Storyteller Chuck Stead shares a Thanksgiving tale with us for this month of November.
My mom Tessie was not known for her cooking. Her meat was dry, her beans watery, her potatoes lumpy but she found salvation in her apple pie. Her pie crust was light and delicate and still firm, and a slice was packed with warm, sweet apples like a little vessel from heaven. Few folks favored Tessie’s apple pie as did my friend Ricky Cramshaw. For Ricky, whose own mother and grandmother produced a delicious Thanksgiving meal each year, the end was always a slice of Tessie’s apple pie, for as his grandmother used to say, “Everything is better with Tessie’s pie.”
Thanksgiving – with the deep chill, the last of the muddy rust forest as the world adjusted to dark grays and brown in wait for the first snow – was the traditional first week of gunning season for deer. The sight of woolen wrapped men carrying shotguns into the woods, the distant sound of twelve gauge ‘pop’ and the return of men dragging a buck cleaned of its interior, this was the eve of winter. Thanksgiving, not unlike the Fall Harvest, not unlike the Algonquin Gamwing, was a ceremonial meal heralding survival, community and the continuance of family.
Tessie started her meal preparations the night before, and the first guests to arrive an hour or so after noon the next day were tasked with arranging tables and chairs, plates and utensils. Leading up to the three o’clock meal an expected bustle of energy filled the cramped little house in our village. This despite the fact that no one had any delusions as to the quality of Tessie’s spread. She was a black-hearted Irishwoman who did not cook food as much as kill it, but there was always her apple pie in the end. Everything was better with Tessie’s pie.
As we came to settle in, Walt and a couple of uncles finished their smoke and sauntered in to one end of the table. Cousins found seating and snatched a fresh roll or two while talking about their different schools, plans for the holidays and gossip about distant relatives. And then there was Patty. A friend of my sister’s, she sat across the way and was very quiet. I did not know this girl, only Terry knew her. She was invited at the last minute, something about needing cheering up and about her family not understanding. I thought she was very pretty in a far-away kind of way. As we neared desert time, the supper dishes were being cleared and the men started to talk about the Vietnam War, there was some disagreement and that was when Patty got up, left the table and went out the back door. The pies were about to be laid out along with ice cream, milk and coffee. Ricky Cramshaw walked in from the back door all filled up with his parents’ meal and looking for Tessie’s apple pie.
He came to me and said softly, “Some girl is on the back porch crying.”
We went out the back door and there we found this Patty person sitting on the edge of the porch, crying softly. I stepped closer and said, “You want something?”
She looked at me, her eyes all wet, she said, “He got killed in Vietnam.”
“Yeah, I guess. We wrote letters. I only met him one time. He was sweet and he was lonely. I liked him. He got killed in Vietnam.”
I didn’t know what to say to her. She wrapped her arms around her body like she was giving herself a hug. Ricky went back inside the house. I stood very still with the sounds of Thanksgiving family coming from inside and me and this Patty girl being outside in the cold and the dark November afternoon on the back porch.
Again she said more quietly now, “He got killed in Vietnam.”
Then I heard the back door open and shut and Ricky stepped up to sad Patty and gently he placed a dish of apple pie next to her and he said, “Everything is better with Tessie’s pie.”