What a Ham!

I picked up the platter with the ham on it and started walking toward the dining room table, again. I didn’t get too far when I began bobbling the ham like a baseball…

By Sam Stella

My wife and I lived in a small town 13 miles northeast of Boston called Wakefield. My wife’s name is Jeannie. I worked as a cop in town for a while. My wife’s foster-mother, Edna, and foster-father, Al Smith, lived a short distance from us on Salem Street. My wife and I would visit them several times a week. Edna would welcome us into her kitchen for a steaming cup of coffee while she listened to the police scanner. She’d fill us in on any of the scuttlebutt that was taking place in town. She was a real warm and caring person unlike “Happy Al.” Yep, that was what I called him – Happy Al. Al sat in the living room watching television and called anyone who disrupted him during his daily routine was a “touch hole.” When he got agitated, all the family members were terrified that they would get gobs of profanity thrown at them and threatened.

Edna was just the opposite. One time, I stopped at their house while I was on-duty for a cup of coffee. I poured the coffee into a mug while standing over the kitchen sink and went to take a sip. Suddenly, the bottom of the ceramic mug fell into the sink with the coffee. I was left with part of the mug and the ring still on my finger. Edna said to me, “That could only happen to you!”

One year, I put an egg (in its shell) in a pot of dirt, gift-wrapped it, and gave it to Edna. When she opened it, I told her it was a special gift just for her, an eggplant. Jeannie thought I was nuts, but Edna got the biggest kick out of it! We shared a lot of memories and had a lot of fun.

Al was a miserable freelance finish carpenter for many years. He’d boast about how he was a better carpenter than Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather. He thought he was that good! After his retirement, Al and Edna sold their house and moved to a densely wooded area in East Barrington, NH. It was a 1½ hour drive from us. Al loved the location because it was so secluded. That was exactly why Edna hated it! They lived with one another in isolation nine months of the year. Edna would beg Al to take her to the outdoor mall in Rochester, NH, for a cup of coffee once a month so she could see real live people walking around, talking to one another, and enjoying themselves.

For Edna and Al, the summertime was different. Edna loved the summertime when everybody would show up and stay for a weekend or even a week. Al would walk around complaining under his breath how everybody was a touch hole. He demanded to be the center of attention in such a negative way. He just loved to hate!

Jeannie and I were invited to Edna and Al’s home for a scrumptious Easter Sunday dinner after they moved. Edna invited all the other relatives, too. Having a house filled with relatives at Easter was a big deal for Edna, but not for Al.

Jeannie and I took the trip to East Barrington, NH, on Easter Sunday and arrived at 11:30 that morning. Most of the family members arrived the previous Friday night. Yes, they had been there all weekend long playing a continuous game of Monopoly since their arrival. We were so happy to see all of them! They were just as excited to see us, especially Edna. The adults asked us if we wanted to sit in on the Monopoly game. Jeannie jumped at the chance. She loved board games and cards. I declined. The players made a few comments challenging me to play. I just told them, “You really don’t want me to play Monopoly with you.” I sat down and talked to Edna in the kitchen while Al sat in the living room, glued to one of the military channels on television. He was a World War II Seabees’ veteran who fought in the South Pacific. He always watched every World War II Pacific battle on television over and over again. That was probably where he got all his meanness, in the Pacific. Then again, it was my thought that his meanness was innate. When he was born, the good Lord said, “Whoops!” It was good that he stayed in the living room watching TV, away from everybody so he wouldn’t start another war. 

While I was talking to Edna, my wife’s relatives kept daring me to play Monopoly. I finally agreed. In forty-five minutes, I had all the money and most of the property. And, everybody was broke! That ended the game. A few of the relatives were really angry at me for winning the weekend Monopoly game that they had been playing since Friday night. I said, “You wanted me to play and now you’re mad at me because I played. I don’t get it?” I never understood why people would get so upset over a stupid board game. Then again, it might have been because they lost!

Edna calmed everybody down saying, “Dinner is served!” There were two dining tables – one for the adults and one for the children. We all sat down to eat. She always knew how to save the day!

I asked Edna if she wanted help. She said, “I would love some help!” Al’s expectation was that everything should be placed on the table by his wife and her little peon helpers. He was the kingliest of kings in his castle of castles. Edna had placed different vegetables and mashed potatoes in individual serving dishes on the kitchen counter for me to serve. Their house was composed of a very large kitchen and dining area with linoleum flooring. I brought the serving dishes to the tables from the kitchen counter, two at a time. It was almost a long walk. After bringing the serving dishes to the dining tables, Edna asked me if I wanted to serve the baked ham. I said, “I’d be honored!” Edna placed the ham on a large fancy silver-plated platter used for special occasions. I picked up the platter and started hiking toward the dining tables. All of a sudden, the ham started to slide on the platter! I tried to balance the ham by sliding it the opposite way, but I overcompensated. Somehow the ham slipped off the platter, bounced on the floor a few times, and slid to a sudden halt! Everybody started belly-laughing, even Edna. Thank God because I thought Al was going to pull a nutty! I was so embarrassed!

Edna came over to me and told me to put the platter on the linoleum floor beside the ham. She picked up the ham by slipping a kitchen knife into the left side of the ham and carefully covering the right side of the ham with her oven-mitted hand. She, with an acute sense of focus, placed the ham on the platter. And then, she said to me, “Try it again!” Everybody roared with laughter! I picked up the platter with the ham on it and started walking toward the dining room table, again. I didn’t get too far when I began bobbling the ham like a baseball. The ham was jumping all over the platter until it bounced off the edge and dropped onto the floor for the second time. At least, it bounced and slid a little closer to the two dining room tables and came to an abrupt halt, again! I bent over the ham. I attempted to re-implant the ham on the platter but stopped when Edna started hitting me on the back of my head and my right shoulder with the large hard plastic serving spoon she had in her hand.

My wife suddenly rose from her seat at the kitchen table. She started yelling at me, too, calling me a klutz and an idiot. Yeah, I was getting double-teamed, like in a football block. Edna kept whacking me with the spoon while everybody sat quietly watching what was quickly turning into a side-show in a circus. Edna was fit to be tied! Happy Al stood up, ready to explode! He had that twisted sick look on his face. The room turned ice cold. Everybody froze in their seats, and Edna yelled, “Don’t you dare, Al!”

Happy Al stood up, ready to explode! He had that twisted sick look on his face. The room turned ice cold. Everybody froze in their seats…

I said to myself, “Yes, yes… yes!” Once more, Edna put Al in his place. He didn’t dare say another word or Edna would have swung one of her heavy pots and connected, placing another big gash in that thick skull of his—like the last time. 

After the hitting and the yelling stopped, I grabbed the ham with my two hands, placed it on the platter, and delivered the ham to the dining table without dropping it, again. I was surprised nobody clapped! 

The badly bruised and battered ham was finally ready to be digested. I thought: If I had ever dropped that ham a third time, Edna would have grabbed the biggest carving knife from the kitchen counter and placed it firmly into my back while my wife would have made sure the carving knife was all the way embedded deeply into my back after Edna’s first plunge. Edna and Jeannie would have referred to that as dispensing instant justice! This might seem a little violent to many people, but my life as a police officer was chuck-filled with everyday violence. 

We all sat down and ate the bruised beast with potatoes, a nice variety of vegetables, and a home-baked apple pie for dessert. It was a good, hearty, and almost deathly quiet Easter Sunday dinner! 

We relaxed for a while after dinner at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. My wife enjoyed a nice conversation with her family while I kept very quiet. Thank God, I wasn’t told to sit in a corner facing the wall for all my mistakes, like winning the Monopoly game and dropping the ham on the linoleum floor, twice!

Not long after that, we said our good-byes and headed for our car and the long ride home. 

It certainly was an Easter Sunday that none of my wife’s family members would ever forget! My wife reminded me of that all the way home while I gave myself a little smile. To me, it was a very special Easter Sunday filled with lots of compassion, laughs, and love… even for Al.

Sam Stella is a retired police officer and an award-winning writer, having won first place in the 2018 Veterans Administration Annual Arts Contest. He is a new member of FYACS, who has participated in our monthly writing sessions and IRL storytelling events. He is also a member of The Room to Write in Wakefield, MA. 

Read more stories on Palette.