In 1942, Thanksgiving Day started out as a day of great promise and turned into a horror I will never forget. I had just turned ten. Mom had put the two kitchen tables together to hold her huge and comprehensive feast. Roberta, my stepsister had invited her friend, Jodie, to join us, and we were all about to say grace and tackle the meal of the year. The tables were full of hard-to-get stuff because of rationing, and we all sat there beaming at what Mom had put together. She had the day off and had been up working on that feast since before dawn.
People were thankful for whatever they were able to scrape together for Thanksgiving in the war years. Everything was rationed and impossible to get. Somehow, for this special day, and through her own special devices, Mom had been able to put it all together, and I was starving to pounce on it. After all these years, I can still remember what was on the table: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, buttered lima beans, Mom's wonderful cloverleaf rolls and two rhubarb and strawberry pies marking time over on the cupboard.
In all my years, I have never known anyone who could cook like Mom or somehow make something wonderful out of nothing. We raised what we could, but the turkey was a special acquisition. We were all smiles and waited impatiently for my stepfather to come to the table and take his seat.
When he did, I could tell something about him was amiss and apart and anything but festive. I never liked my stepfather because of the cruel side of his character. On the one hand, he was strong, resourceful and capable of hard work. He had a sufficient number of useful attributes but a dark one negated all the rest. He turned into Mr. Hyde when he was drinking. He only drank beer (whiskey was like poison to him), but once he got started, he drank whatever good was in him into oblivion. His name was Bill, and Bill #1 was tolerable, but Bill #2 was a monster.
He had started drinking early that day and brought Bill #2 to the table. I never figured out what it was that set him off, but something did. He stared glumly at what was before him. We paused in our chatter and all bowed our heads except him. He stood suddenly, grabbed each table by its edge and overturned both dumping all that beautiful feast crashing to the floor in a heap of broken dishes. I beseeched God to strike him dead on the spot.
Our young guest ran screaming out the door with my stepsister following. I never saw her again. It was a final blow for my stepsister, who hated her father, and she went to live with her grandparents.
In 1946, my grandmother loaned Mom $500 to pay off that asshole for his share of the common property and Mom divorced him. I remember the remarkable sight of those twenty-five, twenty-dollar bills. Mom paid back every penny. I would enter active duty with the Marines four years later, but, until then, the peace and quiet and the absence of fear in the house was wonderful.
Many years later, I saw him one last time. I was trout fishing Lake Koon in nearby Pennsylvania. As walked along the bank, I saw ahead of me a little old gray-haired man sitting on the bank fishing. He looked bent and feeble, but the profile was unmistakable.
"Oh.yeah" He looked befuddled while he fumbled among old memories.
Even in those couple words, I could detect his unmistakable Johnstown accent. I was tempted to say, "How would you like it if I threw your worthless ass in the lake for the way you mistreated all of us?" I knew I wouldn't, but it was a comforting thought. But I turned to old Solomon's words in Ecclesiastes,
"I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God's hands.but time and chance happen to them all."
So I passed him on by and let the old bad memories be free to take a quiet place way in the back.