My dad’s thumb got cut in half on Thanksgiving one year. We were living in the last house that my parents bought together, the house that I grew up in, mostly, the house that my sister grew up in, definitely, the house that had an oven that wouldn’t close properly.
The upper oven door would always remain slightly ajar at the base, just an inch or two, the hinge a bit wonky, and wouldn’t allow us a properly oven-baked meal most times. On Thanksgiving that year, neither of my parents were willing to risk a mediocre-roasted turkey and so my dad, not handy at fixing anything at all ever, decided that Thanksgiving day would be the most opportune time to fix that pesky oven. Some minutes just before putting the beautifully dressed bird into the oven, my dad pulled that oven door down toward him a bit, grabbed the bottom corners of that door, yanked at the hinges just a bit, took one step back, the door freed, and stood there. Doing nothing except holding that door. All six-foot-two-inches of my dad just stood there, holding a detached bit of oven, looking straight ahead, saying nothing.
A moment or two beyond his still nothingness, I saw him, in one swift move, set the door down onto the kitchen table and yank his left hand back toward himself. Another couple of moments after that, not speaking at all after setting the oven door onto the table, my father silently and quickly walked into the living room and laid down on the couch.
My mom rushed over to the couch and kneeled down next to my dad, offering him a dish towel.
A beat skipped and I ran into the living room behind my mom. Peering over the back of the couch, into my dad’s stark white face, his eyes wide open and his pupils dilated, I asked, “Dad, are you okay?”
He looked at me very calmly (I expected some sort of rage, or at least a loud voice), “No, Kiddo,” he laughed. “No, Kiddo, I am not okay.”
Because when my dad had yanked that oven door out of its frame, the door’s hinge (with about 300 pounds of pressure behind it) had snapped out of its socket and landed squarely on top of my dad’s thumb. And when he had yanked his left hand back, out from under that hinge, his thumb had been sliced in half.
And so that was the Thanksgiving that Dad went to the Emergency Room.
There was that Thanksgiving and there was the Thanksgiving that my mom had a terrible flu (which she caught from me: hey, kids are hazardous to parental health) but managed to cook an amazing meal anyway in between bouts of vomiting and there was the Thanksgiving that we girls went to Sacramento without my dad and I ended up bringing a pregnant cat back home to LA with us. That later had kittens. Which had more kittens. Which had even more kittens. And, speaking of cats, there was that Christmas that our other cat, Murray, caught on fire (just a little Neosporin and he was fine). But, I digress.
So, I don’t remember if we even had a turkey that year, the upper oven door set aside with just the tiniest bit of Dad blood on its corner, but I do remember that the china was beautifully set, the linens nicely folded, the silver perfectly polished, and the crystal glasses set neatly just above the linens, to the left. And I remember that my dad came home after a few hours, bandaged, but no worse for wear.
Probably, we still had a proper Thanksgiving dinner. My mom probably kept all of the cooking going, as she always has, and kept the warm food on reserve, as she always has. I have no idea where my sister was during all of this. At that point in my life, she was more annoying to me than anything else and I only remember that my dad came back home again and that we were all together and that everything was okay toward the end of the evening. Because that’s always what it was about.
In Boston, I spent years away from Thanksgiving. Which is always ironic to me because I was living in the Pilgrim Place. Near that great rock (which is so small, actually) cleft into the shore of Massachusetts Bay, I spent the holidays away; across patches of farmland and a great quilted dessert and beyond the red-clay cliffs that live between the coasts.
But every year that I was away, every year, I would call home. I would be with a friend or a family or at Temple Bar on Massachusetts Avenue, with its red velvet curtains, and I would call. Frost would be frosting outside in Boston and, outside in LA, the leaves would be just turning.
“It’s so cold!” Mom would say.
“How cold, Mom?” I’d ask.
And I would just laugh at her, tugging on my gloves as I held the phone between my shoulder and my smile.
“Dad still have both his thumbs?” I’d ask.
“I think so. Chris!” she’d yell. “You still have all your fingers?” I’d hear some sort of mumbling slur in the background, “He’s still got ’em all,” she’d say. “And the oven is working just fine,” she’d say.
I could smell my mom’s cooking, then. I missed it. And the air in California in November: just a hint of fireplace and just the slightest touch of leaves under foot, as much as they could be back there. And my sister would get on the phone, “Our parents are crazy.” I’d laugh, looking into the window of that restaurant in Porter Square, looking at my lonely meal on that fancy bar, and I’d say, “But they’re ours.” I could hear her breathe, hear the dimples forming into her smile, “Yeah,” she’d sigh. “Yeah, they are.”
“Is Dad staying at the house tonight?” I asked my sister.
“I think so,” she said. “I think he’s driving back home tomorrow. He’s staying in your room tonight.”
“Good,” I said. “That’s good.”