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Clement's Corner: No Forgiving On Thanksgiving

Not every family Thanksgiving reunion is filled with joy and laughter, as Owen Clement's tale reveals.

Millie McLeod stopped carving the roast turkey and looked at her daughter Carey, “You know darling,” she said, “although it happened over fifty years ago, I remember it as if it was just the other day.”

“Remember what Mum?” Carey said preparing the potato salad.

“My mother’s and my last Thanksgiving visit to your great-grandmother.”

“Sad time, was it?”

“Well, sort of sad I guess.”

“Why? Weren’t you close?”

Millie chuckled, “Hardly!”

“Really!” Carey pulled out a chair and sat down giving her mother her full attention. Moments like this were far too rare.

Millie put down the carvers and also sat.

*

Speaking softly she began telling Carey of the day that she, as a child and her mother, Helen had driven from Vancouver, where they had spent a couple of day’s break, to the Fraser valley town of Aldergrove, where the old lady lived.

“Stop fidgeting Millie, we still have a long way to go.” Helen snapped, weary after driving thousands of miles from Toronto.

Millie slunk down into the passenger seat.

“And for heaven’s sake stop sulking. I’m just as tired as you are.”

The late autumn evening darkness that came slowly like a blind gradually pulled over the sky added to Millie’s apprehension. She could not understand why they had travelled all that distance, despite her grandmother’s rejection of her only son’s wife.

“Do you really think it’s your duty to visit her, Mum?” Millie asked.

“Some day, when you are a mother, you will understand. She’s an old lady. Her husband died only a few months ago after a long illness and now, her child is also dead. I cannot imagine what the poor thing is going through.”

“But you said she hated you.” Millie persisted.

“In her and your grandfather’s eyes, your father and I marrying outside the church was a dreadful sin. Having a child; even worse.''

“You mean she thinks I’m a bastard!”

“I don’t know, darling. That was fourteen years ago. Maybe your grandmother feels differently now!”

They were on the far edge of Greater Vancouver when Millie called out, “Here we are Mom,'' as she pointed to a sign which announced Aldergrove.

Helen pulled over and checked the road map before driving on to the neat little cottage nestled in a huddle of similar low, flat-roofed dwellings in a cul-de-sac on the town’s outskirts. Wisps of wood smoke swirled through the beams of light coming from windows flooding the footpaths of the well-tended lawns.

As Helen got out of the car she was preparing herself for the ordeal which lay ahead,. On her way to the house she realized that she had forgotten to douse the headlights. She signalled to Millie, waiting in the car, to switch them off.

Straightening her blue all-weather coat she pressed the doorbell.

The door opened and Mona McLeod stood there.

“Yes!’

“It’s me mum, Helen.”

“Good lord, what do you want?”

Ignoring her rudeness Helen said, “How are you?”

“Fat lot you care.”

“I’m here aren’t I? Millie’s here too.”

Mona peered out at the car.

“If you think that by bringing Millie it will improve matters, you’re mistaken.”

Helen turned and beckoned Millie.

“Where are you spending the night, I don’t have any beds made up?”

“Don’t worry; I’ve booked us into a motel,'' Helen lied.

Millie arrived at that moment and smiling said “Hello Gran.”

“Grandma. I like to be called Grandma. Come inside you’re letting in the chill.”

Helen ushered Millie inside and closed the door. They hung their coats in the hall closet before joining Mona in the living room.

The cushioned, wooden Colonial-style chairs had pleated gingham skirts. Cross-stitch tapestries hung on the walls. The fireside mantle, the piano and the side tables were covered with an assortment of Hummel and Royal Dalton china figurines.

Helen and her daughter had to sidle their way through the clutter of antique furniture in the tiny room.

“Sit here,” Mona said gruffly, to Mille, pointing to a sturdy overstuffed chair.

Angry at being rudely treated, she rebelled and purposely dropped onto the most fragile looking chair.

Her grandmother glared at her but said nothing.

Helen said, “With Thanksgiving the day after tomorrow I thought it would be a good time to visit. And, I brought some of Calvin’s things I’m sure he’d like you to have.”

The old lady stiffened. “You really know how to stick in the knife, don’t you?”

“Look Mum, I know its weeks since Cal’s accident. It’s only because of his life insurance payout, that Millie and I were able to make this trip.”

“I can’t see why you bothered.”

Mona studied Millie intently; Millie glared back.

Helen noticing the confrontation chipped in, “Millie’s very like her father don’t you think?”

“Humph! I can see that.” Turning to Helen she said sarcastically, ‘You didn’t book a motel room did you?’

“We still can,'' said Helen.

Mona stood, sighed and said, “You might as well help me make up the beds.''

Helen followed her out of the room.

Millie was examining a Hummel figurine tableau of a young couple playing with a baby when they returned.

“Careful with that it’s my favourite piece. Calvin gave it to me just before he took off with your mother.”

“It’s cute,” Millie said putting it down, puzzled that there should be a sentimental object in this frosty household.

“I’ll see you in the morning,” Mona said indifferently, “I like to read for a while. It helps me sleep. We have a busy day ahead fighting crowds in the super-market.’

“It’s all under control” Helen said, “Millie and I shopped this morning before driving here.”

“You thought of everything, didn’t you?” she snapped angrily, her eyes filling with tears.

Helen walked over and took her in her arms. She brusquely pushed her away and stalked off.

“Come on Millie,” Helen said, defeated.

They collected their coats and walked out.

*

That’s sad,'' Carey said. “What happened to all her stuff and the estate?”

“It was left to the church, I believe.”

“The old B - I wish you hadn’t told me now.”


© Clement 2006


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