost.
Up the hill from the patio I heard the rustle of Trigger rousing himself from the warmth of the hay packed dog house. As he shook himself awake I could hear the jingle of his tags on his collar. He spotted me moving up the backyard and the wagging of his tail beat a resounding thump, thump, thump against the side of his house. His water bowl had a thin sheet of ice on it so I picked it up and whacked it against the side of his house splashing ice and water everywhere. After I gave him fresh water and food, I knelt and ran my hand along his coat while he jumped, trying to lick my face. As I scratched my finger along the back of his ear I thought of the hunting trips earlier that fall with Pop and Trigger. In a few days We would go again, this time for deer. Poor Trigger would have to stay home.
By the time I got back in the house it was starting to come alive. Karen and Jaime were up and that meant everybody was up, whether they wanted to be or not. My sister sat at the table sipping coffee trying to get her wits about her before she jumped into the kitchen to help Mom. The TV on the counter was on and the Thanksgiving Day parade marched across the screen. Nobody was really watching it. Voices were bouncing around like ping pong balls in a washing machine as everyone tried to talk at once. Pop had retreated to the basement under the premise of fixing a machine. Karen and Jaime jumped on my feet, wrapped their arms around my legs and begged for a ride. I obliged, laughing right along with them until Mom shooed me to the basement to get the turkey. I wondered how many more years I’d be able to give them rides. They were growing up and I was growing older.
The basement was toasty warm from the wood fire and Pop sat at his workbench with a sewing machine in front of him. A small black and white TV was on and once again the Parade marched on with nobody in particular watching it. The voices from upstairs drifted through the floor and Pop looked at me and grinned. I sat on the bottom step and we talked. Nothing in particular. We talked some about the upcoming deer season, work, school, and whatever else crossed our minds. He showed me how to time the particular machine he was working on and together we alkyd and just enjoyed being together. Eventually, it was interrupted by Mom hollering down the stairs wondering where the turkey was. I walked to the back of the basement into the cold cellar and got the bird without further prompting.
The aromas grew stronger. The phone rang and I was off to get Baba. When we got back she sat at the counter talking mostly with Mom and helping out occasionally. The breakfast dishes had been cleared and the table was set with the “good dishes”. Before I knew it I was peeling potatoes and helping to stuff a turkey. Mom was never shy about un-idle-ing idle hands. Shortly from the top of the second floor stairs came a wump, wump wump...thirteen of them to be exact, followed by thirteen more and giggling. We all laughed as Karen and Jaime slid on their bellies down the carpeted stairs.
The aroma of early morning coffee had been replaced by the turkey cooking in the oven. The potatoes were boiling on the stove. The traditional green bean casserole was being prepared. Pop came up from the basement and sat in his chair in front of the TV. The parade had been replaced by football and we all took turns stealing from the relish trays and whatever else we could find to nibble on as our stomachs began to anticipate dinner.
Outside the dining room window a cardinal sat on the Rhododendron bushes and a few flurries of snow floated aimlessly by. Trigger barked at a passing dog and I watched cars pulling into neighbors drives as families gathered for Thanksgiving.
The turkey was ready to be carved and I mashed the potatoes making sure to add a tablespoon of butter and some salt. The food was on the table and everyone was called for dinner. Grace was said, usually by Mom, and amidst the clanking of dishes and the multitude of voices time was found to actually eat.
Afterwards, cleanup completed, I joined Pop in the living room, each of us asleep in chairs. The football games played on.
I stood in the kitchen. All was quiet. Gone were the dishes. The fridge was empty. The house was eerily quiet and no cardinal sat in the rhododendron. The dog coop was gone and no vestige of the garden could be seen. I closed my eyes. I could still hear the voices. I inhaled deeply and willed myself to smell the food cooking. I looked around at the vacant rooms and a certain sadness settled in for a few moments...and then I felt it, deep down, slow at first. It emanated from the walls. It came from within my soul. It was love. Love, in its purest form. It had always been there, and no matter what, it would always be with each and every one of us. It was warming and comforting. It reassured. It gave hope.
I walked out on the back porch and closed the door. I gave the yard and house one more look before I got in the truck and I smiled. To have experienced that love was truly something to be thankful for. As I drove up the street, a cardinal flew across in front of me, headed for the rhododendron no doubt.