Thanksgiving dinner when I was about twelve. The parents and sister of two brothers I spent most of my time with were suddenly called away for the day and it was arranged that we three boys could try our hand at cooking a small turkey and making our own meal.
We were given full instructions, which we followed with much horseplay, and, as the smells began to emanate from the big wood range, we went around clumping one another on the back and chortling with satisfaction, joined in spirit by the boys’ dog, a fawning, ingratiating, clobber-footed hound called Louis. Actually, we cooked a pretty good meal, with mashed potatoes and turnips.
What made it memorable was that we were on our own, free of sisters and mothers and able to dispense with such things as breadand-butter plates, napkins, butter knives, manners and all civilized restraint. We heaped mounds of mashed potatoes on our plates, took all the gravy the plates would hold, eliminated sissified thin slicing and just cut the turkey in chunks to match our appetites. If someone reached across the table and clawed off a choice piece, no-
body sent him from the table. We just laughed and cursed and kept on eating.
About half way through the meal we all got quiet. Nobody finished his mountainous serving. We weren’t laughing any more and when we cursed it was without spirit. Even Louis, who had never before been slipped so many snacks, looked a bit glassy eyed.
We cleaned up the dishes dully and wandered off in different directions, not talking. 1 wasn’t able to think of turkey with any sense of pleasure for quite a while. Whenever, afterward, the meal was mentioned we had to make an effort to pretend we d had a wonderful time.
Actually, we had all had an early lesson that joy and lack of restraint are not synonymous; that there’s something to be said for women’s ways; and that there is real value in etiquette, formality and civilization.
A few days later I began eating with zest again, but from then on, whenever 1 momentarily let my appetite run away with me, I practically glowed with pleasure when my mother leaned across a corner of the table, rapped me behind the ear with her knuckle and said, “You’re at the table!”
A FREQUENT CONTRIBUTOR TO MACLEAN’S, ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN WAS AWARDED THE STEPHEN LEACOCK MEDAL FOR HUMOR IN 1956.
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