a good childhood

Gramma and Grampa are coming down from Vancouver to spend Thanksgiving with us.  They are in the little Beetle hatchback, beige or pale blue with a crocheted afghan on the back seat, Scottie (and before her, Maggie) snuggled in on top.

Gramma would have driven – she always drove, Grampa too frail since before I can recall – stopping along the trans-Canada for a sandwich and a thermos of tea (so thick you can stand a spoon up in it) and Peak Freans cookies.

Walking up the hill from school hoping to see, then then seeing, that strange little beast of a car in the driveway, rushing to the front porch but then suddenly shy just for a moment before the cushy embrace, then timid again for its careful partner.  Gifts of homemade sweaters or slippers, jam, a new silky slip from Woolworth’s.  My mother’s laughter, easy now that reinforcements have arrived, easy with the permission, or perhaps obligation, to have an afternoon cocktail, paired with pickled herring on Ritz crackers and a few precious moments off her feet.

The long and lazy Sunday.  Gramma in the garden, trimming and digging and harvesting for the feast.  Grampa and Scottiemaggie and Niska and I walking gingerly through side streets and alleys, picking maple leaves and pussy willows for the table.  The air has lost the roundness of Indian summer and holds instead a brittle chill, even in sunlight.  Wood smoke from early fires and burning barrels drapes across the afternoon, tickling our noses and bringing each of us to our own earlier time.

Back home, the dogs sleepy, the humans thankful for the oven-warmth and good smells sweet and savoury.  Children tasked with setting the table or passing a plate of cheese and crackers to whichever grateful strays have been invited to join our family feast.

Maybe grace, though more likely not.  Maybe wine – Black Tower or Schloss Laderheim – and definitely more food than anybody ought to have a right to.  Stories, never memorable, potatoes and gravy deliciously so.

Pie – pumpkin or apple or more probably both, with whipped cream or ice cream or a slice of orange cheese.  The kids slide soundlessly away from the table when dessert is gone and the grown-ups slide into adult conversation.  Coffee percolating on the stove, then served in pottery mugs with Carnation milk and crisp white cubes of sugar.

The fire simmers in the old wood stove, the dogs chase rabbits in their slumber, and we fall lazily into unconsciousness, borne off into dreams by a houseful of love and bounty.

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