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Thanksgiving with Cousin Jack

The most joyous Thanksgiving, the one before Angie’s horrific passing, before everything went sideways, is with you. Remember, we head for the creek in the empty field behind the house. Acting as sous chef preparing trimmings, dusting the furniture, and finding the boardgame pieces takes up the morning but leaves us the long afternoon free while we wait for the butterball indicator to pop free, and we are both eager to get out from under the noise and into the brisk fall air. We are high-desert county kids, both raised not far from a library but still surrounded by open spaces and farms. I remember our mom’s calling, pleading really, after us to bring the others. We pretended to be too far to hear. I push the barbed wire up while you squeezed between the taught lines that corral the grazing heifers and we were gone. I lead the way, after all it is the back-forty adjacent to my home and I am most familiar. You keep an eye out for hidden mysteries and adventure along the way, directing me upon crisp crackling leaf beds frozen against the graying wild alfalfa and sage grasses. The grazing path take us out of earshot for certain and weaves gradually into wooded glen where the cows found refuge from the record summer heat just a few months earlier. We dodge a steamy pile of cow dung, leap across the barley trickling stream, and plop down upon an abandoned pile of radials.

Granite stone is glistening with socialite sparkle, pyrite braids, woven through the crevasse and cracks of the rocks surface and faintly illuminating the edge of the small trickles of clear water. In late-November central Utah is just beginning its third week of winter-like dropping temperatures, and abrupt nightly freezes entrain air bubbles beneath the sheer layer of ice that collects along the streams edge. Farmers, ranchers, and woolly bear caterpillars along the Timpoonokee Valley worry of the strength from the coming frost.

We healthy and vigorous young backyard explorers, however, eagerly turn towards the bitter winds of the coming season. You jump briskly from your treaded rubber recliner to your feet and, in exaggerated movements, point towards a box turtle, sacred geometric patterns of yellow and lamp black appear from the dried grasses at icy edge. We both stand silent considering this unexpected and misplaced gift from the Gods. Together we ponder a reptiles ability to survive without a heat-lamp or hand-fed mealworms and decide the noble thing to do is examine it closer. You gently pick him up, his extremities withdraw inside the shell, and you turn him over. Blood the color of his iris drip from the edge of your wrist. The turtle’s shell, normally so solid and impervious that a curious racoon would not be able to open the box, is cracked – “probably crushed by one of these obese beasts,” you give a cow with beige matted hide the evil eye and step backwards into a camouflaged warm pile muck.

I belly laugh and nearly fall over; I can’t help it. I point out the strands of alfalfa positioned within the pie and along the top of your high-top Keds for you. You nod with a ridiculous grin, reach downward, release the turtle back to the red frostbit earth – “it will be safer here,” you crow, grab the edge of the cow chip, pirouette, and release. The edge scratches my cheek just before the moist center splatters dabs of alfalfa into my left nostril.

“Game on,” I plug my right nostril and snort. We both break in opposite directions searching around us as we move for the perfect Frisby with crusted edges and underdone cookie dough center. We pause to take aim and fling one patty after another until we are covered. Our hair, matted as the beige cow, is covered with the aroma of fermented hay, dried moss-darkened leaves, and pure late November pasture manure. At the bend in the stream, (where the frigid bubble-captured-surface creates a false sense of solidity and darkened oak leaves are suspended, crinkled edges glistening through the dappled afternoon sunlight,) lay the most perfect poop pile ever digested. We both collide at the same intersection, ice cracking, wetted toes crying for warmth, and poo pie split between grassland range warriors determined to make the battle winning maneuver.

Returning towards the barbed wire fence, we cradle each other shoulder to shoulder, smiling a content, tired, and knowing grin and prepared for the imminent outrage that surely await our return to the more traditional holiday gatherings. Soon we are within earshot again. I wonder about our new turtle friend and what his chances are to heal and stay alive, and I find my appetite for meaningful memories sharpened, not sated, by our scent.

We eat our Thanksgiving dinner, including bird-stuffed croutons, can gelled cranberries, Ritz topped with cream cheese, and Green Giant peas and white pearl onions, on the back patio. It tastes heaven sent. We aren’t allowed back in the house. After dinner you climb into the back storage section of the faded wood-paneled station wagon where you ride 90 minutes back to Ogden. As you climb into the car, but before you leave, we share a look, the look of deep kindred and love. Yep, the damnedest most joyous and memorable Thanksgiving was with you.

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