My papa is a doctor. Folks need him so we don’t get to see him everyday. Sometimes he doesn’t get home until after we’re abed, and Mama keeps his supper warm on the hearth, covered with a red and white checked cloth. Once, when my big brother and I couldn’t get to sleep with the full moon bright through our bedroom window, we snuck down and ate that plate of food ourselves. We escaped a whippin’ the next morning, our genuine tears at the story Mama painted of Papa’s empty innards all night long, making us sorry enough. Because we loved him, our papa, with his twinkling blue eyes and enveloping bear hugs and the way he made us feel safe.
Then came a year when our sheltered lives were in danger. Instead of money, patients gave Papa things. At first, my brother, Wayne, and I were excited to see what he might bring home. Once it was Mrs. Gibbons’ famed canned peaches. Papa told us about setting Harry Gibbons’ broken arm when he fell out the hayloft. And how ashamed his mother was not to be able to give him money. We ate peaches in cobblers, in pies, on our oatmeal, in salads, and with milk. I got so tired of them, I wanted to throw the remaining jars out in the gully behind our field, but I knew better.
“Waste not, want not, Wilbur,” Mama’s voice rang in my ears.
One day, Papa brought me a present, and it wasn’t even my birthday! It was a pet for me to tend and care for, all my own!
“Might not live long,” he warned me, “it being so scrawny and all.”
Many an hour I spent, spoon-feeding the baby, who I had named “Wrinkles”. Wayne scoffed at the name and the animal, calling him “Winky” for short, just to taunt me. Papa built a pen as Wrinkles grew bigger. I remember the time I had a bad cold and was quarantined to the house, so Papa and Mama and Wayne all took turns feeding him. They might not say it, but I knew they loved him, too.
Fall came early that year, and the colorful leaves spread over the yard like Mama’s patchwork quilt. Our meals became smaller and people were complaining and suffering with something called a depression. Whatever that was, it was hitting us all pretty hard, Papa’s patients less likely to give anything for payment. I was proud that he didn’t stop helping them, though.
I spent more time than ever with Wrinkles, him so tame I could even put my arms around his neck occasionally. Mama, watching us from the kitchen window with a worried frown on her face, would interrupt us for me to do chores or help her with something-or-other.
Finally, my favorite time of year, Thanksgiving through New Year’s, was upon us and our food supply was so low, Papa had made attempts to go hunting, with little success.
But, as long as I had Wrinkles, I was mostly content.
Until one fateful day I discovered him gone! The gate was open, something that had never happened before, and I, inconsolable, thought I must have forgotten to latch it. Papa and Mama did their best to keep me busy helping with our Thanksgiving dinner, scant as it was to be. The aromas from the cooking, nonetheless, made our mouths water.
Papa’s deep voice in prayer, as always, quieted my troubles.
“Dear Father, we thank Thee for Thy provision for us, even in these days of less. We thank Thee for each other and for this wonderful food. Amen”
“And please take care of Wrinkles, and send him back to us,” I added.
“He's closer than you think,” Wayne mumbled and Papa elbowed him in the side.
The meal tasted SO good! Meat and garden potatoes, squash and Mama’s famed smooth, rich gravy on mouth-melting biscuits! I almost forgot to save room for dessert.
“Wow, the meat wasn’t as tough as I thought he would be,” Wayne grinned, winking at everyone over and over. “And, Mama, your new feather duster sure looks pretty!” accompanied by more winks.
Suddenly, realization waved over me. I slammed out the back door, throwing up my entire dinner under the old elm tree.
My brother got the lickin’ of his life that day. And eventually I learned the lesson of survival of the fittest.
But I could never eat roast turkey again.
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