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A Family Dinner
By Marcia Miller-Twiford
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Rated "G" by the Author.
Sometimes the best of intentions turn out wrong.
The Matlock family was a large one and it kept on growing. They didn’t try to be the perfect family, they just lived, loved and enjoyed each other. When there was joy they shared it, and when there was sadness they shared that too. They accepted each other as they were, loved unconditionally, and no matter what the reason they were always there for each other.
During their fifty-two yeas of marriage Ben and Sarh Matlock had become excellent chefs and the meals they prepared for family gatherings were occasions the family eagerly looked forward to. Tonight's dinner was an extra special one: it was their annual "trim the tree" get together. Trimming the Christmas tree was an event the entire family participated in: children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The littlest ones were hoisted up by strong arms to place ornaments in spots they’d picked. Christmas carols were sung and laughter and the joy of the season reigned.
Neither lacking in vim and vigor Ben and Sarah were in the kitchen happily working away. She was making the requested lasagna and Ben was preparing a large antipasto platter. On a trip to Italy several years ago they'd bought a very large platter and he was piling it high with every type of salami, cheese, varieties of olives, peppers, marinated artichoke hearts, picketed baby corn, okra, and hearts of palm. Sarah tip toed up behind him, reached around and quickly snatched one of the irresistible plump black olives. Ben lovingly swatted at her hand, "Away from my platter woman."
"Oh, am I in your way dear? So sorry." Sarah replied with an innocent as a newborn lamb expression on her face.
"You can get in my way any time you want my love. Just don't touch the platter."
Satisfied with his masterpiece, Ben lightly sprinkled the contents of the platter with the best of olive oils, just as they did in Italy, and then he placed it in the refrigerator to chill.
It was only the first week of November and early to be putting up the tree, but one of the grandsons was taking his immediate family of four on a ski trip over the holidays and for the first year time wouldn't be joining them for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
The different decorations and ornaments the Matlocks had collected over the years had been brought down from the attic by Ben who had had trouble finding one particular box. He was sure it was in the back of the attic so he rigged up a temporary lighting system using two extension cords and one of the floodlight bulbs from their acre size back yard. He had to find that box; it contained many of the prized tree ornaments the children had made in school plus all the ones they themselves had collected over the many years. It wouldn't be a real Christmas tree without them hanging in their special places. Satisfied with his find, he descended the stairs to the main floor and rejoined Sarah in the kitchen.
Dinner was ready to be served when the family arrived and Ben built a large fire in the fireplace so everyone would be warm and comfortable. He'd always felt that a Christmas tree just wasn't what it should be unless there was a good old fire going in the hearth. Their old dog, Sparky, immediately stretched out in front of it thus easing the pain from his rheumatism. "Poor old dog. You've seen better days, haven't you fella?" Ben thought as he gave him a loving pat on the head.
Sarah was sorting through the boxes looking for the special angel that always went on top of the tree. It was special because it had been given to her by their youngest daughter, Sandra, who had been killed in an automobile accident on her way home from work one night three years ago. Now Sarah couldn't find the angel and started to become anxious. This was unlike her and didn't go unnoticed by old Sparky who left his place by the fire and went to her and laid his head in her lap. She looked into the dog's eyes and he seemed to be telling her, "Don't fret. You'll find it."
Sure enough, in the next box there it was. Wrapped in layers and layers of tissue paper. She carefully placed it on the mantel behind a decorative vase and went on with her searching.
The family arrived midst the usual turmoil of hugs and shrugging off of winter outer gear. Dan, the eldest son approached the fire rubbing his cold hands together. "The fire smells different Pops. Are you using a different wood? The damper open all the way?"
"Same wood as usual son," Ben replied. "Well come to think of it, I did use some kindling from the old oak tree you and I pruned this past spring. Probably isn't aged enough."
"That's probably it," Sam replied. "The lasagna sure does smell the same. Can't wait. When's dinner?"
"We're waiting on Sue. She wanted to bring dessert and you know your sister, she's never been on time in her life. Not even when she was born. She waited until three weeks after the due date to put in her appearance. As soon as she gets here we'll chow down. I think she's bringing apple pies. She makes them almost as good as your mom does."
Actually, Ben thought Sue's pies were better than Sarah's, but God help him if he ever said so. He generally said what would keep him in the good graces of both women; something along the lines of, "Uhhmmm, good Sue. Almost as good as your mother's, but not quite. But don’t get me wrong, it’s delicious.”
Just then six-year old Joey, one of Ben and Sarah’s great-grandsons, came into the room carrying a package wrapped in tissue paper with a child-tied red ribbon, and walked up to Sarah with a big grin on his face. "Here Grams, I made this at school just for you. It's for the top of your tree. It's suppose to be like the star they saw when Jesus was born."
Sarah opened the package to find a large star made out of cardboard, painted gold with school paints and sprinkled with silver glitter. She thought about the special angel but wouldn't hurt Joey's feelings for the world. "It's beautiful Joey, and from now on it'll be at the top of the tree every year."
The family headed for the dining room and Joey was ahead of Sarah. It gave her time to move the angel on the mantle to a table next to a picture of Sparky taken in his younger days. If Joey noticed it she doubted he'd remember that it was always atop their Christmas tree. All the children’s thoughts were always on the piles of presents that would be put under the tree.
Sarah too noticed the smell of smoke and also asked Ben about the damper. He assured her it was the kindling and the damper was wide open.
The lasagna, antipasto, and three baskets of garlic bread disappeared in a flash as did Sue’s three pies. Content with happy stomachs the family started decorating the tree. Ben had forgotten to bring down the strings of lights for the tree and headed back up to the attic. As he was approaching the door he saw puffs of smoke coming out from the bottom of it. He rushed back downstairs yelling, "Quick, call 911, there's a fire in the attic."
Their daughter, Francine, grabbed her cell phone from her purse called 911 while rusing outside with the others. Standing on the lawn and safe, they looked up to see smoke filling the attic windows just as four fire engines roared down the street. Before the fire trucks could park smoke began coming out of the front door.
Ben knew what had happened. "Stupid old man," he said to himself. "You know better than to put two extension cords together, and, expecting them to carry the load of a flood light wasn't too bright of you either."
The fireman hooked up their hoses yelling at everyone to move back. Just as the first crew approached the front door Sparky dashed past them and ran inside. Sarah screamed, "Sparky, come back!" For the first time in his long life Sparky didn't obey.
Except for the attic, part of the roof, and a lot of smoke damage, the house was saved. But, there was no sign of Sparky. A devastated Sarah sat cross legged on the lawn and cried. Not for the house, they had insurance and everyone was safe, but for the missing Sparky.
Ben apologized profusely to Sarah about his lack of judgment in rigging up the temporary attic lighting and then even worse, forgetting to unplug the cords when he left the room. Sarah put her arms around her distraught husband and told him, “Hush dear. It’s okay. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we start out to do a good thing and it ends up bad. It’s just the way life goes. There’s no need for you to apologize nor to feel bad. It happened, it’s over, and we’re all safe. All of us except for Sparky. What do you suppose got into that dog that made him go back inside?”
Just then, satisfied that there were no smouldering embers left to flare up again, the fire trucks began leaving and out from the front door came a smoke covered slow moving Sparky. In his mouth was Sarah's coveted angel. Struggling, his lungs filled with smoke, he gently laid the angel and one of his paws in Sarah's lap and then collapsed alongside her.
Wanting to comfort his wife, Ben knelt down beside her, put an arm around her shoulder and choking back tears he said, "Looks like you have an angel in your lap dear." Then he gently stroked the old dog that had been with them for so many years. No family could hope for a more loyal friend. It seemed as though he loved them all equally but, he had a special bond with Sarah and Sandra. While she was still at home Sparky always slept at the foot of Sandra’s bed on his own blanket facing the door as if he was guarding her from harm. When she died, the dog somehow knew and refused to eat for three days. He just lay at the foot of her bed waiting.
"Yes, there’s an angel in my lap and also one lying alongside me,” Sarah said laying her head on her husband’s shoulder. “When we went into dinner I put the angel alongside his picture on the table by my chair in the living room. He must have been looking all over for it, and that's why he was gone so long. I think the angel should stay on the table and we'll put that picture of Sandra that we like so much there too. Those two were always together before she left home last year. I believe they’re together again now. Besides, we now have a beautiful new star for the tree."
© Marcia Miller-Twiford
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|Reviewed by Annabel Sheila
|OMG!!! You have me crying so early this morning, Marcia. This is such a tender and sweet story, I was right there with the family through the whole day. Sparky broke my heart....Wonderfully penned story my friend!
Hugs & Happy Thanksgiving
|Reviewed by Georg Mateos
|Short stories with an emotional twist to tell us that humanity hasn't lost it all, that, among all the commercialism tender qualities still live inside the hearts of many...even on Christmas.
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|Heart tugging story; you never know when tragedy will strike. Even on holidays tragedy or discord will hit with little warning! Very well penned, Marcia; brava!
(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in Tx., Karen Lynn. :(