Uncle Charlie sits alone on the porch. The rest of us are inside getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner. I sit by the fire and watch him through the big window in the front room. It’s a cold, windy Thanksgiving in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. The wind whips around the house, shaking windows and doors trying to find a way in. You can see the curtains shaking. The wood in the fireplace sizzles. Occasionally it pops, shooting out bright embers which bounce off the glass fire screen. Last year, I was old enough to help Daddy split and stack the red maple we’re burning. “Fresh cut wood is called green wood,” Daddy always said. “It’ll burn smoky cause it’s wet. Got to let it season a year or so before you can burn it inside.”
That cold, damp wind, in its never ending search to get in the house, whips Uncle Charlie’s frayed collar, but he don’t seem to notice the cold. Inside, Mom is getting the stacks of the ‘good’ plates, and bowls and saucers out of the cupboard. Aunt Vera pulls the oven door open. It squeaks fiercely, like it don’t want to open. She uses a wooden spoon to poke the casseroles. One is green beans smothered with mushroom soup and the other is broccoli with cheese sauce and pearl onions. I’d rather have the cheese sauce on the green beans, cause I don’t care too much for broccoli or mushrooms. “Where’s that can of french fried onion rings?” she calls out to no one in particular. She stands up, wiping the sweat from her face with her apron and says, “Must be a hunert in here. Somebody crack a window.” At the piano, Sis picks out ‘Over The River And Through The Woods’ with two fingers.
Out on the porch, Uncle Charlie sips whisky from a little, flat bottle. Since he’s outside, I guess he don’t need to bother with a glass. Inside, the pies and cakes are sitting on the buffet, waiting for us to eat them after dinner. Wish we could start out with them. Grandma’s big crystal bowl, filled with fruit punch, is sitting there too. Cherries and orange slices float at the surface of the orange juice and ginger ale. Daddy carves the turkey at the kitchen table. He showed me how to sharpen his big carving knife this morning. Tucky, yips at his feet, going nuts at the smell of all the food. “Let him have some,” Grandad says, picking a bit of meat from the platter. “Dogs celebrate Turkey day too.”
Chesterfield butts are lined up in Uncle Charlie’s ashtray. They look like tiny headstones. Sis and I lay out the silverware on the dining room table while Mom mashes the taters. She puts in lots of butter. Daddy takes the turkey bones from the kitchen table to the counter, making room for Aunt Vera’s casseroles. She sprinkles them with the french fried onion rings while Grandma fills a tray with cornbread. There is so much stuff on the table, she can’t hardly find a spot to put it. We all stand around the table while Grandpa says grace. We line up to fill up our plates and head to the dining room. Grandma holds her hand up and says ‘Wait a minute.” She puts her hands on my shoulders. “Go tell him to come in for dinner.”
I go out on the porch and tap Uncle Charlie on the shoulder. His eyes are looking far away. “Everything’s ready and everybody is waiting. Grandma sent me to get you,” I say. Uncle Charlie sips from his bottle, but don’t say nothing. I wait, not knowing what to do until the cold starts stinging my ears. I nudge him again. “Uncle Charlie?” He still don’t say nothing, so I go back inside.
Everyone is looking at me except Aunt Vera, who is sitting in the corner, face buried in her hands. I don’t know what they expect. It ain’t my fault. “I don’t think he’s comin’ in,” I say. “He’s just sitting there. Why’s he got to be like that?”
Grandma comes over to me. Bending down, she puts her hand on my shoulder. “Sometimes I don’t think he can forget about the war,” she whispers.
That don’t make sense to me. Daddy said that all happened before I was born. “But I thought you said he was a hero.”
“He is,” she says, looking away.
I can’t figure it out and it’s making me mad that he’s ruining Thanksgiving so I say, “Well it don’t seem to me he acts much like one.”
Paul Stansbury is a life long native of Kentucky. He is the author of Inversion -Not Your Ordinary Stories and Down By the Creek – Ripples and Reflections as well as a novelette: Little Green Men? His speculative fiction stories have appeared in a number of print anthologies as well as a variety of online publications. Now retired, he lives in Danville, Kentucky.