It had been a frenetic week.  Clearing out, cleaning up.  Perhaps because there were so many of us, the job took three times as long. I’d toss something in the “Throw Away” pile and a cousin would walk by, see it and move it into the “Sell/Give away” box.  Then a sister would see it and carry it to the “Keep/Preserve.”  I’d discover it there and toss it back into “Throw Away.”  We tried not to think too much about what we were doing.  At least once an hour we’d misplace a cousin and find her underneath the stairs or behind locked bathroom doors in a torrent of tears.

I’d been doing pretty well.  Until I found Grampa’s carving knife. Then it was my turn to disappear for a while.

I went to my favourite corner coffee shop. It had a large glassy storefront filled with light for those in the mood to celebrate.  But it also had little dark recesses in the back for those who wanted solitude.  My cappuccino forgotten on the coffee table in front of me, I sat on an overstuffed sofa, staring at the carving knife on my lap. Tears meandered down my face, dropping onto my sweatshirt, creating two dark patches.

I was startled out my reverie by a stranger, a young woman who’d been sitting in another corner typing away on her laptop.  She’d abandoned her endeavours to plop herself down next to me.  My initial response was a flare of anger.  How dare anybody bother me!  Then I looked up into her face and saw such kindness and concern there.  My temper melted with her soft words, “Are you okay?  Can I help?”

Hastily I wiped away the tears I’d allow to stream down my face.  She offered me a napkin and I unceremoniously blew my nose.  “Thank you,” I muttered, trying hard to sound sincere.  There was a brief silence and then “My grampa died.” were the only words I could manage before the tears overwhelmed me again.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. And she put her arm around my shoulder.  “He must have been a very special man.”  An hour later we were still there, sipping fresh cappuccinos.  She was an excellent listener.

“Funny,” I said to Donna (that was the young lady’s name), “how an inanimate object can hold so many memories.” I caressed the knife. “Grampa used this knife to carve every turkey at every Thanksgiving of my life.  This meal, Thanksgiving dinner, which was always served at two in the afternoon at Gramma and Grampa’s house, will always be my favourite and the one which holds the most cherished memories.

“We would arrive at G&G’s house by noon. Mom would have baked an apple pie, for those who (unpatriotically, I thought) didn’t care for the perfect pumpkin pies Aunt Betty would bring. The rich aroma of cooking turkey would greet us at the door and Grampa would call out, ‘Biggest yet! She’s a whopping 24 pounder!’ Dad would mutter under his breath, as he spent much of his day doing, that it was a Tom.

I’d run to the kitchen, straight into Grampa’s arms. Grampa would be wearing one of Gramma’s frilly aprons. Every other day of the year Gramma was in charge of the kitchen. But Thanksgiving was Grampa’s day. ‘Hey, Punkin!’ he’d sing. ‘Sausage and oyster stuffing this year! Take a look!’ and he’s proudly open the oven door for just a second. Not that I could see much as the bird was covered with a tinfoil tent that would only be removed the last 30 minutes of baking.

“’Ready to get to work, buddy?’ he’d ask, tying another of Gramma’s aprons around me. And that was that. While the rest of the family chatted and drank and ate the little appetisers Grampa had scattered around the house, the two of us would prepare the meal. When I was very young I was in charge of putting the olives, carrot sticks and pickle slices in a special sectioned serving bowl. I could stir the gravy, set the tables, tear the lettuce leaves and fetch ingredients from the fridge.

“Then, when everything was done to perfection and the turkey was ready to be carved, Grampa would take his carving knife and show me again how it is done.  He would beautifully cut the white meat from the bone in perfectly even slices.  Next he would move on to the dark meat, filling another platter with succulent morsels of meat.  I would call everyone to the tables.  As they assembled, Grampa would take the carving knife and clean it before sliding it back into its sheath.  ‘Always clean your knife when you finish,’ he’d say to me every single year.  Then he would carry out the white meat and I followed him with the dark.

“As I got older Grampa gave me more and more responsibilities. After Gramma died I became his sounding board for recipes. ‘What do you think about chestnut stuffing with dried cranberries?’ he’d ask during one of our phone conversations as early as July. And in the last years of his life, when the family insisted that Thanksgiving dinner was just too much for the old man to handle, I’d assure them that I would do most of the work, and Grampa and I were granted another year of camaraderie in the kitchen.  But it was always Grampa’s honour to carve the bird.

“Last year in February Grampa moved into a ‘retirement home.’ Uncle John packed most of the things Grampa wouldn’t need anymore into boxes and shoved them into the basement. Cousin Jason and his bride moved into Grampa’s house while Grampa decided what to do with the place. I visited Grampa several times a month, neither of us daring to bring up the subject of Thanksgiving. In September Aunt Pat sent out word through the family grapevine that she would be hosting Thanksgiving at her home. She called me a week later and asked if I would collect Grampa and bring him. A lump caught in my throat but I agreed.

“Grampa and I were silent most of the way to Aunt Pat’s house. When we got there we were ceremoniously shown to seats in the living room and brought drinks and chips. ‘Do you need any help?’ Grampa asked. ‘No, no,’ Aunt Pat reassured him. ‘We’re covered. You just sit and relax.’ The food was good, the fellowship was nice, but the turkey was carved in the most appalling fashion.  There weren’t any slices, just lumps of meat.

“Grampa died last week.  He got a bad cold that moved into his lungs.  We had the funeral on Saturday.  We’ve been clearing out Grampa’s things. I thought the worst was over.  I thought I cried every tear I could ever cry.  But then,”  I held up the knife, “I found this.”

After a significant pause, Donna whispered, “I’m glad you found it.  I am sure that he would want you to have it!”

 

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Today’s assignment:   Tell us about your favourite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.       Today’s twist: Tell the story in your own distinct voice.

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