A Weekly Column
Joseph Walker


Mom had The Gift.  So did Dad, only his gift was different from Mom’s.  But every Thanksgiving their gifts came together in a wondrous mix of the temporal and the divine.

For Mom, that meant cooking.  Mom wasn’t just a good cook; she was an artist.  She could take Spam and do thinks with it that made you wish there really was such a thing as a Spam animal — and that you had been born one. She could turn a pot of beans and a few hot dogs into a dish so extraordinary you thought perhaps you would order beanie-weenies the next time you dined at the Ritz.  And her liver and onions . . . trust me.  Heaven.

Thanksgiving, then, provided Mom with the perfect canvas for the full palette of her culinary colors.  The turkey was hand-basted and stuffed with made-from-scratch dressing.  The potatoes — real potatoes — were mashed and covered with her rich stewed chicken gravy.  The yams were brown sugar-glazed and covered with enough gooey melted marshmallows to almost make them palatable to a confirmed non-yammer like me.  Then there were the homemade rolls, apricot jam, mustard pickles and pumpkin, banana cream and coconut cream pies. It was always incredible — and incredibly good.  Think of her as Michelangelo, and Thanksgiving dinner as her David.  Only she created her David every year for more than 40 years.

Dad’s special gift was less appetizing, but it was every bit as much a part of our Thanksgiving tradition.  Dad was a praying man.  And not your common, ordinary, “now I lay me down to sleep” sort of a praying man.  When Dad prayed, angels stopped whatever they were doing to take notes.  In my lifetime I’ve heard Dad pray lost dogs home, lost businesses solvent and lost children righteous.  He was to praying what Michael Jordan was to dunking.  If there wasn’t a God when he started praying, you just knew there’d be one by the time he said “Amen.”

Dad was an articulate man who had a way with a phrase.  Folks who did business with him said he could tell you to go to Hell in such a way that you’d look forward to the trip.  So when Thanksgiving rolled around and it was time to give thanks for Mom’s latest gastronomical triumph, no one was better suited to the task than Dad.  His prayers were always ponderous and profound, but on Thanksgiving they became epic — The Lord’s Prayer Meets “War and Peace.”

What can I say?  He had The Gift.

Generally, Mom and Dad’s gifts blended remarkably well each Thanksgiving.  Dad made sure to be properly thankful for “the loving hands which have prepared this magnificent repast,” and Mom made sure to keep the things warm on the stove until God had been properly thanked for all the work that Mom had done.

One Thanksgiving, however, Dad was too thankful for his own good.  His litany of thanking and blessing continued for nearly 15 minutes (yes, I was timing him).  He was just blessing Congress, the Cabinet and the entire United Nations when a pungent odor filled the room.  Mom didn’t say anything, but we heard her dash for the kitchen and start slamming pots and pans together long before any of us had a chance to say “Amen.”  When at last we looked up and began trying to work out the kinks from our too-long-bowed necks, Mom was standing in the kitchen doorway with a blackened pan of burned stewed chicken gravy.

“Perhaps you could pray a blessing of healing on our gravy,” she suggested, fixing Dad with the icy stare of an artist whose finest creation had been sullied.

“There’s nothing wrong with that gravy,” Dad said.  “It's just the way I like it!”

“Then I hope you'll enjoy every bite,” Mom said as she ceremoniously placed the smelly pot before him.  “The rest of us will be going without gravy this year, so it’s all yours.”

I don’t know if Dad was grateful for Mom’s “gift’ that Thanksgiving.  But I do know that the next year our prayer was much shorter.  Dad made sure of that by asking me to say it.

Even though I didn't have The Gift.

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— © Joseph Walker

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