The ham dinner was presented finally, for me, Dad, Rena, Mom, and Joseph our dog to eat.
Mom had gotten dressed in her best jeans and sweatshirt (a loosefitting “Black Dog” gray favorite) and worked assiduously to present it to us, with her usual humble flourish: “If any of you kids are hungry, there’s a nice meal here on the table for you!”
A victory celebration, Dad kept saying. Over our triumph at the preliminary meeting with the schoolboy who had been viciously bullied at Dad’s high school...and his sharp savvy lawyer mother , threatening to sue ...
While waiting for Mom to prepare our ham, Rena Dad and I had wandered the yard, admiring his vegetable garden. Dad pointed out the rows of potato plants , which never failed to provide our household with starch for the long winter. Baked or boiled potatos every night.
Rena, my sort- of girlfriend & Dad’s employee at the school, marveled at the layout of the garden. It was fanatically mathematical, needless to say. Dad planned it weeks ahead of the planting.
She was in her white sleeveless blouse, her black skirt, and nothing else. She’d stripped off her nylons and given them to me to put in my pocket for “later, when you can put them back on me.”
I was willing to put them back on, I told her, but with the caveat that ‘’ the blouse and skirt have to go.” She’d agreed. Joseph the 14 yr old lab was licking her shins at the time, and she was halfheartedly pushing him off.
Dad saw this and said, “Mz. Oblong! Just give that dog a kick if he is bothering you! Shame, Joseph! Shame!”
We were in the backyard at the time. The smell of ham filled the air, much to George’s delight. And Joseph’s , too, I imagine, though he seemed to be focused on tonguing Rena .
“Mr. Emmerling, I have had dogs. I don’t mind dear Joseph. Don’t scold him, please!” she said.
I had an ephiphany. “Dad, yo, he needs a walk.”
“Oh, does he? Yes, I guess he does. Come here, dog. Come. Ok. Walk ? Want a walk, damn dog?” Dad was heading into the living room to get the leash. This would give Rena and I at least 20 minutes.
Dad was gone, and there was just me and her and the garden. Gardens, I should say. For mother’s flower garden was arranged on the outskirts of Dad’s patch of ground. Bees were always plentiful in Mom’s garden, as well as hummingbirds.She prided herself on hummingbird sitings.
Rena sat down and pulled me down with her.
“You are getting your skirt dirty, “ I offered.
She kept her exquisite knees utterly still, the skirt riding a few inches above them. She wiggled her naked toes in the good earth. She pulled her hair down. She squirmed closer to me, sitting there in my casual khakis and tee shirt , and said, “take your stupid shoes off.”
I did so and we squirmed closer. Birdsong was redolent, as always, because Dad and Mom, being ancient, loved to spoil the damn little dinosaurs. There were ten birdfeeders Dad had to fill every morning before he & Eleanor sat down together on the the love seat and drank their a.m. sherry and watched the birds.
Our toes met and I was electrified. I wanted to throw her down in Pappa’s potato patch and pound her til the damn ham was done, and bring her naked into the house to eat Mom’s heroic offering.
She said, in my ear, “the only thing I ask about this whole situation is that you be kind to your mother.”
That took the edge off the pounding-fantasy, til I asked , “why?”
“She has so little time left.”
Now that was a buzz kill. I said, “What do you mean?”
She kissed me then, for about twenty centuries, our lips producing half-sounds, like a hummingbird’s descent….inchoate attempts at a bridge across our mental divide, in the melting meeting of our flesh…
“No, sweetie ,” she said, “ For her husband. And Joseph. They will both be gone soon, can’t you see it? “
I pulled back in alarm, and said, “So this ham dinner is like a momentous swan song in their 60 yr marriage? How the fuck do I behave?”
She took my hand and put it on her heart and said, “follow my lead.”
A bit later , a lot of noise from the ancient ones.
"Oh you two are back , I hear! Can you make any less noise coming up the walk?"
Dad: “ ELEANOR! I AM BACK WITH THE GODDAMN DOG! WHERE IS THE HAM? HOW IS IT?”
Mom: “George, if you don’t keep your voice down I will flush this ham down the toilet…”
Dad , quietly: “ sorry, el. Sorry. The dog is good. He did his duties. Two number twos. Three number ones.”
Mom: “Well,” suddenly musical , “Ham is ready! “
Dad: “Oh you are such a good girl, el. “
Mom: “call your son. And his little friend. “
Dad. Opening the back screen door…”James! Mizz Oblong! The ham is ready!!!!!”
The neighbor next door slammed his door at this sonic boom.
Mom heard it.She hears everything. She said, ''I told you, George, the neighbors would hear you....now... If any of you kids are hungry, there’s a nice meal here on the table for you!”