ONE year my sister Amy decided to make a centerpiece for the Thanksgiving table. Her creativity was prompted by a magazine display picturing a charming feathered turkey at a low, low price which she couldn't afford. Seeing it, however, she immediately understood the mechanics of the bird's construction.
``Nothing to it,'' she said and went to the barn in search of chicken wire. We had a surfeit left from when my father built the cages for our Leghorns, but the tin snips weren't available - locked, I suppose, in Dad's tool chest in case of just such eventualities. Never mind. Her turkey would be somewhat larger than the one pictured, but when you're 10, as she was, that's hardly a drawback.
Amy manipulated her chicken wire into a somewhat circular shape and used string to attach a second, flat piece for the tail. The head was easy enough to cut from construction paper, but covering the body and the tail was more complicated. Construction paper was too stiff, and the proper materials could only be purchased in town, 14 miles away across Lake Erie.
Now the mail plane, a Ford Tri-motor, gave access to town in the winter months, but Amy wasn't so naive as to assume her project would warrant an expensive flight, such things being reserved in our family for births, deaths, and other emergencies.
Amy gave me a hard look, as though deciding whether the penalties for breaking my arm would outweigh the tragic loss of feathers for her creation, but being nonviolent by nature - and also unsure that my emergency would get her to town - began hunting for suitable coverings for her bird.
The getting of groceries was an uncertain business between November and April. A phone order would result in the small mainland grocery store delivering the order to the airport and loading it on the mail plane. In theory anything available could be delivered within 24 hours, but in practice snow, sleet, rain, and fog regularly interrupted service. Therefore, Mother stocked up on basic items in the fall, one of them being tissue.
Amy emerged from the closet of the guest bedroom with cobwebs in her hair but victory in her grasp.
``These will work,'' she announced, showing off three boxes of colored tissue.
She spent two days stuffing the chicken wire. I remember clearly because she was too busy to clear the supper table, wash the dishes, rip the bread for stuffing, admire the turkey going into the oven, wash the breakfast dishes the next morning, peel potatoes, or set the table. I was placing the last fork when she yelled from the living room, ``It's done.'' We all went to look.
Her turkey was close to a foot tall. Its construction-paper head - orange, red, and green - wobbled uncertainly, but the body was a mass of white and the tail sported alternating stripes of pink and blue. I was nonplused, never having dreamed my sister was such an artist.
``It needs one more thing,'' she said when my mother went back to the kitchen, and she pulled from beneath the couch the bottle of perfume she'd sneaked downstairs from Mom's dresser.
``Let's see now. A little here, a little there ... well, I want to make sure I have enough,'' and she liberally doused the bird.
Grinning triumphantly, she set it in the middle of the dining-room table just as Mom announced dinner was ready.
I've forgotten, if I ever knew, the name of the perfume, but it had a thick, sultry smell, at least when used in abundance. My father started sneezing before he reached the dining room and never faltered.
After 10 minutes, during which we got seated and Mom carried dishes in and Dad between sneezes complimented Amy on her masterpiece, he suggested that perhaps the centerpiece could be moved to make room for the real turkey. Amy gracefully acquiesced.
Her turkey began a series of short hops, landing first on the top of the china cabinet, next on the kitchen counter, and at last on a shelf in the back vestibule, separated from the house by a wall and a sturdy door, where it continued to unleash its aroma.
By then the dining room was a lost cause. Even though we opened the windows, Daddy's sneezing fit continued, and the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, cranberry sauce, rolls, peas, beans, and pumpkin pie all tasted thick, sultry, and profound, just like the perfume.
Years later, after I was grown, I was in the back vestibule searching for something or other and came across a blob of chicken wire with a few faded wisps of paper clinging to it.
``What's this?'' I asked my mother, lifting it close for a better look. ``Oh, never mind; I remember,'' and for three days I carried with me the scent of Thanksgiving 1958. Every time my father came within three feet of me he sneezed.