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
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
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
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.
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.
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?”
My father grounded me for a
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
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.
Prayers of Agnes
Sparrow has been selected as one of the top five Christian
Inspirational titles of 2009 by Library Journal.