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Thread: (Again) Thanks, Anyway

  1. #1
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    (Again) Thanks, Anyway

    Thanks, Anyway

    by Aunt Shecky

    All Rights Reserved

    If I sat down and really thought about it, I’m sure I could come up with a couple of endearing qualities about Mac, but it wouldn’t be easy. Over the years peevish aspects continued to spill out of his personality like a perverse cornucopia. One irritating habit was his tendency to announce his misgivings about some task I was going to do, or more precisely, was expected to do. Every Thanksgiving Eve he made the point that I wouldn’t get up early enough the next day to get the bird into the oven “on time.”

    “I don’t want us sitting down to dinner at ten, eleven o’clock tomorrow night.”

    As if we ever had! In all our years of so-called domestic bliss, I’d never shirked my maternal responsibilities. Maybe I didn’t move fast - or enthusiastically – enough at times, but like a dog with a rag he habitually gnawed on the idea that I would let the family down.

    But that was Mac, all cynicism and distrust, quick to scoff and deride, going out of his way to inform me that he didn’t believe I’d follow through with the holiday meal until he actually put the first forkful of stuffing into his mouth.

    He had no cause for doubt, at least on the morning of the last Thanksgiving we spent in the little rented country house that despite all its faults I dearly loved. I got up early that day – just as I’d said I would – but I have to confess that it wasn’t the result of sheer will power. It was noise. All right, it’s true: I could stay asleep through a building demolition next door. But the commotion that blasted me out bed was much closer, on the roof to be exact: hammering--extraordinarily loud, constant hammering. No doubt whoever first coined the expression, “Let’s start the day with a bang,” had something entirely different in mind.

    I looked over at my accuser, the man of little faith, who was, ironically enough, not yet awake. Nor were the kids, at that time under the late-sleeping spell of adolescence. As I tiptoed to the kitchen (it must have been out of habit), the hammering got louder. In the window directly above the kitchen sink I saw the ladder as well as the soles of heavy leather workboots standing on the last visible rung.

    Who? What? More pertinently –why? I stretched my neck to look out the window toward the driveway where I could just make out the hood of a white panel truck, one of the landlord’s vehicles. We hadn’t called him for emergency repairs, and yet here he was – on Thanksgiving morning yet! – banging away on the roof as if it were a matter of life and death. Well, when you came right down to it, it was his property to do with as he pleased.
    Far be it from us, the lowly tenants, to question anything. In any event, I wasn’t about to go out there in my robe and slippers to climb up there to ask him what he was up to.

    With good intentions I opened the refrigerator where the entire lower section of its interior had been taken over by the oversized poultry specimen, its bulbous rear end facing toward me with frosty intimidation. “All right, all right, I see you. You’ll get what’s comin’ to you. But first a cup o’ joe.” I said that in full knowledge of the fact that it takes forever for the coffee to brew.

    While waiting for my caffeine fix as well as the oven to “preheat,” I tried to ignore the din above my head by staring out the other kitchen window. If I’d gotten up just a few minutes earlier I would’ve seen the full sunrise, instead of a mere slit of pink refusing to be bullied by the grey November sky. Something was brewing: “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” It was rare to catch the dawn at all at that time of year with the low-slung sun getting stingy with its light. And we hadn’t helped ourselves at all by our arrogant ways: declaring daylight savings time too early in the spring, switching back to standard time too late in the fall, manipulating the hours like chess pieces moved back and forth across the board.

    Just as the last drop of gurgling brew dribbled down into the carafe, the master of timing appeared. He poured himself a cup before I could get near it. “Turkey done yet?”

    “Yep. You can have it in the same bowl as your cereal and milk.”

    The staccato rhythm from above rested for a split second, quickly resuming with a pounding much louder and heavier than the usual sound made by a standard hammer. Mac put both hands on the sink and stretched himself up to see out the top of the window. “What’s he doing up there?”

    “I’d say he was banging on the roof. Just a wild guess.”

    “Hmmph.” Mac looked less curious than amused. “Maybe we should invite him in for some turkey. Ya know what they say: ‘You are what you eat.’ “

    “If that’s the case, I’ll serve him jerk chicken.”

    “Yeah, well, you won’t be serving anything at all until you get crackin’.” With that, he refilled his mug and retired to the relatively quiet living room from where seconds later I heard the TV come on full blast.

    He’d offered no help, of course, in getting the entree du jour out of the bottom of the refrigerator and into the sink, where despite the hammering the bulky bird made an audible thud. Though frigid the touch, the flesh inside the thin plastic wrapping seemed soft, a good sign that it had defrosted. Just as I suspected, however, the two cavities of the carcass were crammed full and still frozen shut, one end containing the protruding end of the unfortunate animal’s severed neck, the other a dubious package of internal organs: extraneous items like the wet and bloody wrapper destined for the trash.

    That is if I could extricate them from their frozen pouches. When I was little, my mother refused to “waste” them. She’d put the question mark-shaped neck and the innards into a large pot, where she’d cook the hell out of them until their red color turned gray. Then she’d chop up the entire lot and add them to the water in which they’d been boiled, along with flour-thickened drippings from the roasting pan. The resulting gravy was more or less smooth and lump-free, except for these chewy “giblets,” which nobody liked.

    Nobody liked mince pie, either, but she insisted on making it every year, along with the pumpkin, the apple, and the squash. Likewise mounds of side dishes, not merely the standard mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, but a staggering variety of side dishes, including various root vegetables like parsnips and turnips. From the far recesses of her kitchen cabinets she dug out weird-looking cooking utensils we only saw once a year.

    It was all part of her self-imposed Thanksgiving ritual, centered around roasting the turkey itself. My mother flourished in age blissfully ignorant of cholesterol thus freeing her conscience to use lard and other animal fats. Thus she’d liberally rub the surface of the turkey with two sticks of butter and sprinkle it with the seasoning that came in a yellow box with a picture of a wild turkey on the front – another item appearing only once a year. In that era of ignorance of salmonella and other food-related microbes - she’d stuff handfuls of a wet mixture of chopped celery and onions, cooked sausage, and painstakingly-cubed bits of bread into the bird’s twin cavities before closing it up with a needle and thread, giving a whole new meaning to “basting a turkey.” A bizarre spectacle for a kid to witness then; incredible as a memory now.

    All that hard work, for one meal on one day. Without a doubt, we didn’t deserve the fuss, and just thinking about it put a big lump of guilt on my plate. To this day I don’t know why she went through so much trouble.

    All these decades later I was standing over the sink and wrestling with a raw turkey amid the overhead percussion like unwanted background music. I twisted the stubborn neck until it gave way in two jagged pieces. I flipped the bird (so to speak) over and gripping the ends of its “drumsticks,” turned on the cold tap and let the water run until tiny pink-tinged pyramids of ice spewed down the prickly skin of the turkey’s tilted breast. By this time I noticed a narrow space opening up between the frozen bag of innards and the cavity walls and tugged. The thin paper packaging came out first, most of it in shredded clumps threatening to clog up the drain. I reached deep into the cavern and pulled out the now-naked organs, dark-red and slimy, the kidneys and liver, perhaps the heart. Now all that was left to do was give the bird a good rinse, rub a little salt inside, as well as adding an onion, a carrot, a stalk of celery into the empty cavern. Then into the oven it went. Finally.

    Like a bum warming himself over a blazing barrel, I held my ice-tingling hands over the top of the stove. In all that time the hammering hadn’t stopped at all, not even for a second. Although I couldn’t tell you exactly the owner’s specific task up there that day, over the previous months it had gradually dawned on Mac and me what was going on.

    Earlier in the spring, the World’s Greatest Humanitarian had shown up with a yardstick and a tape measure to gauge the size of the windows and the carpeting for the interior stairs, along with an announcement. “It’s about time there were some improvements done around here. You people deserve it.”

    The second he spotted the white truck exit the driveway, Mac started shook his head. “Don’t hold your breath waiting for the new stuff to arrive.”

    “I was just about to mark my calend–“

    “Look, in all the time we’ve been here he’s done next to nothing. Now all of a sudden he’s
    an interior decorator? Anytime they start repairs it means they’re getting ready to unload.”

    “There you go again, Mr. Negative. Remember when we moved in we made him promise that he had no plans to sell?” Right up front we broached the subject, after a history of being stung by a then-bubbling real estate market and the whims of landlords, who’d (rarely) want our apartment for themselves or more likely “gentrify” the place and jack up the rent way beyond our means. In the entire series of our rental history, that’s the only reason we’d always end up moving. It involved a frustrating process of locating suitable digs, followed by scraping up a thick wad of dough to cover the first month’s rent, plus the last month’s and security deposit, along with cash to rent a truck and the shut off and reinstallation for the various utilities. The threat of reliving such an experience -- again!–had become a standard deal breaker. Verbally, the landlord promised he had no plans to sell. Even so, it didn’t appear in the lease, which for some reason he never renewed, though we’d remained living there for years. Neither party thought to mention it.

    So I missed – or pretended to ignore - the first hint that our days at the drafty but homey little house were numbered. One evening some guy in a business suit knocked on the front door and asked, “This property is on the market, right? Or is it the other one down the road?” Either way, it was news to me.

    At no time did the owner ever tell us of his scheme, letting us dangle from a string of rumors and worries. But it wasn’t long before we a short time we were reading the writing on the faux wood-paneled walls and the real estate signs cropping up like weeds on the front lawn. All summer, lady agents in their silky scarves and high heels started showing up at annoyingly inconvenient times to lead a stampede of potential buyers from room to room. They nosed through closets and cabinets and eyeballed everything we owned. By their very presence, the invaders negated our own. By failing to acknowledge us, they marginalized us as disposable sticks of furniture, trash tenants who couldn’t come up with our own down payment.

    Even so, Mac and I mustered what was left of our dignity to complain that the unrelenting cattle calls had reached the point of disrupting our lives. On the phone the real estate agent feigned sympathy; the World’s Greatest Humanitarian merely grunted. By early fall the onslaught seemed to taper off a bit - certainly not as a result of our complaints, most likely from the lack of offers.

    That the house remained unsold did not for a second weaken the owner’s resolve. The way to speed the sale, he apparently thought, was a major remodeling project, a “rehab.” And the way for him to do this, evidently, was to have full access to the property 24/7. Which meant he wanted us to vacate the premises. Hence, a barrage of strategies: threatening to raise the rent every month we remained beyond a certain date, showing up unannounced to do work on the property and letting the backyard get so overgrown with weeds that we couldn’t use it, as well as removing the lawn mower so we couldn’t cut the lawn itself. And his latest ploy: the Thanksgiving surprise.

    It was almost noon and the hammering hadn’t let up, but I must’ve gotten used to the sound, for I actually could hear the blustery wind by the tell-tale whistling through the windows, perhaps a rumble or two off in the distance.

    Closer to home, the thunderous pounding increased in frequency and volume as I started preparing the “trimmings,” those ancillary items associated with Turkey Day. Over the course of an hour or two, the impeding change in weather picked up power as I mixed croutons with boiling water and canned broth and peeled both kinds of potatoes.
    By the way, we were going to have sweet potatoes, not “yams.” Many folks, including supermarket produce managers think the terms are interchangeable. They’re not. The two root vegetables are separate species. They may resemble each other in color, but their respective shapes are different. Sweet potatoes are full and round, not tapered like “yams.” When cooked, sweet potato flesh is soft and fluffy, not mealy – or stringy as that of yams. Big differences, at least to me. But nine times out of ten, you think you’re buying sweet potatoes but you’re buying their imposters. It’s like passing off carob for cocoa, or vanillin for vanilla. But the stores continue to get away with it, telling the customers that yams are the same as sweet potatoes. And the customers buy the lie. It’s trivial, I know, but it’s still wrong, a symptom of a larger issue. Why is our culture infested with so many mistakes, and why do we allow them to persist?

    For instance. The piss-poor treatment for Thanksgiving, the Rodney Dangerfield of American holidays. It gets no respect. Deeply imbedded in the conventional wisdom is the knowledge of retail S.O.P.: the minute the Jack o’ Lanterns come down, the Christmas merchandise comes out. Comedians and radio talk show hosts have complained about it for so many decades that it has become a cliché.

    From the last day of October to the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving gets the slightest of nods, consisting of a modest display of paper plates printed with turkeys or autumn leaves tucked in some low-traffic corner of the store. The quiet modesty of Thanksgiving is overwhelmed by the more commercial appeal of bells and chimes, blinking lights on artificial evergreens, flashy ornaments, toy displays stacked from floor to ceiling, poinsettia-printed kitchen towels and intentionally “ugly” Christmas sweaters, stuffed reindeer and life-sized air-filled plastic figures of Santa Claus.

    Even the day itself goes barely acknowledged. Store managers schedule their grossly underpaid employees to work all day or the wee-hours-prelude into Black Friday. And apart from a couple of pilgrims and a shopworn turkey balloon, even the time-honored Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is geared toward Yuletide: from the leg-kicking Rockettes dolled up in furry (though scanty) costumes to the closing act of the parade: the appearance of St. Nick “himself.” The entire pageant is accompanied by high school bands flown in from around the nation as well as Broadway and movie stars all performing pre-recorded traditional songs, which, aside from an occasional chime or bell, can be designated “Christmas” songs solely on the basis of the lyrics. By contrast, I couldn’t think of two song specific for Thanksgiving. Other than “Over the River and Through the Woods” it’s pretty slim pickins’.

    Such were the notions invading my mind, maybe as a way to assume survivor mode against the still-relentless hammering, competing with the raging storm outside. Me I was in no-man’s land between the competing noises, at this point perhaps united as allies in a battle to drive me crazy. (Or crazier than I already was.)

    Around that point the storm reached its climax; precipitation crashed down upon the windows first as uncountable drops, then seamless sheets, thick blankets of water, followed by a pinging sound –hail? ice? sleet? Eventually, something thicker, whiter, began to accumulate on the ground outside. At no time did the gusts seem to take a breather; if anything the wind got its -- well, second wind. Yet the hammering suddenly stopped.

    Out the kitchen window I could see the ladder starting to wobble back and forth as seconds later Mr. Fixit scrambled down, sprinted to his truck, and hightailed it the hell off the premises.

    After a brief but satisfying sigh of relief, I sprung the turkey out of its prison, and let it “rest” under its foil tent to make it easier for carving. That freed up the oven for browning the rolls. Next came the gravy-making, the potato-mashing (times two), and propping the cranberry sauce out of the can. Meantime I hoped the wind wouldn’t knock our power out.

    I schlepped each dish, one-by-one to the dining room table and announced, “Dinner is soived.”

    “ ‘Bout time,” Mac muttered, just a nano-second before the explosion.


    The natural instinct was to rush back to the kitchen, but believe me, I was in no great hurry to witness the latest disaster. A huge beam had materialized. It cut a diagonal from ceiling to floor, essentially “remodeling” one room into two. A large crack like a seismic fissure had materialized on the asphalt tiles, which, as well as every three-dimensional object in the kitchen was covered with debris: mostly non-descript with a sawdust-theme, littered here and there with clumps of gray dust, maybe some ancient insulation material, definitely cobwebs and more than a few deceased insects, along with-- I imagined -- petrified droppings of various rodents, perhaps their crumbled bones.

    Certainly “bones” is the word to describe what was left of the ceiling: bared beams and sticks, like the dried carcass of a whale. On the other hand, it almost resembled a Rathskeller as if some inept amateur do-it-yourselfer had tried to build one.

    I heard somebody ask, “Are you all right?”

    “My God, I was out here just two seconds ago! The damn thing could’ve killed me!”

    Mac’s concern sounded genuine until he hit me with the standard Emergency Room
    line: “You were lucky.”

    He stepped over the low end of the felled beam and peered up at the hole while stroking his chin, as if he actually knew what to do about it. “Well, it wasn’t broke until he fixed it!”

    “You’re going to have to call him.”

    “He won’t answer.”

    “Then leave a message on his machine.”

    Mac shook his head. “Why bother? He’s not gonna come.”

    The commotion had riled the kids out of their characteristic stupor that they actually ventured out into foreign territory (the kitchen.) One burst into raucous laughter and the
    other began to bawl, shrieking “Oh, Mom! This must be your worst Thanksgiving - ever!”

    Not really, no. Even by that time, I’d already lived long enough to accumulate several Thanksgivings ranking higher in their awfulness. For instance, in the year I turned eleven I remember how my aunt arrived to bring us a complete Thanksgiving dinner, before returning to my uncle and cousins to do the same for them, as my mother lay in a coma on the couch just a few feet away from the dining room table. And how my aunt was urgently summoned back just a couple hours later, as her sister – our mother – wheezed her last breath through her bony chest. And how other female relatives and neighbors descended like Harpies to our apartment to kneel at her couch-side and say the Rosary over her skeletal body, leaving me no room and pushing me away to save my too-young eyes from the sorrowful sight, and how – God forgive me - my primary thought was being deprived of a chance to see Somebody Die in front of my eyes.

    Or the less-traumatic though just as memorable Thanksgiving in my college days when a bunch of us started the day with a couple of Rock-and-Ryes, followed up by knocking off a couple of incompletely-chilled bottles of Cold Duck, inspiring us that it might be fun to drive “home” for the holiday, culminating with my hanging out an opened passenger door and bending over as I puked my guts out on the shoulder of I-90 amid an early-season blizzard.

    Or a more recent Thanksgiving, just a years before this Roof- Collapsing one, which happened to fall the day before Moving Day (to this then-intact place.) Realizing that the kids weren’t going to have much of a Christmas that year – even more strapped for dough than usual, with the first and last month’s rent, security deposit, etc.– I was determined they would get at least the semblance of a real Thanksgiving “with all the trimmings.” Except I still had last-minute packing to do, plus cleaning two residences: the one we were leaving and the one we were moving to. No time to roast a turkey. The compromise was something called a “Turkey Roast,” supposedly simpler and easier to prepare. Pop it into the oven, and voila!

    Needless to say, it was not the Real Thing, not that I expected compliments or anything. But even though he knew I was exhausted, overworked, tense as prison guard the first day on the job, Mac could not resist coming out with his trademark snide remarks, supposedly trying to “be funny.” “Hmmph! That’s a turkey? It looks like the game ball from the Army-Navy Game of 1935.”

    In spite of all of that, Thanksgiving is still my favorite holiday. Designating one day out of 365 to express gratitude: I buy that. I’m for it, whole-heartedly, one hundred per cent. All right, so we never had a bridal registry-type list of a million material possessions to be thankful for, not us. It’s difficult to “count your blessings” when one is mired in the quicksand of poverty, which has a way of sinking down below mere inconvenience and beyond squalor into unrelieved hardship. But.

    But that’s the point where a person can only appreciate the Basics of Survival: a hot meal now and then, a roof (or a partial one) overhead, a warm bed, a semi-clean blanket. And I find myself in the unique position of being grateful not for what I have but what I don’t have: for instance, that my children and my spouse and I are not completely blind or deaf or incapacitated, that we don’t live in some godforsaken place like North Korea or Ebola-plagued west Africa. Or Texas. That I’m not addicted to drugs and that I can survive without alcohol. That nobody died in front of my eyes this year. That somehow I have escaped the kind of disaster that thoroughly ruins lives, cosmically speaking, and that all the destructive, horrible, and terrifying things that could have happened never did.

  2. #2
    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    I've never understood why we adjust our clocks in the spring and the fall. There are places on the planet such as Phoenix, Arizona, that don't bother and they seem to get alone fine.

    Regarding a turkey, your description convinces me it is better to be a vegetarian.

    I am also grateful for what I don't have. The list is longer if one is imaginative.

    Very nice story.

  3. #3
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    I enjoyed your story too, but probably will from now on regard the Christmas turkey (we don´t celebrate Thanksgiving here) with other eyes.
    And I agree that we have to be thankful every day for "all the destructive, horrible, and terrifying things that could have happened never did."
    I read on another thread that you are trying to collect all your stories. Maybe it would be good to store them also on a second place, maybe a blog in case something happens to the site, as the idea of publishing a book didn´t work.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

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    Quote Originally Posted by Danik 2016 View Post
    I enjoyed your story too, but probably will from now on regard the Christmas turkey (we don´t celebrate Thanksgiving here) with other eyes.
    And I agree that we have to be thankful every day for "all the destructive, horrible, and terrifying things that could have happened never did."
    I read on another thread that you are trying to collect all your stories. Maybe it would be good to store them also on a second place, maybe a blog in case something happens to the site, as the idea of publishing a book didn´t work.
    That's actually a good idea, Danik - a blog as a place to store your stories.

  5. #5
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Many LitNetters have one already, DW. There are lots of treasures here: entire strands of the Lymerick thread, isolated poems, short stories, novels original pictures and interesting discussion threads like "Astronomy". This material will all be lost, if not stored somewhere else in the event of the site closing.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  6. #6
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    I have several blogs of my own, so I understand all that.

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