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Around the Kitchen Table

By Maureen Weber


October: once most of the leaves are laid to rest, hope seems to rise from the decay, and from hope, thanksgiving grace. Gracias. The wind on my walk stirs up a rustle of memories.

It has been eight years since my dad died and in that time I have seldom walked past his house. My heart could never withstand the weight. But this year is different. His old yard, once carefully tended, is now ragged, but the cotoneasters, as pink and scarlet as pomegranates, inflame my spirit.

It’s unseasonably warm today, but Thanksgiving weather can be cool. When pots of boiling potatoes steam up kitchen windows and the air inside a too-warm house is a sauna of roast turkey, I think of mom and delicious days of dinners past. Gracias.

On a sidewalk in that old neighbourhood is scrawled in orange chalk: Happy Halloween (maybe young families are beginning to re-populate this street). I love Halloween — the transformation, the slant of October light and later, a pink and navy-black sky. My favourite poem was Black and Gold — maybe because of the way my mother recited it (Yellow pumpkins, yellow moon/ yellow candlelight;/ Jet-black cat with golden eyes/ Shadows black as ink . . .).

When our children were small they would draw and cut out construction paper jack-o’-lanterns and ghosts to put up in the window. I remember how excited they were to put up their own decorations.

Many homes along my walk route have decorations in the windows, but rounding a corner down the way I see on someone’s front lawn a 10-foot blow-up Frankenstein next to a headless horseman. Further along a ghost pops out of a large inflated pumpkin. The spectre doesn’t diminish my paper memories. Gracias.

Turning down 13th St. I see the house where we lived when I was six. The house with the two lampposts, my mom called it. There’s a photo of me in a witch costume on that front step — one of those store-bought plastic things with a mask you can’t see out of. Near that house was St. Mary’s Villa and a canteen where you could buy pop and penny candy. If you went trick or treating there one of the sisters would give you a shoestring licorice.

In those days there was a field behind the villa with lots of brush — an enchanted land for a child. A couple of friends and I fashioned a twig hut where we’d light matches. Forbidden and thrilling. Firelight blinking in the dark.

The fall I was nine, I went over to my Auntie Dorothy’s in search of a costume for a masquerade contest. There was something magical about Auntie Dorothy — her humour, the twinkle in her eye, and her mysterious basement where treasures were abundant: tin maracas to shake, drums, some sort of horn with a keyboard, games like Twister and anything with batteries. She pulled from her trunk an orange scarf, a figured skirt and a blousy top with vest that seemed perfect for a fanciful gypsy. There were even rubber-ring earrings. I got honourable mention, but to me it was more special than the princess who won. I hope she knows how grateful I was.

Auntie Dorothy’s October birthday reminds me of chili with kidney beans and mashed potatoes, which we ate there one dark autumn night when I was young. The seasonings awakened my roast-beef palate — red and spicy, just like she is. Gracias.

Three of our four children were born in autumn, at old St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. The hospital is gone now, but I can still feel the place when I walk by — the souls and saints who passed through.

Our eldest was born on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, right around lunchtime. My doctor told one of the staff to order him a turkey sandwich just about the moment when Janice’s head was starting to crown. Birth — as common as a turkey sandwich and as exquisite as grace.

They set Janice into the bassinet where she was unusually still, as though assessing her new surroundings. Thirty-two years later I can still see vestiges of a tiny baby girl — the curve of her nose, cupid-bow lips, the quiet observer. Children teach the meaning of thanksgiving. Gracias

St. Elizabeth's convent, photo by M. Weber

One of my favourite places to walk is the grounds of the Elizabethan convent. My mother loved the sisters, and our family enjoyed their hospitality on a number of occasions. It’s not their convent anymore — the last of the sisters have moved — but statues on hallowed ground still listen to a thanksgiving prayer. The trees are mostly brown now, brown as the Franciscan sisters, but there are still those golden weeping birches. The wind in the remaining leaves conducts a percussive symphony and high above in the branches a chickadee whistles hey sweetie. I tell him it’s too early for trick or treat. Wait till November.