Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No More Turkeys

Beware of turkeys bearing turkeys


"Somebody answer the phone!" I lug the twenty-two pound turkey into the kitchen, plop it on the breadboard and drop my keys. The phone screams a fourth ring.

"Hi, this is Ned," a husky voice greets me.

"Hi, Ned," my arms ache from carrying in the bulky groceries. I hunch my shoulders to release the tension.

"My company gave me a turkey and if you're, you know, not... "I pause and listen. "I thought I could bring it over and we could have Thanksgiving together." I peek at the frozen tom headless on the chopping board.

"Sure Ned that would be great." I fake enthusiasm.

"I make killer mashed potatoes and gravy." Oh, my stomach remembers - potatoes loaded with sour cream, shredded cheese, whole milk and "I Can't Believe it's Not Butter".

I reach to the cupboard and scout out the Maalox supply.

"How about one o'clock then Thanksgiving Day?" The trap is set. "And Neddy's coming, too. Is that all right?"

"Sure." What's another kid I concede. "Pumpkin pie, okay?"

I turn back to the groceries and make mental rearrangements in my mind for a couple more people on Thanksgiving Day. I grab bags of cranberries and toss them into the refrigerator.

"Buy out the store?" Krista checks through the brown paper packages on the kitchen table. She snatches an orange and jabs a fingernail into the peel. "While you were out Kyle, your hiking pal, stopped by with a turkey. Something about 'he got it at work and thought we might like to have it'."

"A turkey?" 

"I put it in the freezer." Orange peels drop and the fragrant juice lotions her fingers.

I open the freezer door and a twelve-pound turkey wrapped in white plastic fills the left corner. I shove packages to the rear.

"I think he was sort of hoping we'd invite him to Thanksgiving dinner." She rummages through groceries and stacks cans on the table.

"Hmm? Ned and his son are coming." I finger count the guests - two plus four. That's six at the table. I count chairs - six.

"Not Neddy, Mom!" She pops a finger down her throat and gags.

"Stop that." Memory tells me the kid turns my stomach, too. "It's Thanksgiving and nobody should be alone. Besides they're bringing a turkey also."

"But what's that on the breadboard?" The card-special-turkey for $5.99 glistens with frost. "Isn't that a turkey?"

"Afraid so." I tap my finger on the counter, open the freezer door and say, "Move over Tom. Here comes your bud."

"That makes three turkeys." Krista shakes her head. "We're going to be eating turkey sandwiches forever."

"And don't forget the soup." We laugh and remember we hate turkey sandwiches. "I guess I better call Kyle. We'll squeeze him in somewhere."

The days grow long, the shadows play over the sidewalk and Thanksgiving Day arrives. I check the television guide for the Thanksgiving parade time and NFL football. Pumpkin pies cool on the counter, the broccoli casserole is mixed and ready to bake and the first batch of dishes is washed. I scrub and cook for hours.

My sons, Kent and Jake, put a leaf in the table, bring in the picnic table benches, arrange candles and the mood is set.

"Time to get Tom cooking." I say.

A seasoned pro better than the herb stuffing, I pull the knobs from the burners, lift the chrome face off the stove and turn on the oven. I grasp two bare wires, tap them to the metal griddle and hot- wire the oven. The old stove sparks; the gas ignites. I get down on all fours, lower the broiler door and bend my head sideways. I double check, the gas flame flickers - good. I slip the dismantled parts back in place and applaud my survival skills - a master makeshift repairman.

Kent watches the ritual and frowns, "Mom, you're going to blow us up someday."

I bake for hours in the kitchen, apron tied around waist, turkey stuffed and popped in the oven. The crippled stove struggles to maintain gas supply to all the burners and oven. I hear the slight poof on the gas line and adjust the temperature. Poof gone.

Ned and little Ned arrive arms full of goodies. Kyle turns on the football game - a Thanksgiving Day tradition.

"Mom, come quick!" Krista kneels on the sofa and watches through the mini-blinds.

"What's the problem?" I drop my rolling pin, brush flour against my face and run to the living room.

She separates a blind. I bend to peek. "There's a guy coming up the walk with a turkey in his hands."

"Not another one." We stare.

"And he's got a dog."

"You know who that is don't you?" I nudge her shoulder. "That's the single guy down the street. You know, what's his name with the immaculate yard and white fence."

"Ahh…look. It's just a puppy."

The door bell chimes and I answer. Guy and dog with turkey on doorstep, unfair strategy.

"Hi, I live down the street." He extends a firm grip and the dog wags its tail. "I won this turkey at the local department store and since I'm all alone I thought maybe you could…it's fresh." He pushes the lifeless flesh in my arms. "I brought champagne, too."

I stand plump with poultry.

"Boy, something sure smells good." He lingers on the doorstep. "Reminds me when I was a kid and our entire family…did I tell you I'm Italian?" His gaze drops to the ground. "Anyway, we had great get togethers before they all moved away." He pats the eager pup behind the ears. "Now it's just DaShiell and me."

I kneel down and stroke the flaps of skin on the toddler bloodhound. Front paws straddle my shoulders and a tongue tickles my chin. I turn to the man attached to the leash, "And you must be…"


I perch my hands on my hands and wait. There's got to be more. I wait for a pipe and sleuth coat to materialize. Nothing. I gaze at the scar etched along his temple; the rogue hair poking from his brow. Still, he offers no more.

"Well then, come on in Sam. The football game's just getting started."

He ties his partner in crime to the porch, steps in and kicks off his loafers. Clean socks, no exposed toes, good touch.

"Everyone, this is Sam. He's coming to dinner." Hands wave. Sons and male friends root and swear from the living room floor and couch.

"DaShiell. What kind of name is that for a dog?" I head to the kitchen, arms freezing with turkey, Krista at my heels.

"Babe bait, Mom."

"Ma, I think you better tone down your scent of a woman or something." Jake pokes his head around the corner. "We're running out of chairs."

"Like I said 'babe bait'." Krista scoots pies to the left window corner and I drop the bird on the counter. "Now we have four turkeys." she gasps.

"Krista," I pull her deep into the room of treats and roasting turkey and whisper, "Beware of turkeys bearing turkeys--especially single ones." I pour a tall glass of champagne and the bubbles pop under my nose.

Krista looks at the three men complete with kid and dog cheering the holiday game. "These guys think you're dessert, don't they?" eyes wide with discovery.

With a sigh I lean against the ceramic counter and swirl the gold liquid in the fluted glass. "It also means they're hungry and don't know how to cook."

"Say where's your friend Arlene today? Maybe she'd like to come over."

"Oh didn't I tell you? She stopped in for some cajun wings at the Chicken Palace last week and she met-"

"Not Denny?"

"Worse. She hooked up with Sly, the cook." I grab my chest and swoon against the counter, "She's 'in love'."


"Well at least for this week."

"What about Jodie?" She starts down my list of girl pals.

"Nah, she flew home to Iowa for the holidays." I count again the men in the front room. "Forget it, we're on our own kid."

Shouts and loud clapping travel from the front room. Score one for the favored team; score zero for Mom.

The kitchen phone rings and I tuck the headset against my shoulder. "Hello?"

Happy Thanksgiving." A melodic voice returns.

"Hi Maggie. I haven't heard from you in awhile. This is a surprise." I wink at Krista and motion for her to mash the sweet potatoes.

"Yeah, I know my Dad and I've been busy." The teen stumbles on her apology, "but we, I mean, I was wondering are you making your broccoli casserole today?"

I look through the glass window of the oven door. The casserole bubbles, the edges golden brown. "Where are you going for Thanksgiving dinner, Maggie?"

"I'm making dinner for my Dad and me," again a pause.

"And what are you making?" I hesitate to know.

"We haven't gone to the store yet." Her voice drops, "You know my Dad, 'there's always tomorrow'."

"You haven't gone shopping?" The hands on the clock extend well past 2:00pm. "Would you and your Dad like to join us for dinner?" I swing the cabinet door open and bring out two more place settings. "However, there's one catch."

"I can make a salad. I have a bag of lettuce." The girl pleads.

"Salad's wonderful," I shove my mix of greens back in the refrigerator. "Tell your Dad if he'd like to come to dinner he has to call me first. You know he hasn't called in over five months."

"He's such a putz." We laugh, hang up and seconds later...

"This is Bob. I was just calling to say hello."

"Bob? Oh, hello. This is a surprise." I feign excitement. I drag another bench along the linoleum and rearrange the table display. "I hear you're coming to dinner. Great. Would you mind stopping at the store for a pie?" I nudge Krista, smile and add, "Seems dessert is a popular item on the menu today."

"Sure…" the familiar click of an electronic goodbye.

"Men." Krista shakes her head. "Maybe we should disconnect the phone?"

"Nah, just check caller ID." We nod in agreement. "We won't answer anymore numbers from guys in want of a hot meal."

"Or dessert," she pops an olive in her mouth and laughs.

"Okay, so now we have ten for dinner." I pour another glass of champagne. "And we ain't even Italian."

"Well, at least Kent and Jake will be happy," Krista mocks Maggie's full bosom, "Little Ms. let-your-boobs-hang-out is coming over." 
Ah yes, teenage sons.
The smells of the day take over the house. Ned hauls in his potato offering, Kyle stirs gravy and Sam takes a bowl of water to DaShiell. We wait for Bob and Maggie to arrive.

The oven goes poof-poof-poof.

I check on the turkey. The legs stiff, not wiggling freely, I pop it back in for another twenty minutes. The football game continues.

We nibble on snacks and watch the fire dance in the fireplace. I walk outside and take an up and down peek along the street. No Bob and Maggie.

The hour hits four. We gather for dinner and give thanks. Sam carves the steaming bird empty of stuffing and everyone grabs a fork.

A solid knock on the front door interrupts the meal. Already knowing who is on the other side, I push back my chair and leave my napkin on the seat.

"Hi Maggie," I give the girl a hug, her breasts bare just above the nipple line. "We're just starting to eat. Come on in." I shoot Bob a 'how dare you' look. I swear it flies over his head and keeps going West.

"Happy Turkey Day," he hands me a mincemeat pie, boasts a bottle of Boone's Farm Fuzzy Navel and lands a three-second kiss on my lips.

"Here, let me uncork the wine for you." Kyle greets the newcomer with a corkscrew.

"No problem. I got it." With a quick twist Bob turns the bottle cap and pours the orange liquid into his glass. "Anybody?" He holds up the beverage.

We shuffle chairs and Bob plops down at the head of the table. Kyle, Sam and Ned frown.

"Mom?" Krista swirls her fork in her yams and leans shoulder to shoulder, "I think you have a problem." She glances at the three men.

I cut my turkey and whisper, "it's going to get better."

"Man, that was a great football game." Ned pours gravy over three of the nine items on his plate.

"Yeah, that last play was about the best I've seen in a long time." Kyle relives the final touchdown.

"I didn't think the wide receiver had a chance of catching that ball." Kent motions a long pass with a buttered roll.

"Foosball, foosball, foosball." Bob drones.

"You don't like football?" Sam plants the question and waits.

"What guy doesn't like football?" Ned scores a point. "Gosh, remember when Montana--"

I raise the bottle high and look to shift the conversation. "More wine?"

I watch the men and study the selection of guys-wanting-to-be-mine.

Ned toting double six-packs of blubber under what might be a taunt six-pack. Not a muscle in sight. Neddy flings a pea from his fork. The pea lands in Jake's hair.

No, not Ned or son.

Bob, lopsided beard, hole in pant's pocket, nice guy but always a day late. Single father of adolescent girl. Non-football fan.

No chance.

Kyle spoons a large mound of stuffing into his mouth. He lifts his wineglass for a fourth refill. His elbow slips from the table.

Sam sits across from me. The late afternoon sun highlights gray strands woven in his thick dark waves. The bulge of his biceps expands the thin cloth of his knit shirt as he passes the Jello salad.

Hmm? Man and dog.

Dinner disappears amid stifled and superficial conversation. We rub swollen stomachs and clear the table.

"That was delicious, " Ned cuddles me from behind and adds, "How about I take a look under the hood of your car. Isn't it pinging or something?" He squeezes my waist and moves in closer.

"That would be wonderful Ned. " I turn, my hands covered with soapsuds and pull back. "I do think it needs a tune-up." He gives me a peck, asks for the keys and heads for the driveway.

Krista dries a dish. "Where's he going?"

"He's going to where all guys go on Thanksgiving after the football games, after the dinner," I nod towards the front yard. "To work on cars. What else is left."

"Mom come take a look," again we peek out the blinds. "Bob's out there, too."

"Not Bob?" I lean back, sit on the couch and laugh tears to my cheek. "He hates working on cars."

"He must really want you Mom."

"Observe and learn daughter-of-mine." I pull open the door and hear Bob shop-talk spark plugs. Ned ups the ante with precise documentation of fuel-injection engines. Kyle contradicts the stats and the conversation escalates.

"This is funny." She stands next to me, looking at the male beast tote its feathers. "Even DaShiell's doing tricks." The puppy jumps sideways in the air and snags a rubber disc.

"And look over there," I point to the over-developed Maggie smiling sweetly at my sons. "She's got the boys right where she wants them." The boys wash and wax her silver Tercel.

'Men." Krista giggles and notes, "Looks like you've got four admirers."

"Yep," I curl my arm around her shoulder.

"They don't stand a chance, do they Mom?" She looks at the flock of men.

"They're great friends, but no," and then with another look, "Well, maybe Sam. Ugly dog. Still -" something about that duo intrigues.

She sports a thumbs-up on my choice.

"What else needs fixing around here?" She eyes the house and turns to me.

"Let's see -- the fence is falling down and the bathroom faucet drips." I chalk up all the repairs and start making a list. "And then there's the stove."

"I'll get the toolbox, Mom." Krista hurries out the backdoor and returns with a metal box.

"Oh Bob," I call from the porch, "Kyle? Do you have a minute?"

I turn to Krista and add, "Thanksgiving's a day to give thanks and remember one can have too many turkeys."

Copyright 2003 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I'm Not Broken

Reprinted in memory of Mom - July 9, 1920 - October 31, 2011 - who believed in more than a little...
"But what're you going to do? You need to get a regular job." I held the receiver away from my ear as Mom's voice spiked.
Mom, the original fix-her-upper I swallowed my thought.
“You’ve got to fit into the mold.”
“I’m not broken, just broke. Those are two different things." The conversation continued; a circle of unlike minds.
"You should be a secretary."
"Mom," I braced my feet on the floor and prepared for the rebuttal. "I’m not a cubicle kind of person.”
"You've got to work." The words stung.
"I do work. Writing’s a job and I like it." The argument unending, I listened for a few more stanzas of 'your life doesn't meet the norm'.
"You're not supposed to like your job. You need money. How are you going to pay your bills?"
I looked at the pile of envelopes marked 'past due', 'friendly notice', 'forget something'?
"They'll get paid, someday." I shoved the mound of envelopes to the floor. "Just believe in me a little."
“What about the kids?”
A single mom with two sons and a daughter, I was determined to stay at home and make my dual career of mom and provider work. Divorced or not, my kids needed a face to come home to after school and that face would be mine. 
"What about medical coverage?"
"Mom, I've got to go… "My voice trailed away as I put down the phone and whispered to the now silent one, "Quit trying to fix me."
I turned to my pile of work. A brochure needed updating, a manual transcribed, a database reorganized. Granted, not the creative writer I envisioned.  Merely a broom keeper for other people’s words on a page: a cleanup person following prescribed protocols. Meantime, a story churned in my head.
Settled in my chair, I watched the computer screen come to life, greeting me with a cornucopia of icons:  Yahoo, Nero and iTunes smiled an unspoken good morning. I welcomed the familiar images like gossip over a copy machine. The array of characters stared, tempting me to play. Enjoying the break from solitude, I jumped into the game, hit the Internet search key and entered the word – hello. 
Returns of hello in languages known and obscure popped up: Konnichi Wa, Goeie dag and Jou San. A collection of Hello Kitty items blanketed a bookshelf. A site simple in name, Hello by Esao Andrews, superb in design, captured my attention, and I paused to explore the creativity.
Intrigued, I sipped my coffee and noted. I had a friend named Hello.
"Anyone else like me out there?" My fingers clicked the letters in place.
A prompt begged "where do I want to go?"
"I want to find people like me. People who think beyond nine to five, stock options and 401 plans," a tear trickled down my cheek and I thumbed it away. "Someone who thinks it's okay for me to be me."
I hit the Internet connection and typed my question in the search box. The computer hunted and returned with an offer of a personal advice counselor. Nope. Got one of those.
I entered "Writers", hit search and waited again. I dipped a scone in my French Roast, nibbled the dry pastry and leaned, elbows on table, towards the computer. Stunned, I reeled in my chair. What's this?
Hundred of writers. Writers in coffeehouses, chat rooms, workshops, E-groups. I scrolled down the list and clicked into several web pages, discovering sites for grammar, publishers, and freelance jobs. Reaching out towards the screen, my fingertip touched the word writer. A slight current traveled up my arm and I lingered--a connection.
"May I join?" I posted my request, hit send and reclined back in my chair, holding onto the base, exhilarated.
A bright message popped on the screen. "Pull up a chair and stay awhile."
Thrilled, I settled in, posted work and waited anxiously for comments and peer validation. What’s this? I was labeled the queen of purple prose, descriptive repetition and head-hopping. I scrambled grammar and made my cyber classmates pull hair and scream down invisible corridors. Embarrassed, I withered in my seat in the back row of web sites. 
"You have tautology." The message in caps shouted.
"I have what?" I bent for the dictionary, flipped through the alphabet and gasped, "I have tautology."
Recognizing my rusty skills, I enrolled in online workshops, accepted the challenge to clean up my court of illuminating phrases, and forged forward. I learned my point-of-view, story structure and beginnings, middles and ends. Armed with knowledge, I grabbed a seat in the front row of URLs.
Still, I massacred commas and frustrated new friends with fragments and hanging participles. I nosed into a grammar site, polishing grade school skills with bone-headed exercises of independent and dependent clauses. I scribbled and wrote, getting characters out of my head. Confident, I stepped to the plate a player. With the best, I provided feedback, offered suggestions, and soon decided to enter a short piece in a contest.
I typed and created. I printed to proof, drew rivers of red lines on my paper and revised. I ran back to the computer - cut, paste, and delete my mantra. The deadline loomed. Echoes of 'write tight' kept me focused. The hours ticked down. Persistent, I formatted the manuscript, packaged the entry and chased down the mailman--my entry on the way.
The months passed and the list of winners arrived; my first rejection notice tumbled to the carpet. I performed a ceremonial dance to my success; my left hip crippled for days, I downed Tylenol cocktails.
"I'm in the game," I circulated a short note to my friends. "I got my first rejection notice."
Words of support, smiling faces and emoticons tagged the moment. The camaraderie system in place, I sent out a selection of short articles and soon a check arrived. I copied and enlarged the pay-to-the-order document and stopped at the store for a frame. Breathless, I hit "my E-groups" and shared the news. E-cards of congratulations and ‘great job’ poured in from Australia, Mississippi, and New York.
My mailbox burst with rejoicing. Unknown faces in unseen places--present in my heart, we had a party of many in my room of one.
Between congratulations the bedroom phone rang and I trekked down the hallway. I caught my breath as my feet followed.
"I was wondering how you're doing?" The scrape of mom's kitchen chair across the tile floor told me we were in for a long chat. “The ladies at church have been praying just for you.”
“Thanks,” I dropped to the bed and curled against a pillow. "I'm just having a party with some friends."
"That's wonderful. Did you get a new job?"
"I guess I did." I switched ears, the right one flattened by the headset.
"Does this one pay well?" A pause on the long-distance line followed.
"It pays pittance." I gazed at the framed check hanging crooked on the wall. "But it has great benefits."
"That's wonderful news. So you have medical insurance and vacation time?" The excitement in her voice told me I graduated off her prayer list.
Struggling for the answer, I said, "Well, not really."
"Then stock options and a good commute?" She searched for the mix of conventional benefits. "Nice boss?"
"The job comes with a terrific group of friends." On a roll, I continued, "I'm working with writers that think like me. Imagine that?" My adrenaline pumped.
"So you're still broke." I sensed a dip in her enthusiasm, my name back on her prayer list.
"Yes, I'm broke but I'm not broken." I jumped from the bed and affirmed, "I'm complete."
"I don't understand your world but if you're happy then so am I." Mom's unrelenting faith reached across the miles and wrapped around me.
Embraced in her words, I smiled and said, “Mom, I sold my first story.”
 ...she believed in me.
Copyright 2003