The Leaning Cow

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Thanks for the tuna

February 16th, 2015 ·No Comments

The Wickhams in Late November:

Over in Malcolm Falls, Cletus Wickham walked into the Back Room Café on the east side of the courthouse square and made his way to his usual table.

This is what he’d done every weekday for about 30 years, not counting holidays, vacations and that month-long spell in ’82 when he was making his peace with his stomach after having won the hot-dog eating contest at the county fair. (114 – a record, which still stands, which is more than Clete was doing at the end of the competition.)

Clete nodded a greeting to Judge Thorn as he slid into his seat across the booth from Beau Wickham who was Clete’s cousin of sorts – their great-grandfathers having been brothers.

Beau,” Clete said by way of greeting the man who had shared these lunches for 28 of the last 30 years.

“Clete,” answered Beau, raising his eyes over the menu he was studying.

Clete didn’t pick up his menu. He just sat there for a moment and then said, “Beau, don’t you think it’s odd that this menu has never changed and we always look at it?”

Beau’s face had been shocked into a blank expression and he just stared as his cousin leaned over the table and started talking about what had slipped into his mind that morning taken root.”

“In fact, Beau,” Clete began, “I’ve been wondering if maybe most of us Wickhams aren’t . . .. just plain odd, period.”

Jeanne-Louise Hawmans was standing at the table now, ready to write down their order. Pencil poised above the notepad, she joined Beau in staring open-mouthed at Cletus. Jeanne-Louise was about 78 and a war bride, having married Bob Hawmans after he had helped liberate France.

She had retired a few years back but helped out whenever Suzi Wickham Beckett called in sick, suffering from one of the headaches she had developed after her 1995 English Channel Swim.

“Mon Dieu!” It escaped in a whisper between Jeanne-Louise’s lips, but it was loud enough to catch the attention of the other diners and cause them to fall silent just as Cletus tried to get Beau to grasp his point.

“It just seems like sometimes – maybe a lot of times – people think we do things . . . differently than they would.”

He floundered then, not finding better words, failing to penetrate beyond the dazed look in Beau’s eye.

The café tottered in reality at that moment in Malcolm Falls’ meshing of time and space with The Twilight Zone.

Cletus could almost see something. Beau stopped breathing. The others started to wonder if a Wickham was actually going to realize what the whole town knew – that the family was intelligent, charming, vibrant and to a member a bit loony.

But before the idea could coalesce, it started to fade. Cletus rubbed his forehead and knew he should be reading the menu before he ordered his usual tuna salad with catsup.

Beau did start to breath again. Jeanne-Louise put her pencil to the paper and a scent of bougainvillea pulsed in the air for a moment as everyone went back to chewing, chatting and being in sync.

That was a Wednesday. They didn’t come in the next day. No one did. It was Thanksgiving.

About 36 Wickhams were gathered at Dr. Howard K. Wickham’s for dinner.

Phi Beta Kappa, sum cum laude graduate of Yale Medical School, chief of neurology of a big hospital in Chicago, Howard spent the work week in a apartment and returned every week-end and holiday to his home in Malcolm Falls.

The house stood on a bluff overlooking the falls and had been built on the site of the original Wickham homestead. It was the one place Howard loved best in all the world.

He was adding another log to the fire and talking to Cletus about the smells coming from the kitchen when Clark Lewis Wickham leaned against the mantle and asked, “So could there be a Mad Turkey Disease?”

Howard straightened up and stood where old Pioneer Wickham had stopped to breathe his pony and decided to settle. He pondered, his eyes staring up and to the left in that characteristic way he had. Then he looked at Clark and slowly answered, “I don’t really know.”

An hour later after Grace had been said, everyone dug into plates filled with potatoes and yams and beans and stuffing and green bean casserole and pumpkin loaf and Aunt Opal’s Jell-0 and fruit salads and cranberry sauce and . . . on the sideboard, a mound of tuna, molded in the shape of a turkey.

Just as Beau raised his fork he gazed at Cletus and sensed there was something, something he was missing.

Then he gave a tiny involuntary shrug and thought, “Odd, I smell bougainvillea.” He took a big bite of tuna.

Tags: This and That at The Peanut Butter Cafe & Roadhouse

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