Emend by Eclipse
Copyright© 2021 by Lazlo Zalezac
November 24, 1977
An odd kind of emotion appears in parents of young men and women who are about to venture out on their own. It is most pronounced during holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. There’s this sense that the family is starting to fragment with a child leaving the nest. As a result, there is a tendency to demand all of the children appear at home during the holidays.
Sandra’s parents were coming to the realization that their daughter was already testing her wings in preparation for flying from the nest. Not only was she going to be in college next year, but at 18 she was already half owner of a house. She was talking about purchasing another house in a year. Her father’s own brother was her biggest cheerleader in getting the second house. They were confident this would be her last Thanksgiving at home. They wanted her at home, not her and her friends as was becoming more common.
Cathy’s parents didn’t care. The spawn of Satan was gone from the house and good riddance at that. There was absolutely no attempt to contact her since she had left home. Cathy was hurt by that, but she was moving on. She had an odd kind of family with a girlfriend (lover), a boyfriend (not a lover), and a male friend (not a lover, but a lover to her girlfriend). She didn’t think it was possible to explain it to anyone and have it make sense. However, those three had filled the hole that had been left in her life by her biological family. Tim was her friendly uncle. Benny was her distant father, but a father who was always there when she needed him. Sandra was her spouse. She had lost a mother when Gladys died, and she missed the elderly woman a lot.
Tim’s mother realized that family was about to scatter to the four winds. Katy lived at home and it wasn’t clear when she would leave. Tim was obviously going to be leaving to live on his own, early in the coming summer. Calvin had found a temporary job out of town, working for a small aircraft repair shop. She paid for his ticket to return home for Thanksgiving. This, she felt, was going to be the last Thanksgiving as a family.
Benny’s parents saw that Benny had already left home without so much as a single glance back. He was in his own house, paying his own way through college, and making nearly as much money as his father. His mother wanted him home for the holiday. The invitation, or summons, had been rather awkward.
“What are your plans for Thanksgiving?”
“I don’t know.”
“I want you to come here.”
She had not expected him to capitulate that easily. Surprised, she asked, “What about your girlfriend? Don’t you want to spend it with her?”
“I guess. I’ll ask her if she wants to come with me.”
That was not what his mother meant, but she’d accept that. At least Benny was coming home for the holiday. She didn’t mind if he brought his girlfriend along. After a moment of thought, she realized they had been dating for quite a while. Hopefully, she might be attending a wedding when he graduated college.
She said, “Call me when you know if she’s coming.”
There was a long pause of silence. Finally, she said, “Goodbye, Benny.”
It was a few days later when he called to let her know that Cathy would come over with him for Thanksgiving. It was a short call in which he told her that Cathy was coming and then hung up with a quick goodbye. She later called the office and talked to Cathy to find out if there were any food allergies or Thanksgiving food preferences.
Now Benny and Cathy were seated at the table waiting for the food to be delivered. His mother was shuttling back and forth from the kitchen bringing out side dishes of all kinds. Then she finally brought out the turkey. She placed the platter in front of Benny’s father and went to her seat.
Cathy wasn’t sure what to expect next. Thanksgiving at her parent’s house hadn’t been a real family holiday. The hostility from mother to daughter was still there during the holidays, but the expression of it was muted as if the fact that it was a holiday required some kind of pretense of civility. It was more of a cold war than a hot war.
Benny’s father asked, “Who would like to say grace?”
Benny looked around. Cathy looked down at her plate. Lana said, “I will.”
“Lord, we thank you for this food. We thank you that Benny has moved away from home. Amen.”
There was a long awkward pause before everyone echoed, “Amen.”
“Lana, that wasn’t very nice.”
“I covered the essentials.”
Confused, Benny asked, “What was wrong with it?”
Four pairs of eyes turned to stare at him. Cathy said, “I think your sister was a little blunt about her feelings concerning your moving away.”
“So? She’s never liked me being here. Why shouldn’t she be happy that I’m gone?”
“Never mind,” Cathy said while patting him on the hand.
Benny’s mother said, “Let’s share what we’re all thankful for.”
Lana said, “Benny moved away from home.”
Benny’s father said, “I’m thankful for my loving family. I’m grateful for our continued good health. I’m thankful that I have a good job that allows me to support my family.”
Benny said, “Cathy, Tim, and Sandra.”
No one commented that family wasn’t on his list of things for which he was thankful. They would have expected him to say he was thankful for his success in earning money since he seemed to spend so much time trying to accumulate wealth.
Without missing a beat, Cathy said, “Benny, Tim, and Sandra.”
The fact was that she was grateful for them. In a very real way, she felt they had saved her life. Sandra loved her. Benny and Tim had interposed themselves between her and society, protecting her from the condemnation that her different way of loving would have brought down upon her. They had taken steps to remove her from the toxic environment created by her parents. She was very grateful, indeed.
Benny’s mother said, “Family and our continued good health.”
In what was probably a tradition in half the families in the country, Benny’s father rose to carve the turkey. No one spoke while they watched him saw at it with the knife. His knife wasn’t exactly a carving knife and it wasn’t all that sharp. It tended to tear the meat apart rather than cut it. He slowly disassembled the bird into slices of white and dark meat, two legs, two thighs, and two wings. Like he did every year, he swore that he would get a real carving knife before the next holiday.
Once he sat down, Lana reached for the mashed potatoes which were sitting in front of her and said, “I can’t wait to eat.”
Looking appreciatively, Cathy said, “Everything looks so wonderful. I wish I had been here earlier so you could have showed me how you prepared the turkey.”
His mother said, “Maybe you can come over at Christmas. I’ll cook another turkey then.”
“That would be wonderful,” Cathy said.
The food was passed around and the plates were loaded. Comments were made about how delicious each of the dishes looked. There were comments about which dishes were favorites. Everyone dug in and started eating. Cathy had to admit that the food was outstanding. Gladys had shown her how to roast a chicken, but not a turkey. The stuffing was delicious and she definitely wanted to learn how to make that. Gladys had taught her how to make dark gravy, but not the light gravy for turkey. She had taught her how to make sausage gravy for biscuits and gravy.
They ate without conversation. As they slowly stopped eating, the conversation resumed.
“Benny, how’s college going?”
“Any tough courses?”
“Are you enjoying your classes?”
“Any interesting or outstanding professors?”
Benny’s father gave up on that line of conversation. He should have known better. He turned to Cathy and asked, “So are you in college?”
“No. I’m a senior in high school.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that.”
“I fell in with an older man,” Cathy said trying to be humorous.
Lana said, “You fell in with an odder man.”
Her father looked disapprovingly at Lana, shook his head and then turned to face Cathy. “Do you have any college plans?”
Cathy answered, “Yes. I’m going to join Benny in college. I’m planning on majoring in accounting.”
“That’s real nice. There are a lot of women in bookkeeping,” Benny’s father said.
Interjecting herself into the conversation, Lana said, “I’m going to college to become a teacher.”
“That’s good, Lana,” her father said.
Benny’s father said, “I guess you’re probably worried about moving away from your parents.”
Benny’s mother had not warned him not to talk about her parents. She knew that Cathy was estranged from her parents and was living alone.
“She lives on her own,” Benny said.
“She does?” Benny’s father asked surprised to learn that a high school student lived alone.
Benny’s mother explained, “She’s estranged from her parents.”
Thinking she’d take another shot at Benny, Lana said, “If she’s hooked up with Benny, then she’s strange in other ways.”
Everyone ignored Lana.
Benny answered, “Her mother is insane. She was trying to force Cathy to commit suicide. Her father stood by and watched. Judge Lane thought it best to remove her from her parent’s house.”
Cathy said, “Benny was wonderful through it all. He helped make arrangements with the lawyer, found a place for me to live, and provided a job so I could support myself. He’s always been there for me. He just helped me buy my house.”
“You have a house?”
“It’s not one of those fix-it yourself places like Benny is living in, is it?”
“No. It’s a nice house a couple of blocks from here.”
“You can afford to live in this neighborhood?”
“Yes, I can.”
“You must be doing quite well to afford to do that,” Benny’s father said.
He thought that Benny was doing pretty well to own one of those fix-it yourself houses. To purchase a house for a dollar, back taxes, and the repair costs was quite a good deal. It was the kind of deal that a young man might be able to finagle. Yet for a young woman still in high school to purchase a home in an upper middle class neighborhood like this was almost unheard of.
“I guess I am,” Cathy said. “I tend to get caught up in all of the work, and fail to take stock of all that I’ve accomplished.”
Benny’s mother said, “You and Benny have been going together for a long time. Are there any wedding bells in the future, by any chance?”