Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Where the Heart Resides

November conjures the autumnal finale. The last of the multicolored show cascades to the earth, poised to reinvigorate the cooling soil. Northerly winds promise to bring blustery billows of white. This is the perfect time to savor the fruits of this year’s harvest. Around the dining room table, we will gather with our loved ones before winter finally settles in.

My turkey is ordered from a local farm. I anticipate oyster stew, sweet potato casserole, mashed rutabaga, brussel sprouts sautéed with chestnuts, cranberry mold, pumpkin and pecan pies, and lots of elation in the kitchen with my family.

Thanksgiving is filled with fun, laughter and enough food to last us until Christmas. In the spirit of giving thanks, I want to share part of the Thanksgiving scene in The World In-between.



This year, Thanksgiving is being held at Berty’s brother and sister-in-law’s house. Jon and Teresa live in a new suburban development on the other side of the city. The scene starts with Berty pulling into his brother’s driveway.

*

Grabbing the gift basket and the doll, Berty strolled somberly up the curved sidewalk. Reaching the front door much too quickly, he paused before ringing the doorbell. Hearing the majestic chime ring inside the house, Berty surveyed the front stoop. Looking at the white metal storm door next to the red brick facade, he said to himself, “I do not like homes without porches.” He looked up muttering, “Not even a cover from the rain.”

The front door opened and in the entrance stood a slender youngish man with dark hair wearing rectangular glasses. “Berty,” he said surprised. “Teresa expected you to be late. Come in.”

Berty walked over the threshold. “Late? Me?” He smiled. The man chuckled while grabbing Berty in a one armed hug.

“Let me take your coat.”

Awkwardly removing his coat, Berty held out the basket saying, “A little something for you and Teresa.”

“Wow. She is going to love that,” said the man as he hung Berty’s pea coat in the hall closet. “Just between you and me, mom is going to love it too, although I think she was hoping you would bring a girl.”

“Jon,” called a woman’s voice from further inside the house, “who is at the door?”

“Speaking of mom,” Jon said, “we shouldn’t keep her in suspense for too long.” Berty chuckled with his brother as he followed him to the source of their mother’s voice.

Walking down the hall, they entered into a large eat-in kitchen. The modern kitchen completely contrasted with Berty’s old kitchen. All the stainless steel appliances shown brightly against the dark cherry cabinets and black stone countertops. A woman with long brown hair stood at the stainless steel stove stirring pots and tasting their contents. Sitting on a stool at the lighter kitchen island was a woman with chin length dark hair with a white streak artfully playing at the side of her face.

“Look who’s here,” announced Jon.

Berty walked over to the woman sitting at the island, kissed her cheek saying, “Hi mom, happy Thanksgiving.”

The woman at the stove turned around saying, “Berty. You’re early.”

“Why do you sound so surprised, Teresa?” said Berty with a wry smile as he handed her the basket.

“I... what is this?” she asked, looking at the basket.

“A little gift for you guys,” said Berty.

Teresa took the basket placing it on the kitchen table. “Wow,” she said. “Look at all this great stuff. Is it all handmade? It is fantastic.”

Berty’s mother walked over to the table to examine the basket. “Where did you find all this, Berty?”

“Just a seasonal open aired market,” Berty smiled.

“Good journalists never reveal their sources,” said a man with more salt than pepper in his hair while he walked through a swinging door.

“Hey dad,” Berty said. Walking over, he hugged his father.

A little girl ran through the swinging door shouting, “Uncle Berty! Grandpa and I set the table!”

Berty bent down sweeping the girl into his arms. “Did you? I cannot wait to see it.” The young girl smiled.

“What is that?” she asked, pointing to the wooden doll in his hand.

“Just a little wooden doll,” said Berty.

“Can I see it?”

“Sure you can,” he said. He handed his niece the doll while he put her back on the ground.

“Wow,” she said softly.

“Do you like it, Hope?” Berty asked.

She stared at him with her big brown eyes then slowly nodded her head.

“I brought it for you, you know.”

“You did?” Hope asked as her face lit up.

Berty smiled. “Yup.”

“You are the best uncle ever,” said Hope hugging him. When she pulled out of the hug, she looked up at her uncle. “Uncle Berty,” Hope asked, “what does the word gay mean?”

Berty glanced momentarily at Jon, then said, “Traditionally, it has always meant happy. Where did you hear that word?”

“Aunt Rachel said that she thinks you’re gay,” answered the little girl. “Are you happy, uncle Berty?”

“Hope,” said Teresa to her daughter, “why don’t you come and look at the turkey with mommy.”

“Okay,” said Hope as she ran over to the oven with the doll tightly held in her arms.

Berty turned to Jon asking, “What else does Rachel say?”

“I don’t think she means anything malicious, darling,” Berty’s mother said. “Besides, she will be here soon.”

“Yes she does,” snapped Berty. “I still do not know why you allow this woman around your daughter.”

“She’s my brother’s wife,” Teresa said.

“Do you ever get to see that little apartment of yours, being so busy?” Berty’s father asked.

Glad for a change of subject, Berty said, “No. I have a new place now.”

“What kind of place?” asked Jon.

“Just a modest little house,” Berty said. “Nothing special.”

“Your father and I will come over tomorrow,” said Berty’s mother.

The doorbell rang. Jon said, “I’ll get it.”

Jon was barely gone a minute before he brought two more people into the kitchen. A tall thin woman with shoulder length blonde hair walked over to Teresa givng her a hug and a kiss. Walking over to Berty’s father was a man with silver hair. The men shook hands.

“George,” said the man, “nice to see you again.” He kissed Berty’s mother on the cheek saying, “Kate, looking lovely as always.”

“What have you got in your hand, Robert?” George asked.

“Gift for the kids,” answered Robert. “Single malt Scotch.”

“I love the new kitchen, Teresa,” said the woman. “When will you be doing the rest of the house?”

“Thanks, mom,” Teresa said. “Jon and I haven’t decided yet.”

Teresa’s mother walked over to the kitchen table saying, “This is a nice little gourmet basket. Did you bring it, Kate?”

“No,” said Kate. “My son brought it, Lillian. I made the pies.”

Looking at both women’s faces, Berty knew that it was going to be a long dinner.

The doorbell rang again and Robert said, “That should be Matt and Rachel. They were right behind us.” Jon left to answer the door. A few moments later, a woman with long waves of strawberry blonde hair waltzed into the kitchen from the hallway.

“Happy Thanksgiving, everyone,” she said with a lurid smile. “Teresa, when will dinner be ready?”

Teresa removed the huge golden brown turkey from the oven setting it on the island. “In about twenty minutes, Rachel.”

“Fantastic,” Rachel said. “I know your kitchen is spacious but perhaps we should take this party to the living room and have a drink or two.” Jon entered the kitchen with another man who had brown hair and a rugged shadowy beard. “Matt, darling,” said Rachel, “be a dear and get me a gin and tonic, heavy on the gin.” With a wide smile, she turned to look at Berty. “Berty, gracing us with your presence, I see.”

“Every now and then I like to mix with the little people,” Berty said. “Helps me stay grounded, you know.”

“Are you still hiding behind the printed word?” taunted Rachel.

“Do you still cackle when your maid uses a broom?” Berty retorted.

Rachel smiled, then turned away from Berty saying, “Where is that darling husband of mine with my drink?”

Walking into the kitchen holding a glass of clear liquid, Matt said, “Here you go dear.” Rachel took it from him, tasted it then licked her lips.

“Berty,” said Matt, after knowing that his wife was satisfied, “are you ready to join us for a little football after we eat?” Rachel snorted.

“I did not know anything about it and so I didn’t bring anything to change into,” said Berty.

“I have some stuff you can wear,” Jon said. Smiling, Berty nodded.

“George,” said Teresa, “can you get the wine out of the chiller and pour it? Jon will show you which one. Kate, can you help me with the food? Mom, please bring these rolls to the table. Oh, Jon, you have to carve the turkey.” She handed her mother a napkin covered bowl. “Everyone else please congregate in the dining room.”

Berty followed his brother’s in-laws through the swinging door with much trepidation. Waiting at the table, Matt discussed his financial business with Robert and Lillian while Rachel thoroughly enjoyed her drink.

George poured the wine then took his seat while Kate and Teresa walked back and forth filling the elegantly set table with food. When the last side dish was placed on the table, Kate sat and started to talk to Berty about the location of his house.

Teresa and Jon entered together with Jon carrying the platter of turkey. Placing it on the table, he waited for his wife to sit, then said, “Let’s eat.”

During dinner, Berty listened to a myriad of conversations about work, Hope’s school, and Christmas shopping plans. None of the conversations interested him. While he chewed his food, he watched Rachel down drinks like they were going out of style.

When the last morsel was consumed, Jon said, “Berty, Matt, let’s go get ready to join the football game.” The three men walked up the stairs, through the double doors into Jon’s spacious bedroom. Placing his duffel bag on one of Jon’s chairs, Matt began to change. Jon went through his drawers and threw an old t-shirt and a pair of jeans on the sleigh bed for Berty.

Berty removed his sweater placing it delicately on the bed. He was about to pull the long sleeved t-shirt over his head when Matt said, “Nice tattoo, Berty.”

Looking over his left shoulder, Berty saw his back in Jon’s large mirror. “Thanks,” he said.

“That is cool,” said Jon. “How long have you had it?”

“About a month,” Berty answered as he pulled the shirt over his head. “Do me a favor, Jon, and don’t tell mom.”

“Won’t say a thing,” Jon said. “When mom is upset about something, we all suffer. I am really glad you have a house now. It will keep her from badgering Teresa about fixing you up with a nice girl.”

“I do what I can,” said Berty. Laughing, they walked out of the house to an open field down the street. Matt, Jon, and Berty met a bunch of men from the neighborhood, either residents or visitors, for a friendly game of football.

After football, the men changed to rejoin their family in the dining room for coffee and pie. Berty sat down in front of his large slice of pumpkin pie and watched Rachel pour something other than cream into her coffee. He was enjoying his dessert while Lillian started a new topic of conversation.

“So Rachel,” said Lillian, “are you guys planning on having a baby sometime soon?”

“Don’t concern yourself with my business,” Rachel slurred.

“I was just thinking that drinking is not helpful when trying to conceive,” stated Lillian.

“The drinking helps with putting up with the likes of you people,” said Rachel as she placed a large forkful of pie into her mouth. Lillian did not move a muscle; all she did was stare at Rachel in disbelief. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, Lillian. You know that all you and Robert do is pressure me for another grandchild.”

“What’s wrong with having children?” asked Matt.

“Oh, you are a silly boy,” Rachel said, waving a hand at her husband. She addressed her mother-in-law again. “Pressure your own daughter to have another for a change.”

Outraged, Matt said, “Stop it, Rachel.”

Ignoring him, she continued. “Speaking of your daughter,” she took a swig from her cup. “You are not Martha Stewart, Teresa. Stop trying. You give women a bad name.”

“That’s enough,” said Matt sternly while looking squarely at his wife.

“Oh Matty,” cooed Rachel, “did playing football with all the other boys make you feel like you grew a pair?” She smiled then hiccuped.

“I will not let you talk to my family like that,” Matt said. “We’re leaving.”

Rachel laughed maniacally. “No, we’re not. I just got started.”

“No.” Matt stood. Walking over to his wife he said, “You’re done.”

“You don’t say no to me, Matt.”

Sensing trouble, Berty leaned over to his niece whispering, “Why don’t you go play in the family room, now with your new doll.” Hope nodded and Berty watched her brown banana curls bounce as she ran from the room.

“I’m saying no now,” said Matt. Rachel’s mouth dropped as she watched her husband grab her arm firmly. “You are drunk. We are going home.” Rachel quickly finished her alcohol laced coffee. “Mom, dad,” he said as he let go of his wife’s arm to walk towards the door, “I am so sorry. This will not happen again. Teresa, Jon, you hosted a lovely Thanksgiving. I wish we could have been more of a delight instead of a hindrance.” Matt barely finished the last word when something whizzed past his ear.

The smash could barely be heard over Rachel’s mad laughing and Teresa’s shrill shouts. “What are you doing? That’s my wedding china!” Berty noticed that Rachel’s place setting was missing a cup. “I can’t replace it,” Teresa said as tears trickled down her face. Rachel picked up the saucer while Teresa wildly screamed, “No! No! Stop! Please stop, you crazy....” Her words became mumbled as hysterics commanded her body.

After George wrestled the saucer out of Rachel’s hand, he said to Matt, “You had better take her home now.”

Jon scrambled to retrieve Matt and Rachel’s coats while Matt helped a wobbly, laughing Rachel to the hallway. Teresa collapsed into a heap on the table sobbing hysterically. Both Lillian and Kate tried to calm her. George decided that it was best to clear the table while Robert hurried after his son.

Seeing the broken shards of china on the dark wooden floors, Berty quietly walked over to the wall and crouched down, retrieving all the pieces.

“Its no use,” said Teresa as she came out of her shocked state. “The set was my grandmother’s, Berty.”

Gazing at her tear streaked face, Berty said, “I’ll take them home with me. Perhaps I can find something.” She smiled weakly and Jon returned to her side.

In a small box, Berty’s collection of shards sat on the table waiting for him to bring home. His father wrote down his new address while both mothers contained the leftover food for use another day.

“Your father and I will pick you up for shopping in the morning,” Berty heard Lillian say to Teresa as he walked into the kitchen.

He hugged everyone as he said his good-byes. Teresa thanked him again for the gift basket. Box in hand, Berty followed Jon down the hallway to get his coat. As Jon was removing Berty’s coat from its hanger, the sound of little running footsteps echoed in the hall.

“Uncle Berty,” said Hope, “you did not say goodbye to Ashley.” Her little hands held out the handmade doll. In the corner of his eye, he saw Jon’s smiling face.

“How silly of me,” he said crouching. “Ashley is such a lovely name. From where did she get it?”

“She’s made of wood,” said Hope as she rolled her eyes. The answer could not have been more obvious to her. “From the ash tree.”

“Why didn’t I think of that?” Berty said. “Hope, you are getting too smart for your own good.”

“Never,” she said.

Berty smiled. “Never is right. Bye Hope,” he said, “and bye Ashley.”

Berty put on his coat while Hope held the little wooden doll up to her ear. As he hugged his brother good-bye, Hope tugged on the hem of his wool coat. When Berty and Jon looked down, she said, “Ashley says, look in the roots, and, thank you, and, bye.” Smiling, Hope held her doll close as she ran up the stairs. Jon shot a quizzical look at Berty who merely shrugged.

*

First three books of The World In-between Series Box Set on Amazon.

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