The Prayers Of Agnes Sparrow
Joyce Magnin

Joyce Magnin is the author of The Prayers Of Agnes Sparrow, short fiction and personal experience articles. She co-authored the book, Linked to Someone in Pain. She has been published in such magazines as Relief Journal, Parents Express, Sunday Digest, and Highlights for Children. Joyce attended Bryn Mawr College and is a member of the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Fellowship. She is a frequent workshop leader at various writer’s conferences and women’s church groups. She has three children, Rebekah, Emily, and Adam; one grandson, Lemuel Earnest; one son-in-law, Joshua, and a neurotic parakeet who can’t seem to keep a name. Joyce leads a small fiction group called StoryCrafters. She enjoys baseball, football, cream soda, and needle arts but not elevators. She currently lives in Havertown, Pennsylvania. You can also visit her blog at:

Gravy, Gone to the Dogs

Erma Bombeck once said that in her family, gravy was considered a beverage. I can relate to this. I mean, I know exactly what she was thinking, because in my family, gravy was not only considered a beverage, it was considered sacred, especially at holiday time.

My mother, many of you know her as Flossie, made the best pan drippings, brown gravy—ever. Her gravy was so good that my sisters and I refuse to even attempt to replicate it at our own holiday meals. Nothing, nothing we make will ever hold a candle to Flossie’s turkey gravy. It made Thanksgiving a transcendent experience. Never a lump, never a coagulated glomp of goo; no, Flossie’s gravy was liquid velvet, poured over mashed potatoes in a rich river of turkey tastiness that became bliss in your mouth. She never shared her technique with anyone. The proportions of flour, water, and turkey drippings have never been revealed. No one ever saw her make it. Try as we might, she shooed us out of the kitchen at that great gravy-making moment, which led to rumors, as yet unsubstantiated, that she had some sort of extraterrestrial help.

I remember seeing the luscious brown stuff on the Thanksgiving table, in its little special gravy boat with the fancy curved spoon that came out only for the holidays. As Flossie set the dish down on the Thanksgiving table, a flicker of candlelight would pool and illuminate the boat as choirs of angels sang from on high. Yes, it was that good.

But first, before the gravy was passed around the table, another tradition needed to be completed. Daddy needed to carve the bird. Unfortunately, this memory is not quite so happy. You see, my poor father never once carved a holiday turkey in a fashion that mother approved. Dad never carved any roast beast to suit my mother, but at Thanksgiving, for some reason in my mother’s eyes, his bird-carving disability became even more pronounced.

Every year my sister and I would sit and wait and kick each other under the table as Dad picked up the large sharp carving knife and his large three-pronged fork. We watched. He took a breath and began to carve. One stroke of the knife, two and then my mother’s biting voice cracked the Rockwellian ambience. “Art, you’re holding the knife wrong. That’s not how you carve a turkey.” And every year Daddy ignored her and kept slicing, kept carving, placing succulent pieces of meat on a serving plate. “Art, Art. You’re not doing that right.” My sister, Elaine, would grab my hand and whisper, “Is this the year? Is he going to say something?”

I could only shake my head in nervous anticipation of never knowing exactly what might happen. Meanwhile, the dogs, Cleo and Polly, danced a Thanksgiving jig around the table, knowing that their share in the gravy was on its way. And so it went until the platter was passed and all were served. My mother would stuff her criticism away, and we ate a meal that soothed the tension of moments before. All was at peace.

Until it happened. Until one year, my father snapped.

The gravy boat sat nearby, and I worried that somehow it would spill in the impending insanity that I sensed was about to take place.

“Elaine,” I said, “pass me the gravy. I’ll keep it safe.”

“No,” Dad said. “Nobody gets gravy until the bird is carved.”

“Well, then, we’ll just be here all night,” Mom said. “Because he’s not doing it right.”

That, my friends, was the shot heard round the world, the criticism that ricocheted like buckshot into my holiday memories.

Dad glared at my Mom, still with the knife in his hand. Time stood still. Elaine grabbed on to me. I grabbed on to her, and we held each other in the freaky stillness of the moment.

“Maybe you should put the knife down now, Art,” Mom said.

He laughed with a laugh that seemed to come from some deep, forgotten place in his belly.

The next thing I knew, my father took our beautiful, twenty-pound, golden-skinned, luscious turkey into his hands like a football and drop-kicked it through the living room window. Yes, he did. It soared past my head, spewing steaming stuffing and juicy goodness as it whizzed by on its holiday flight into the front yard. The dogs danced in the spray.

“Who says a turkey can’t fly?” I said.

My father grounded me for a week.

Once the initial shock had worn off, we all went running into the yard where our bird sat in the grass, smashed and broken, as the dogs chowed down with glee. I can still see the smiles on their faces as they chewed the hot meat, determined to get it down before it was taken away.

Elaine and I stood there, barefoot on the cold wet lawn and watched, mouths open, disbelief coursing through our young bodies as turkey steam rose to the heavens.

“Well,” Flossie said, “it looks like a good one.”

My father stomped back into the house and returned seconds later. “Needs gravy,” he said.

“What do you mean it needs gravy?” Flossie said. “That bird is juicy as can be. I never made a dry turkey in my life.”

Dad dumped the gravy onto the bird. The delightful aroma hit the cool autumn air and tears streamed down my cheeks. Innocent, Thanksgiving turkey gravy, gone to the dogs.

And so as Polly and Cleo continued to enjoy their meal, and as other neighborhood dogs joined in the feast, my family and I went back inside and ate mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie while my father nailed a piece of plywood over the broken window. “Art,” my mother said. “You’re not hammering that right.”

This, my friends is the stuff that makes a young girl grow up to be a writer.

The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow