Ham for Christmas

The small house in Partlow was brimming with noise and chaos. It was Christmas Day! My grandparents’ old oil furnace in the living room was blasting hot air, but there was already an ample amount coming from the grownups. The smells were mixed with the sweetness of desserts and the heaviness of southern cooked veggies and potatoes of every kind. All, of course, were seasoned with salt, butter and fat back. Oh and the ham! The sweet and savory smell of the Christmas ham! Everyone crammed into the kitchen taking clandestine nibbles here and there.

Then it was time…..Time for the blessing. All of the grandchildren held their breath…..which one of us would Nanny call on to get Granddaddy from his “workshop?" The only thing he worked on out there was a bottle of I.W. Harper bourbon.

This time I was granted a reprieve and my cousin Sandra was asked to go. Knowing she was more sensitive to Granddaddy’s rantings, I volunteered to accompany her.

We walked the path from the house to his workshop. It was never a happy walk, but the walk of dread. As we entered the disheveled shop, the smell of stale cigarettes, oil, and despair smacked us in the face. Pin up calendar girls and rusted tools hung on the wall and my grandfather sat in his chair listening to the radio, glass in hand.

“Nanny says it’s time to eat”, Sandra mumbled.

“What did you say? Speak up so someone can hear you dammit!!” my grandfather bellowed.

I yelled, “IT’S TIME TO EAT!”

Granddaddy rose up and came towards us, his bald head turning red. “Are you being a smartass??? I’ll show you what a smartass feels like!”

He turned back towards his workbench and started yelling at no one. “Goddammit, just when I start really getting into my project that woman has to serve dinner?”

We wanted to leave but couldn’t decide if it was safe yet. He grabbed his hat and said, “I’ll just have a talk with her about this!”We knew it was our cue to run. He stumbled along the path as we ran ahead of him and bounded in the back door to the safety of our fathers’ arms.

Like a clap of thunder entering the room my grandfather appeared. His presence filled the room and quelled the merriment. “Goddammit Lil, why do we have to eat now?” he boomed.

“Dammit Ed, I told you we were eating at 2:00 and it is 2:00” retorted my grandmother.
And they were off like Greyhounds chasing a rabbit……Yelling louder and louder, using more and more profanity to see who would “win” the argument.

Then my grandfather pulled out the big weapon, “Goddammit I make the money around here and I’ll say when we eat!” Concurrently, he slammed his fist on the kitchen counter and stomped his foot. The silverware on the table rattled like we had had an earthquake and the grandchildren scurried like roaches when the lights come on.

My grandmother, not to be out done, used her best comeback, “Well Ed if you don’t like the way I do things, there’s the road outside¸ Take any damned end of it you want!!”
There was an eerie, yet deafening silence that crept into the room. The silence foretold of reactionary danger. Granddaddy turned crimson and yelled, “Well have your goddamn dinner then, but you’re not going to have THIS!!!”, and with that he picked up the pan with the prized ham and threw it (pan and all) into the dog pen with his hunting dogs.

It was over. The anticipated and traditional drama was over. We didn’t discuss it or even acknowledge it. We said the blessing and we ate.


Richmond, VA