AS YOU WILL probably recall, our daughter Melinda lost the thumb on her left hand when we drove up to Solvang for a day trip this past summer and stopped to feed the emus. She was holding the bowl wrong (there’s a sign telling you how to hold it and, well, there’s a reason she’s in the slow reading group in her class) and instead of a mouthful of pellets, one frisky flightless bird got a taste for meat.
Many of you were kind enough to point out that at least she’s right-handed, and it was her left thumb. Others sent in hand-knitted mittens with the thumb on the left mitten thoughtfully omitted. (Elaine H. from Marbleton, Wyoming mentioned she used a regular mitten pattern for the right, but just a sock pattern for the left. Clever!) And we even got a few well-intentioned notes suggesting that surgeons may be able to take her left big toe and transplant it to her hand. (Too late. She lost that to a bicycle chain when riding her two-wheeler barefoot the summer before. And this was right after she proudly asked us to take off the training wheels – talk about your good day/bad days!)
But we’re happy to say she’s adjusted well, although her cat’s cradle days are over. It’s sort of a blessing that her older brother Mark lost a couple of fingers to the fireworks we bought in Ventura County and snuck back here – she looks up to him and a missing digit or two to her is now something of a badge of honor. That is, it was until art class this week when young Miss Casarin, all of twenty-three, right out of college, and somehow responsible for over two dozen children, callously decided the perfect Thanksgiving project for all her pupils – even those without all their fingers (and we hardly believe Melinda is the only one in a class of 26) – would be the traditional turkey hand-tracing.
Look at the hideous monstrosity Melinda came home with:
After supper that night, we convened in the living room for an emergency family meeting to discuss whether or not it deserved a space on the Sub-Zero. It was unanimous: Absolutely not. Melinda was right to be upset, we told her, it really was horrible, but we assured our sensitive progeny: We don’t blame her, or her disfigurement, we blame the teacher. (More on that later.) The awful art was consigned to the kindling pile by the fireplace. By the next day, it would be nothing but ashes and bad memories.
Enter Uncle Frank. He and Berta came up for the holiday weekend, and seeing the drawing and noticing Little Nine-Fingers moping around, put two and two together.
He picked her up, plopped her down on his lap and explained that in fact, her drawing was perhaps the most accurate of all those her classmates had drawn. “What do you mean, Uncle Frank?” she asked, childlike wonderment in her good eye.
“Well, Melinda, all turkeys destined for the dinner table this Thursday – every single one – is going to have its head lopped off – chop!” he smiled, using the side of his hand to pantomime an axe to her neck.
“And then, why, ol’ Mr. Turkey will have as much as a head as you have a thumb!”
With those words, as though by magic, this disgusting agglutination of construction paper and crayon suddenly had some worth, (most of) the family decided. Up went the drawing on the fridge (despite my objections).
Still, I think that Uncle Frank’s message kind of put it all into perspective for us – something that we’re all too often guilty of losing sight of especially during this time of year, as the days grow shorter, and, by degrees, the weather turns colder, when it seems we’re beginning to have to rush around busier than ever, with more and more to do, and less time to do it all, all the while the season changing all around us from the refreshing cool of mid-autumn to the crispness of late autumn, and eventually, even winter’s chill – the spirit of giving.
It’s true, the turkey drawing will never have a permanent place in the Parsnips family scrapbook – somehow it ended up in the fire anyway – but that which it represented transcends mere cheap school-grade art supplies anyway: a message of thanks.
As to Miss Casarin, I hope she had a nice Thanksgiving weekend, no doubt shopping for her little belted pencil skirts at Dress Barn on Black Friday, and then it was off to DSW, probably, for a pair of black Sofft Sorrento peep toes or those Franco Sarto Ravel over-the-knee boots (also black) with the zipper up the back. Because come Monday, I’m going in there, alone, because it looks like once again, I’m going to have to have a talk with her.