I couldn’t sleep that early Thanksgiving morning. Mom already had started cooking in the kitchen, and the aromas drifted upward to the second floor where I lay in bed staring at my poster of Joe Namath throwing a football.
I went down the hall into the master bedroom, and Dad stood in front of the mirror putting his tie on. I glanced at the dresser where his gun, handcuffs, keys, and detective’s badge glistened in the light of the green-shaded banker’s lamp. I noticed for the first time that there were four small lines cut into the bottom of the gun’s wooden handle.
“Hey, Pal,” Dad said. “You’re up early.”
He walked over to me, touched my head affectionately, and put on his jacket. “Hey, Dad, what are those little marks on the gun’s handle?”
Dad took the S&W revolver and slipped it into the holster on his belt. “You notice everything, Pal.” He squatted down and took me by the shoulders. “I did that as a reminder of times I had to shoot someone.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes, you’re big enough to understand now. I’m not happy or proud about it. Those marks really just remind me that four times I might not have come home to you.”
I felt tears running out of my eyes, and he hugged me. “You’re always careful, right?” I asked.
“You bet, Pal. Now I have to go.”
My sister Janice and brother Jimmy sat in front of the TV watching the big parade. Janice looked up at me and said, “I just saw Dad.” At seven years old she probably thought she saw him. He “worked the parade” every year, but how could we see him with all those people?
I helped Mom in the kitchen, mashing the sweet and white potatoes, opening cans of vegetables, and squeezing boxes of broth for the gravy into a big bowl. Mom’s sisters were in the dining room putting finishing touches on the pies they were making. The house never smelled better than on this day with the big bird in the oven and all the pots steaming on the stove.
A few hours later my other aunts and uncles arrived with all my cousins. My four grandparents came in right after them. Everyone sat around laughing and talking. I glanced at Mom and said, “When will Dad be home?”
“He’s working an 8-to-4,” she said. I looked at my watch and noticed it was 3:30. I knew the parade was long over because my uncles and older male cousins were all in the living room watching the football game. If Dad were there I would have wanted to watch it too, but it meant nothing without him.
I went into my room and stared out the window at the Queens’ street. Brightly colored leaves covered the sidewalks, and the bare trees snaked limbs up against the dull gray sky. The sun would be setting soon, and Dad would get the subway and hopefully be home by the time we started dinner.
As our mantle clock struck six, everyone was getting restless. Mom had put everything out on the table, and it all really looked wonderful to my ten-year-old eyes. The steam rose from the big bird, and those melted marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes were calling my name. The kids’ table in the hallway had serving bowls on it with all the same things that were on the main table.
Uncle Jack called for another beer from the living room, and I ran to get it and I saw the look on Mom’s face – she was worried too now. Finally, Mom relented and broke her policy of waiting for Dad to start dinner. As Dad’s brother Tony sat down at the table he said, “Who’s gonna carve the turkey with Vince not here yet?”
Uncle Jack stood up and grabbed the big knives. He was a little tipsy, and he hacked away at that bird like he was chopping a tree. Uncle Tony kept shaking his head, and my Dad’s father mumbled, “Vin’s like a surgeon when he does it.”
Jack looked up at him and whined, “Come on, Dad; gimme a break here!”
Mom sat at one of two seats at the head of the table and said, “Vincent always leads us in grace, but this year I wonder if little Vinny would do the honors.”
I felt like I was ready to cry being so worried about Dad, but I stood up at the kids’ table. “Bless us oh Lord, and these Thy gifts….”
When people started to leave, I felt really scared. Dad had been delayed before, but he had always called. Mom’s sister Ruth hugged her tight as she went out the door. “Don’t worry, sweetie; Vince can handle himself.”
Mom’s parents stayed after everyone left. Pop Carney sat in the living room smoking his pipe, and he called me over to him. “You worried about Dad?”
“Say a prayer, Vinny,” Pop said.
“I’ve been praying all day.”
“Good boy,” Pop said, patting my cheek.
I peaked in the kitchen door and saw Mom crying on Grandma’s shoulder. I didn’t know what to do, so I went upstairs. Janice and Jimmy were already asleep; they were both too young to understand. I fell on my bed, stared up at the ceiling, and prayed for my Dad.
When I woke the next morning, I heard someone talking in my parents’ room, so I rushed down the hall. Mom lay in bed and Dad stood there still wearing his work clothes. I ran and wrapped my arms around him. “I heard you were worried about me, Pal.”
I looked up at him. “Yeah, a little bit.”
I noticed his gun in its holster; on the handle a fifth line crossed the other four. I hugged him harder then, wishing I would never have to let go.
Photo credits: scholasticatravel.com, thlectures.com, megaodd.com[amazon template=iframe image&asin=0738535621]