“A Thanksgiving Memory,” a Memoir

by Lynne Heffner Ferrante

    Wild turkeys, dull brown and nondescript except for their bizarre prehistoric configuration, strange bulk, unexpected arrival, walk presumptuously up the long driveway toward the house. The sun is trying its best to warm the day, but failing. There is a definite scent of winter in the air. Indian summer has worn out its welcome. Yesterday, and this morning, were still summer.  

    Now my fingers freeze into a claw in the unexpected November chill as I spray ivory enamel paint onto a disreputable, ancient foundling — a farm-style dining room table with fat spindle legs. It was donated by Bruce Friedle, who tries to assuage my desperation on this occasion, so that we can accommodate almost the entire family this year in our new home for Thanksgiving dinner. I feel the anxiety of expectation twisting my stomach. Soon, they will all arrive, and we will be together once again.

    Two Guatemalan workers are raking leaves after helping me with the big move into this newly renovated Southampton barn — the preparations for the grand reunion, the big feast. Wow, convenient, “mire pia ya,” I joke in my pidgin Spanish: pavos, turkeys. “Una buena comida por esta dia del gran fiesta,” perfect for Thanksgiving dinner.

    Augusto and Orlando throw down their rakes and take off after the turkeys, “Cugelo, cugelo,” they scream, and horrified, I holler, “No, no,” when I realize that they mean to catch and kill them for me, break their necks. After all, that is their way. Prepare them for the cooking process. 

    They come from a place where money and food are scarce, and dinner is not taken for granted. The two men run helter skelter after the mass of escaping birds. Startled, the turkeys fly up into the autumn sky, aiming for our two leafless century-old sycamores which flaunt their camouflage-decorated trunks, and alight in the branches, blackening our sky; night in the midst of day, a Stephen King, “Twilight Zone” moment. My table glows eerily in the strange artificial dusk. I hope the smell of enamel will subside before it is time to pile the holiday refreshments on it.

    Later, the food has disappeared, the family has retreated to sofa and armchair to recover from the excesses of celebration. Football is playing on the television, and accompanies the gentle rise and fall of conversation, an occasional hoot and holler, as I finish the clean-up process, in my proper place, content. My mother hovers, helping, doing this and that, sharing my contentment, and she squeezes my shoulder as she passes by. I turn and we exchange one of our special smiles.

    Beads of moisture form in the steam that has settled on the mullions of my French doors in the kitchen and living room as thick white flakes, like clouds of albino turkey feathers, accumulate quickly, piling two feet of snow unexpectedly against them, and if there were not a six-foot-high stockade fence between house and street passersby could see, with some envy, perhaps, the bright lights, and hear the modulated sounds of a large loving family sharing a familiar holiday. This was the year, 1989, Joe and I were married and moved with my mother to the barn.

    Time has flown like an escaping turkey. It is an age-old story. I blink my eyes, and 20 years have passed. Sunrise, sunset, quickly fly the years.

    “A Thanksgiving Memory” is an excerpt from Lynne Heffner Ferrante’s self-published autobiography, “An Untenable Fragrance of Violets.” An artist, she lives in East Hampton.