Big Tom: A Thanksgiving Story
By Sandra Proto
The eclectic aroma of sweet potatoes, fat back, collard greens, and turnip squash hung in the air at the Davidson’s house giving Charlene a rush as she walked to the kitchen. “It’s about time you got up. You can sleep the day away,” Leona said, mixing the sausage into the stuffing, swaying to the music. Not comprehending what her mother had said because sleep still occupied her mind, Charlene poured her coffee and went to the refrigerator in search for milk. “Put up the new shower curtain. It’s on top of my dresser.” Leona said, putting the stuffing in the oven.
Charlene walked to the dining room for the sugar. She scooped her usual three teaspoons, took a seat in the living room, and slowly slurped her coffee. She sat there hoping to never see the white ceramic bottom of the cup, but to her disappointment she did. Charlene decided that if she wanted this day to go by quickly, she might as well start on her own duties. She went back into the kitchen and noticed the eighteen-pound turkey laid across the counter. Its drumsticks were the size of large maracas.
“That’s a big turkey. You sure they didn’t give it a hormone shot?” Charlene said.
“Old Tom is alright,” Leona replied, patting his breast.
“Don’t you mean Big Tom?” Charlene said, bending down underneath the sink for the Comet and the sponge.
“Yeah, you’re right. I never cooked a big turkey like this before,” Leona laughed.
Charlene stood up and had a worried look on her face. She prayed for her mother not to dry it out this year—if she did—she would never hear the end of it from her grandmother. Charlene glanced over at her mother—who had the same look on her face.
Once in the bathroom, Charlene climbed on top of the tub, and unfastened the shower curtain from the rod. When the last ring was opened, she stepped down, laid the curtain across the toilet and grabbed the Comet and sponge. Charlene then climbed back into the tub and started scrubbing the white film from the tiles.
Suddenly, a loud crash echoed throughout the house followed by the sound of gushing water.
“Oh my God!” shrieked Leona.
Charlene climbed out of the tub and ran towards the kitchen. She was met with a small river flowing across the floor. Quickly, she treaded through the water and reached her mother. Leona was standing in the middle of the kitchen, ankle deep in water, mouth gaped, and wide eyes looking down at Big Tom doing the backstroke across the kitchen floor.
“Ma, what happened?” Tasha yelled sprinting down the hall.
With a dazed look on her face, Leona said, “Big Tom busted the sink.”
“Ma, why don’t you pick it up off the floor?” Charlene shouted, snapping her mother out of the trance.
Leona bent down to fish Big Tom out. Her left foot slipped, and her right foot slid between Big Tom’s maraca drumsticks into the cavity. Big Tom was playing role reversal—instead of him being the prey, Leona’s foot was. But like a pro soccer player, Leona kicked Big Tom across the kitchen floor. Holding back the laughter that was growing in their mouths, Charlene and Tasha watched as Leona struggled to pick up the eighteen-pound Butterball.
Finally, after about a minute, Leona grasped Big Tom, and successfully rested him on the counter.
“I have to call the emergency maintenance number,” Leona’s voice trembled, as she nervously reached for the phone on top of the washing machine.
“Charlene, did you clean the tub yet?” asked Tasha.
“No,” answered Charlene.
“Well, clean it real good and use bleach. Big Tom is gonna take a real bath,” Tasha said grabbing the mop and bucket.
Charlene looking at Leona talking on the phone—who was almost in tears— realized that her family was prone to incidents. Last Christmas it was the “Toilet Paper Incident” and this Thanksgiving it’s the “Turkey Incident” starring Big Tom. Charlene walked back to the bathroom to prepare Big Tom’s bath. Leona followed behind, intensely pushing the buttons on the phone.
“Ma, this is Leo. Listen dinner is gonna be a little late,” Leona said, entering her bedroom and taking a seat on the bed.
After about five minutes of her explaining to her mother about how Big Tom tore up her sink, and listening to her mother bitch about how she should have never moved into that housing complex that was poorly built, Leona lied to avoid a migraine from creeping up the back of her neck. “Ma, I smell something burning. I’ll talk to you when you get here,” Leona quickly said, hanging up the phone.
Taking a minute to exhale, Leona sat on her bed gazing up at the virgin white shades half covering her windows, reminiscing of how as a teenager she had to dust the wooden venetian blinds. She hated doing those damn blinds. She remembered one time she cleaned every other wooden slate. Eyeballing the blinds, her mother knew she did a half-assed job and called Leona back into the living room. Leona’s mother then sat on the couch and watched as her daughter cleaned every wooden slates—including the ones she already did.
Leona took one more deep breath, and eased herself off the bed. She had more work to be done since Big Tom had performed this morning. She started walking when she felt the cold soggy slippers on her feet. She looked down and noticed a trail of sleek footprints leading out her door into the hallway. She bent down, took them off, dried her feet with a tee shirt, and squeezed into her sneakers. When she reached the doorway of the bathroom, Tasha was kneeling down cleaning Big Tom in the tub.
“Clean him good, Tash,” Leona said, dumping her bundle into the hamper. Tasha, not hearing her mother over the running water, cleaned Big Tom vigorously. She especially paid attention to the cavity since her mother’s foot had been engulfed in it. She rinsed Big Tom one last time and placed him in the roasting pan and headed for the kitchen.
Seeing her mother swaying from side to side stirring a big pot of collard greens, Tasha placed Big Tom on the counter.
“Thank you Tash,” Leona said, placing the lid back on the pot.
Hearing a knock on the front door, Leona ran to open it. She quickly unlocked the lock and flung opened the door. A heavy set man wearing a dark tan uniform holding a black toolbox was standing there.
“Happy Thanksgiving. I’m sorry I had to call you. But, I have a real emergency,” Leona said, leading the man to the kitchen.
“It’s okay,” the man said, enjoying the different aromas that filtered through the air.
When the man stepped into the kitchen, he noticed Big Tom sitting on the counter. He thought about his own three-pound roasted baby chicken he had cooked last night. “That’s a big bird you got there.”
“Yeah, Big Tom tore up the sink,” Leona said.
The man looked at the lopsided sink and knew he had work cut out for him today. “It was about to go anyway,” the man said, examining the tattered sealing around the sink.
“Is it possible to get a new one?” Leona asked.
“Tomorrow. I’ll make sure you get one tomorrow. But, I’ll rig up something today,” the man said.
For about an hour, the maintenance man worked on the sink. He rigged it in a way that really wasn’t pleasing to the eye, but it served its purpose, and Leona was very appreciative. After he left, Leona went back to cooking, while Charlene and Tasha mopped the floors and set the table in the living room—taking ten minutes to argue about the proper way to place each setting. They even ran to the store three times because Leona didn’t have what she thought she had.
A couple of hours passed, and finally, Leona, Charlene, and Tasha plopped down on the couch, relieved that their work was finished. As they listened to The Stylistics, the sound of jangling keys and the turning of the lock interrupted the musical flow.
In came Raymond, headphones blaring distorted rhythms, with off-key mumblings escaping from his mouth. Raymond took off his headphones and stuck it in his pocket.
“What’s up? Is Grandma here yet?” he asked, taking off his coat and laying it on the chair by the door.
“Not yet,” Leona said, rubbing her neck.
Raymond headed to the kitchen for something to drink. He noticed Big Tom, whose golden brown skin glistened underneath the fluorescent light, and remembered last year’s turkey was so dry and to spare Leona’s feelings, everyone lied and said it was good. Raymond opened the refrigerator and came across a pitcher of water. He turned to the cabinet to get a glass and noticed the sink rigged up with twine. “What happened to the sink?” Raymond asked with his eyes curiously inspecting the rigging.
“Ma went to clean the turkey and the sink fell down. Then she tried to pick up the turkey and her foot got stuck in it and then she kicked it across the floor, the maintenance man had to come and rig the sink, and I had to clean the tub out with bleach so Tasha could wash the turkey,” Charlene rambled.
“No one’s red rag better not flap and tell Grandma what happened!” Leona said, glaring at Charlene. “No one!” Leona repeated, looking at Tasha’s stoned face and Raymond’s silly smirk.
For about an hour Charlene, Tasha, and Raymond sat talking and eating hors d'oeuvres while Leona paced the floor.
A knock at the front door stopped Leona in mid stride. She quickly walked to the door.
When she opened it, Bea was standing there dressed in mink from head to toe.
“Where have you been?” Leona asked.
“Vivian wanted to see Samantha’s house,” Bea said, waving her hand in the direction of Aunt Vivian and Aunt Samantha as they came rushing in.
“Why didn’t you call me?” Leona said, helping Bea take off her coat.
“You said dinner was going to be late.”
“That’s all you came for—”
“Dinner smells so good, Leo. We smelt it all in the hallway,” Samantha said, taking off her coat and handing it to Charlene.
“Dinner smells delicious,” Aunt Vivian agreed, as she took off her own coat.
Charlene went to the closet to hang up the coats while everyone took a seat in the living room. When she returned, Bea was laughing. Charlene noticed smiles on everyone’s face –even Leona’s.
Everyone sat talking and laughing for about a half an hour.
“I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m hungry,” Leona said going into the dining room to inspect the buffet table. One by one everyone went to the dining room and piled their plates with food, then took their seats. Leona sat at the head of the table, Tasha, Raymond, and Charlene sat to her right, Aunt Samantha and Aunt Vivian sat to her left—Bea sat directly across from her. Leona waited for everyone to settle down, then bowed her head, creating a chain reaction around the table. “God, I give thanks on this day that I am here with my family. I thank You that they are all in good health to share with me the abundance of food that sits before us. Amen.” As the echo of Amen circled the table, she lifted her head and smiled.
Everyone was focusing on their plates and didn’t pay much attention to Aunt Vivian’s story about how her dead husband, Henry, loved fresh sweet potatoes.
Bea cut a tiny piece of turkey breast, placed it in her mouth, chewed it, and to her surprise it was very tasty. “Leo, this turkey is really good. You put your foot in it this time,” Bea said, cutting another piece.
Leona darted her eyes at her children. Tasha sharply turned, giving her full attention to Aunt Vivian. Raymond quickly looked down at the tablecloth, examining the design. And Charlene, shoveled more stuffing in her mouth.