---- — Editor’s Note: We’re thrilled to announce the return of our columnist, Jim Atwell, and his legendary column “From Fly Creek.” Jim’s column will be an occasional feature, when he is able to write or he has something he wants to contribute. We celebrate his return with one of his classic columns.
You know about Mammon, even if you’ve forgotten his name. In the Scriptures and in lots of literature, he’s the personification of gluttony, avarice, and of all types of materialistic grabbiness.
Jesus warned us to back off from Mammon; serving him is slavery.
And Wordsworth echoed Christ (and the Buddha and Lao Tsu): “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.”
We sell our souls to Mammon.
If American holidays were Bowl games, Mammon has now won almost all of them, hands down. The Easter Bowl was a pushover since it had lost sacred meaning for most decades ago. Nowadays, Mammon’s secular retooling has trampled down the religious vestiges like that giant, big-footed, pink Bunny that keeps going and going. . .
The Christmas Bowl? Why, Christmas was co-opted long ago. Mammon got great help from Charles Dickens, who took a holy day already overrun by “getting and spending,” and coated it with syrupy sentimentality that’s now hardened to a brittle.
If you squint hard, you might see through it, but you’ll likely get no further than sensing a feast of vague humane virtue, of “good will to men.” A phrase from a carol; about all that’s left for most.
And Thanksgiving, just past? Christmas buying frenzy has washed back over it, almost drowning the Day in commercialism
Chalk another one up to Mammon! He’d already led us pretty far into butchering the Thanksgiving bird on our own, turning the day into a fest of overdosing on food and sports. But now Mammon’s best henchman, his demigod Marketing, has moved onto the turkey turf and to mop up the job.
You’ve heard of Black Friday, which has spilt back, like black sludge, into the late hours of Thanksgiving? That’s followed by Gray Saturday, given over, I think, to flogging electronics. I’m not sure about Sunday; maybe it’s mauve. But the following weekdays have been pounced on by car dealers. Color those days Green.
In about three years, Thanksgiving has morphed into the Twelve Days of Mammon. And what’s left of Turkey Day tradition, barely hanging together, seems just wedged in there to hold the sequence of spending days together.
But, apart from Marketing, what have we done to the Day?
Let’s go to anybody’s house late on Thanksgiving Day. Wait! Make it a grandparental house, where three generations had crowded in, elbowing one another through the ritual feed.
Dusk now, the crowd’s dispersed, and there’s Grandpa, trying to get comfortable in his old lounger. He can’t sit up straight since his stomach, rumbling and stretched past capacity, would cut off his breath. So he’s half slouched, stomach bulging above him, like an pained eighth-month momma waiting for an ob/gyn exam.
As Grandpa slouches by the TV’s muted light, he’s dully surveying the party wreckage in his line of sight.
As the extended family had sat down, that dining room table had been a tableau, a beautiful perfect tribute to gluttony. Now it’s as devastated as a field after battle. Twelve adults had settled around it and, after a strained pause, had had at the food, passing it around with feigned politeness, but watching for the best cuts of the bird, the biggest slices of pie.
That turkey is now skeletal wreckage, and three pie plates hold only crumbs and bits of wilted whipped cream. Even Cousin Emma’s sweet potatoes are all gone, nothing left but two of the worst-burnt marshmallows.
“I just turned away for a second!” she’d exclaimed, as she does every year.
Grandpa can’t even look at the devastated children’s table. Dead center in the adults’ feeding frolic, some little hellion had reached under the card table and released two legs. Screeches and screams as food, china, splashing glasses of chocolate milk avalanched onto some second cousins’ precious Shirley Temple clone She was soaked through, her frilly party dress blotched beyond redemption.
Grandpa scowled more deeply. And which of those imps had later given eggnog ice cream to the dachshund, which then spewed it behind the couch?
Well, they were all gone now; including his own beloved little ones, his boys balding and myopic, one of them with a pot as big as his own. And, oh, his own two Shirley Temple clones, both of whom pulled down on dresses as they stood after dinner, trying to ease overstrained fabric over hips and butts before it gave up and split. Matrons now, who just before standing, had given in “maybe a tiny bit more of that pumpkin cheesecake!”
Out of his sight in the kitchen, Grandpa could hear his wife clattering china into the dishwasher. She was probably exhausted and feeling as stuffed as he did, for she’d succumbed to the ritual teasing.
“Come on, Ma! We can’t trust the chef’s food if she just picks at her plate!” A son clapped a drumstick onto her plate to cackling laughter. Just then, the children’s table had collapsed, and parents had upset their own chairs, running to extract offspring.
“Tradition,” the old man mused aloud, thinking of those burnt marshmallows and that drumstick shoved onto his wife’s plate. And what about that pause just before the forks and knives flashed? That was his wife’s special moment, an attempt to echo something that used to be part of the feast.
“Now let’s pause and each say what we’re grateful for.” They did pause, but like horses lined up at the starting gate.
The list was always trite: I’m grateful for my family, for my kitty, for the blue sky, etc. And of course, one little girl (she who later got dinners dumped on her), tried to upstage everyone with her coquette’s simper.
“I’m grateful for [dramatic pause] BUTTERFLIES!”
Grandpa now half grins. Too damned cute, that one. Got what was coming to her.
Now he gives a lion’s yawn, lurches forward in the lounger, drags himself upright, stands on unsteady feet. It occurs to him that something has disappeared over the years from the “I’m grateful” ritual. There’s no “to Whom” phrase any more. “I’m grateful” now just means, “I’m glad to have. . .”
He shakes his head. “Too deep a thought for now,” he mumbles, shuffling towards the steps. Grandpa pulls himself up along the railing, thinking of antacids and hoping wistfully for unbroken sleep. At the top he grabs the newel post and hoists one foot, then the other, up the last step.
There, unaware, he gives the day’s last tribute to triumphant Mammon. He pounds his fist against his chest to free a hot belch--and, surprisingly, a honk from behind him. The honk makes him laugh out loud, and that produces another honk and a still louder laugh. A harried Grandma shouts up from the kitchen,
“Never mind!” he shouts back, still chuckling, heading for the bathroom and the antacids.
But he pauses, thinking of that old lady clattering china. Fifty-three years! Thank God for her!
Then he shouts down the stairs, “Happy Thanksgiving!”
“WHAT?” screams Grandma, the tone raw exasperation.
“Never mind!” he shouts back. “It’s not important.”