He rubbed his belly, his wife’s amazing turkey, cornbread stuffing, and sweet potato pie still filling the space to just this side of discomfort.
It had been a lovely day.
Upstairs, they were all sleeping the sleep of the content. Janey having willingly made the sacrifice of not talking on the phone to her many girlfriends and hopeful suitors in favor of listening to the jokes and stories her grandfathers loved to spin.
Christopher was doubtlessly sleeping with his beloved basketball. Brian had been willingly drafted into shooting hoops in the backyard for an hour or so in the crisp morning, only being dismissed when some of Christopher’s friends showed up to play.
And his darling little Annie was no doubt still clutching to the bear her maternal grandmother had surprised her with as a gift for her birthday coming two days hence; the plump dark brown bear that was nearly half her size. The bear that had made her eyes glow bright when she saw it; the one she took gingerly out of the box and inspected before pronouncing that “he looks like Daddy”. The bear (having been named Sam after her favorite character in her favorite book) had never left her side for the rest of the day (a place was set for Sam at the Thanksgiving table much to the affectionate amusement of Annie’s grandparents and much to the consternation of Annie’s usually tolerant siblings.)
Brian smiled contentedly.
He glanced up at the window a story above his head. His Ruth was sleeping there after a long day of cooking and being an attentive hostess. Ruth had allowed neither her own mother nor Brian’s his to get too involved with the cooking...this was the first time that both sets of parents had come together for Thanksgiving Day and she wanted them both to relax. She had worn herself to a near frazzle, but everything had come together beautifully. And now she was taking her well-earned rest, snoring daintily where he had left her...with a kiss...when he came down to look at the stars and count his blessings.
The guest bedrooms were filled as well. Ruthie’s parents were in one, his mother in the other.
And in the den downstairs was the old man. Brian’s bittersweet feelings toward the old man crowded up to the surface and he frowned, just a bit ruefully, but then he put them aside. It was Thanksgiving night and there was no place for anything like that.
As if he could feel Brian’s thoughts and energy, the old man...Benjamin Douglas Taylor...shuffled softly through the front door and out onto the porch. He was an imposing man (though, of course, he had seemed that much more imposing to Brian when he was a boy), half a shade lighter than his son.
Brian smiled to himself noting that the old man was still wearing his crisp white shirt and dark slacks held up by the dazzling rainbow suspenders that Annie had picked out for him. The old man was carrying a glass of scotch in one hand, a cigar in the other.
“What are you doing out here, boy?” the old man asked after clearing his throat.
“Looking at the stars, Ben,” Brian replied.
Benjamin nodded, a slight frown playing about his lips. “Thought I would stretch my legs,” he explained, “but if you’d rather be alone...”
Brian reached over and pulled another of the porch chairs forward, closer to his. “It’s okay, Dad,” he said, “come on and sit down.” Brian moved the small table across his body and in between the chairs.
The old man hesitated for a moment and then slowly moved across the porch and eased himself down into the proffered chair. Brian looked at the old man for a short while and then eased back into his own chair and looked up at the stars again. They sat in contemplative silence...staring into the sky, smoking and sipping at their drinks...for what seemed like a small eternity. The winter’s breeze kicked up just enough to make the old tree in the front yard rustle and dance a little.
“Thanks for having me here today,” Benjamin said in a small voice finally. “I know it must have been hard on you and your mother but I do appreciate being with family on Thanksgiving.”
Brian shook his head and sighed inaudibly. His parents had been divorced for more than 25 years but sometimes his father seemed to think it was still a fresh wound that had to be dealt with gingerly.
“It’s not a problem, Dad,” he said quietly. “Mama thought it was a wonderful idea...and the kids were thrilled to have all of their grandparents here for Thanksgiving Day...”
Benjamin grunted noncommittally. “You got some great kids, boy,” he said after a bit. “Makes me wish I had been a better father...”
Brian stifled the urge to agree with him. “What’s done is done, Dad,” he said instead, “and what’s important is here and now.”
The old man turned and looked at his son. “Do you really believe that?”
Brian turned and met his father’s gaze. “Yes, I really believe that...you can only hold on to the past for so long...”
They stared into each other’s eyes for a long time and then Benjamin sighed again and sat back in his chair and looked up into the sky. “Sometimes the past is all you’ve got, Brian...”
Brian rocked back in his own chair and looked up into the sky himself. “We all make mistakes, Ben,” he said after a long pause, “the trick is not to get too caught up in them...”
“Easier said than done, boy...” his father responded in a weary voice.
Brian started to retort but found that he could not. The old man was right. It was easier said than done. But he also knew that it could indeed be done. He was living proof of that having spent so long jealously hoarding resentments from past slights (both real and imagined) including and especially those assigned to his father, who had been gone from his life a long time before the divorce. They had had no real relationship to speak of until Brian had grown into manhood...past the need for a father in the classic sense, but open (more or less) to the possibility of learning to be the old man’s friend just the same.
“You can’t tell me that you didn’t hate me sometimes,” the old man interjected suddenly, his voice growing thick. “I mean...for not being there...you can’t tell me that...”
Brian took a long drag on his cigar and then stubbed it out in the ashtray on the table. He looked back up at the sky and slowly let the fragrant smoke escape. “No, Ben,” he said finally, “I can’t tell you that...you hurt me...” He paused and corrected himself, “I let myself be hurt...more times than I care to think about...”
“So you told me,” Benjamin said ruefully, referring to a caustic letter detailing a litany of paternal transgressions stretching back to infancy that Brian had sent him years ago. Brian took in a large measure of air and let it out slowly. That damn letter. He couldn’t say that he truly regretted sending it...it was a necessary step in letting go of that stuff...but still a part of him felt bad for having vented so seeing that his father still felt the barbs so distinctly so many years later.
The old man put down his cigar and hung his head. He finished his scotch with one fell swoop and put down the glass too.
“But I’m 40 years old, Dad, the stuff of childhood has long since been put away,” Brian continued, consciously making no direct reference to the letter.. “And I meant it when I said the past was the past. Whatever was done is done...I’m over it...well, for the most part anyway...” he allowed himself a slight smile at that and the old man looked up and over at him. “And you should be over it too...”
Benjamin started to say something but could not.
Brian stood up and walked over to where his father was sitting. He knelt down in front of the old man and looked up into his sad, dark brown eyes. “You’ve been a pain in the butt sometimes, Ben,” he said with a smile, “but you’ve never stopped being my father. Hang on to that...let the rest go.” They looked into each other’s eyes for a long time and then Brian nodded. Benjamin nodded in reply.
Brian rose to his feet and stretched and yawned. “I’m going to bed,” he said, “it’s been a long day. You coming in?”
Benjamin shook his head. “Not yet...think I’ll sit out here a little while longer.
Brian nodded again, reaching over to pick up their empty glasses. “Okay, Dad...don’t forget to lock the door when you come in.”
Benjamin grunted a small, playfully dismissive laugh. “I’m old but no so old as to forget something like that, son.”
Brian nodded for a third time. “Good night, Ben...Dad...Good night, Dad.”
The old man looked up at his son. “Good night, boy,” he said softly.
Brian disappeared into the warm darkness of the house and Benjamin looked up into the Thanksgiving night sky. “It was a lovely day,” he muttered softly.