Friday, December 19, 2014

A Christmas Story, Chapter 10, Thanksgiving Conflict


By: Mike Furches


It was a week before Thanksgiving and things were already far more hectic than the Hamm's could handle. Things over the last weeks had been rough with James and the family. The family had decided to invite Detective Bob Hay and Sergeant Mike Jackson along with their families and James' younger brothers Charlie and Buddy along with his sister Barb to spend Thanksgiving together. They were convinced that getting together with everyone would be a good opportunity to mend some of the fences that had been broken with all of stress they had been enduring and short tempers towards one another. What Tayra didn't realize or take into consideration was all of the details that went with this adventure, from making room in the dining room, the kitchen, how to cook all of the food, keeping it warm until the time of serving, plus the hectic nature that came with the Christmas rush. The Christmas rush started earlier and earlier each year. It used to be that the rush didn't start until after Thanksgiving, now it was prior to Halloween and the crowds and traffic were getting worse. All of this wore on the nerves of anyone out trying to get the regular mundane concepts of life taken care of.
While it was normally easy to get around Owasso, that was not the case during this time of year. The stores and strip malls were packed. The area had grown so fast that the roads were not adequate to handle the traffic and number of customers. It wasn't unusual to be backed off of the highway at the exit ramp during rush hour or prime shopping times when going shopping.
Pastor Steve from Discovery Bible Fellowship knew what was going on with the Hamms and had seen the pressures mounting with the family so he offered them the use of the church to cook the food. This was a big help, especially with the extra ham, turkey and pies that needed to be prepared.
While a help it didn't take care of the frustration that came from having to deal with all of the traffic in the area and the storage of the items. Thankfully Pastor Steve also allowed the use of extra storage at the church. Tayra or Charlie still had to drive the things to the church even though the back roads were packed at certain times it was still a big help. Charlie had learned a measure of faith and patience but all of the Hamm's still had a ways to go in the area of patience. All of the stress had had an impact. It wasn't that the relationships had fallen apart by intent, but tempers were running short and everyone in the Hamm home, including now, Brenda and Sammy along with James were letting the stress get to them. The only exception was the baby Kari. She was to young to know better and could pre occupy herself with the most simple of toys and activities, just like most 1-year-olds.
Detective Bob Hay and his wife were the first to arrive at the Hamm home. They also had his daughter and son who had given up his motorcycle to Sammy when the family had been robbed. The Hay's were already dressed in their Christmas sweaters, with the exception of Chris, the son, he was wearing jeans and Newsboys t-shirt. They came in with a couple of bottles of wine, a Muscat which was a sweet white wine and a bottle of Chocolate Wine which Linda Hay, Bob's wife, had found and thought she might enjoy. While none of the families were regular drinkers they had seen no issues with an occasional glass of wine, or even a beer after a hard days work or while watching a game. Tanya took the wine from Linda and put it on ice for after dinner so it would be nicely chilled.
It wasn't more than 15 minutes after the Hay's arrived that Sergeant Jackson and his wife Mary arrived. They had James brothers Charlie and Buddy and their sister Barb. Mary was a beautiful woman, who was in very good shape from working out and taking care of herself. It was evident to those who met her that she must have been a cheerleader or something of the sort that Mike had met while in college when he played football for the Oklahoma State University Cowboys. Mike and Mary Jackson never had children due to Mary's inability to birth children due to medical complications. It was one of the reasons the family enjoyed keeping all of the children on the weekends when James visited to spend time with his brothers and sister. It was a reminder of what a could be for the family and it helped open their eyes to the possibility of some day adopting children. They also looked forward to the extended weekends during vacation time from school and holidays because it meant they were able to have the children for even longer periods of time.
For the hour or so prior to dinner James was outside throwing a football around with Officer Jackson and Sammy. With everything going on in the house it was an opportunity to get out of the hectic atmosphere and chaos going on in the house. Charlie was inside trying to get the tables set up, dealing with Tayra whose temper was somewhat short from being nervous about everything that needed to be done. The more nervous and agitated she got, the more it reflected on Charlie, thus the reasoning for Mike, Sammy and James going outside. Detective Hay was in the family room doing his best to ignore the ranting as he sat back in his chair watching the NFL football game.
Officer Jackson could tell that James was going through some stress, "So how are things going James, are you ready for the big meal?"
James gave subtle hints to his difficulties with everything that was going on, not just the stress from all of the recent events but also being around a family during the holidays. It was something he was having difficulty adjusting to. He wasn't used to being around anyone and had no idea of how to behave, knowing what to do was foreign to him in this large family, holiday environment. "I'm doing okay I guess, I just don't know how to deal with this holiday stuff and why it is such a big deal." He responded to Mike.
"Heck, it seems like the stress always lends itself to problems to me." Sammy responded, "I just hope it doesn't lead to the typical Thanksgiving meal argument or disagreement that seems to happen all of the time."
"Tell me about it," Officer Jackson jumped in, "It is one of those things I like about having a small family get together. But you know how it is? You have to spend the holidays with the family and if there is no family, there are always friends like the Hamm's that invite you over. Bottom line is, and I don't mind to much, but you can't get away from it all."
"I just don't understand all of the food and stuff," James replied, "I mean if it causes the stress and arguments to come about I think it would be hard to find something to be thankful for." The football just thrown by Sammy sailed over James head. He went running after it before Mike Jackson could respond.
After James got the football, he went to throw it to Sammy and Mike responded, "I guess that is a part of being in a family. You don't just love each other in the good times but you learn to love in the bad times as well. I think Jesus said as much when he said it is easy to love your friends or neighbor. It is when you can love your enemies and endure and go through tough times that you really understand the concept of love. Believe me, it isn't always easy but it does seem to make life and the stress easier."
"Well I just don't know how much more of that kind of love I can endure," James responded, "I would just like folks to know me better. It is like I am a token or something.  Mike, you know what I am talking about don't you, I mean there are good intentions and all but don't people at some point understand that my world and experiences are different than theirs?"
"Yeah, I can agree with you James but part of them knowing you better is you getting to know them better. It's a two way street, there has to be give and take and I know that being Black and having the experiences you have is something they likely haven't been around before. That doesn't take away from their good intentions, of course we all know that the path to Hell is paved with good intentions but I would say again, take the time to get to know the family, heck you get along with Sammy and all, he is having to learn as well." Mike responded as he zipped the ball into Sammy.
"Ouch!" Sammy yelled out, "That burned, take it easy man!" Sammy went to respond further as his hands burned from the ball that Sergeant Jackson had thrown at him and his stomach also hurt from it slipping through his hands into his stomach. The cold day didn't help matters much. "I think it is easier for me in some ways because I am at least around some Blacks at school but James you have taught me so much more, I think Mom and Dad are willing to learn, they just don't know what to learn."
"That's what I am talking about." Sergeant Jackson responded, "Someone has to be willing to teach them and you are likely the best teacher they will have James."
"That could be a problem," Sammy responded, "If James is the best teacher they have they better be willing to listen. Them listening to someone our age is like asking God to part the Red Sea again so the Hebrews can escape Egypt."
James knew that there was a sense of seriousness in the discussion, but responded anyway as Sammy was still rubbing his hands and belly, "Well I never expected myself to be a Moses. I guess I will go kicking and screaming to carry out that responsibility just like he did."
They all laughed as Mike's wife Mary stuck out her head from the front door of the house and yelled out, "Come on boys, dinner is served."
All three came into the house and took their seats around the table. Charlie had connected a couple of large fold up tables so everyone could sit together in the large dining room. Tayra had covered the tables with a nice red table cloth and no one would have known they were fold up tables. The tables were immaculately set with food scattered around the table.  There was a large turkey which Charlie was doing his best to slice with the cordless electric knife and spiral ham which had already been pre-sliced. Charlie had sliced enough turkey when he interrupted the chatter going on around the table. "Alright, everyone ready to eat?" He asked.
Various supportive responses erupted from all around the table to affirm they were ready to eat. He then stated, "Okay, but you do know it's Thanksgiving so I ask that we all hold hands and pray together to give thanks."
After saying this everyone grabbed the hand of the ones setting next to them and bowed their head as Charlie prayed, "Father you have given us all so much, I come to thank you on behalf of everyone here. Lord we have so much to be thankful for but this year I really thank you that we are all able to come together and have had a roll in making James life better as well as for his brothers and sister. Lord use us to continue to have an impact on this family and be with them. Thank you for bringing us all together and using us in the way you have, continue to remind us of our need to serve those in need the way you have commanded us to.  It is in Jesus name I pray and give thanks, amen."
As Charlie finished his prayer he looked up and saw James sitting there staring at him. Charlie didn't realize it at the moment but the prayer, while prayed in sincerity, offended James. James was offended because he didn't like being seen as a charity case. He had made a mistake but he had done what he did in order to provide for his brothers and sister. He had only tried to find a way to keep the family together during a tough time when his mother had deserted them. The more James thought about the prayer the angrier he got. As the food was passed around the table, it became obvious to Tayra that he was angry and wasn't getting much food.
"What's the matter James, fill your plate up, there is a lot of food here, it is a time to chow down." Tayra said.
"I'm not very hungry and I don't know why we have to chow down." James responded in a rather confrontational tone that clearly made everyone around the table uncomfortable.
Charlie spoke up to confront James, "Come on boy," at which point Sergeant Jackson cringed. Charlie continued, "Tayra is just trying to be nice, you need to apologize to her for your response and tone."
James was clearly even more upset as the stress, the episodes of the recent past and the holiday confusion was building to a crescendo. "First man, I am not a boy and I don't know what is so bad that I have to apologize for not wanting to 'chow down,' so you can forget any apology."
Sergeant Jackson trying to prevent a serious confrontation jumped in, "James I don't think he meant anything by his comment and Tayra really is trying to be nice."
James responded in an angry tone, "Come on man you know we don't like being called boy. I'm not someone's house slave and neither are you."
Everyone around the table was getting more uncomfortable including Charlie who was also starting to get angry. "James! I never intended to call you anything like a house slave, you know that! After all we have done to help you I can't believe you would stoop to such a low level!"
James responded, even more angry now, "I never asked you to do anything for me. I've tried to be respectful, decent and contribute to the needs around here. I've done everything you have asked of me, I don't know what the big deal is. I just wish you'd understand what I am going through, what I am seeing on the news and hearing on the radio. If you only understand how it seems that I have to respond a certain way while going through the things I am feeling and then watching how your conservative Christians clearly don't understand or care about my community, then you stoop so low as to call me 'boy.'"
Tayra was now crying, the rest of the table had gone beyond the point of being uncomfortable when Charlie responded further in anger, "Well we can't understand what you're going through if you don't share with us your feelings now can we? You have a responsibility as well to be a part of this scenario and help us learn what we need to learn, but then again, it seems as if we are always catering around the needs of others and no one ever takes what we feel into consideration."  Now while Charlie had no desire for this to come across as a racial comment, it did and this didn't help matters at all with James.
Charlie, was upset as he saw Tayra crying and James own brothers and sister starting to get uncomfortable. His comments didn't calm James down any as James responded, "It is always about having to submit to what you want for me but truth is you don't know anything about my community, you know nothing about being Black and trying to survive in this world. One of the problems you Christians have is you talk so much about how important it is to love others, but you have never bothered to take the time to get to know me or anyone like me." James then took his napkin, threw it down on his plate and stated as he got up to leave, "Please excuse me, I don't have any appetite now." 
James got up to leave the table when Charlie started to speak. As he started to say something Detective Hay spoke up, "Let it go Charlie, let him go, he needs some time."
Mike Jackson affirmed Detective Hay's comments, "Yeah, let it go Charlie, let him calm down. There are a lot of things on the table that we need to talk about and now isn't the time to do it. Let's enjoy what we can of dinner and move on." For a moment there was a deafening silence as no one knew what to say.
Sammy breaking the awkward silence finally spoke up, "Well it is still Thanksgiving and I need some mashed potatoes and gravy, can someone pass them down this way along with the sweet potato casserole."
Brenda his sister spoke up, "Don't pass him those potatoes, Sammy, don't forget you still have to make weight this weekend for the Thanksgiving wrestling tournament up in Kansas."
"Yeah," Sergeant Jackson said, I am planning on driving up to see you wrestle this weekend and was going to bring Charlie, Buddy and Barb along with James to see you. You miss out because you fail to make weight I am going to be a little ticked after driving all that way and getting a couple of motel rooms to stay for the entire tournament."
Everyone giggled as Sammy said, "Okay, okay, just give me a small taste of them. Dad put the food on my plate, I know mom will give me way too much but you know what I can eat to still be able to work it off and make weight tomorrow night at weigh-in."
Charlie responded in a more relaxed tone as Tayra looked at him in displeasure as she never liked the idea that her boy couldn't eat what he wanted during the Thanksgiving meal due to having to make weight for the annual Thanksgiving Wrestling Tournament Owasso attended in Derby Kansas. "Okay son, but you know it means having to get a run in tonight and tomorrow morning before you go up for weigh-in?"
"Sure dad, but remember, I wrestle weight and don't cut that much, so don't put me through the starving stage." Sammy responded, knowing he never cut excessive weight like a lot of wrestlers did. He also knew that while James was now wresting for the Rams, that he was new to the sport and wouldn't have to worry about making weight as he was a JV wrestler who would not be wrestling at this tournament. Sammy only hoped James would cool off enough to at least go with them to the tournament. Sammy was thankful that Mike Jackson was driving up and taking James brothers and sister. Sammy knew that would increase the likelihood that James would be going.
The mood at the table was much lighter now. While it wasn't at the joyful place the family and guests would have liked it to be it was better than it was before the blow up. While Charlie and Tayra especially were struggling with what had transpired, they tried to be a good host to their guests. Detective Hay had mentioned that there were things to discuss regarding some issue with James with all of the involved parties. Charlie and Tayra also knew there was  little more than a month to go before James time with the court system was up. They had learned to love James though and didn't want to do anything to spoil his chances of being done with his parole, neither did they want to jeopardize the love that had developed between them, at least what they felt was love. After the events of the last few days and especially this evening, they weren't sure if James felt the same way.
James had picked up enough hours from working a part-time-job and working at the church to have already paid off his debt and fines but Charlie and Tayra had a family and children of their own they had to raise and they realized their need to make sure the house maintained a measure of respect. They honestly didn't know what was going on and needed time to discuss the issues that were now on display for all to see with Detective Hay and Sergeant Jackson. They knew it wouldn't be easy, didn't guarantee that the relationships would be healed, but for all involved, it had to be done.
While the Hamm's didn't know it, James had had a brief conversation with Sergeant Jackson which added additional pressure into his life. It was something the others had not spoken openly about, nor did they know what was going on or of the conversation or news that Sergeant Jackson and Detective Hay had been given earlier the day before. Mike Jackson also understood some of the confusion and burdensome issues James was going through because he was himself after all, a Black America.
There were clearly things the Hamm's needed to be aware of. While there were things for them to learn, at least they had a heart where they were willing to learn, whether James understood or not. Mike was convinced, from the time he had spent alone with James now for almost a year on weekends, James was a good young man who could also learn a thing or two. It wasn't that the Hamm's and James couldn't come to respect each other, it was just that they didn't know the specifics of what they needed to do to make sure this respect happened.
Incarnation was something Sergeant Mike Jackson and Detective Bob Hay had learned to do in order to be successful police officers. They had seen first hand what happened when a bad police officer was unwilling to learn about the people and communities they served. The Christian faith of these two men was taken seriously enough by the two of them that they had insight. If willing to listen to and learn from, The Hamm's and James would be able to be helped and possibly make improvements on their lives and the lives of the opposite race they each respectively came into contact with. While Sergeant Jackson and Detective hay knew this needed to be done, they also knew there needed to be a cooling off period, hopefully there wasn't so much harm already done that there couldn't be the healing that needed to occur. 


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