March is filled with things that suck…it usually means more snow in a single month than we get all winter, Daylight Savings Time begins, St. Patrick’s Day starts out with an optimistic attitude and a clever t-shirt and usually ends with a raging hangover smattered with green beer foam that can’t be scrubbed out of the toilet….and then, burning at the end of this craptastic month, a beacon blazing against the final clutches of winter…Easter.
A holiday of no small consequence in our house, we had it simply paired down to the essential elements, easter egg hunt and HAM! Beautiful, spiral cut, quadruple glazed ham. It’s arrival from the butcher rivaled that of a newborn baby coming home for the very first time…a special place had to be made in the fridge, the shelves raised to accomidate it’s swinely girth, the two party ham delivery team would carry it in carefully, reverantly place it inside, and as it rested there, in the cold recess of the sub-zero…we all anticipated Sunday, when it’s sweet aroma would permeate the entire house…such bliss.
But first things first…the eggs. Coloring eggs, is odd in nature if one is looking on from a completely uninformed standpoint…I mean honestly, if you were from Mars, and you just happened into a house where the family was coloring eggs, wouldn’t you reconsider an interstellar treaty with these beings? It’s that weird…but in defense of the entire process, it’s also dementedly fun…even if you’re a teenager, which my brother and I were the year of the Stigmata Ham…and as we gathered in our kitchen with Mom and Dad to color two dozen eggs, fiddling with the wire dipper and arguing over stickers, because the ducks are MINE damnit, we happily completed a tradition that moved us one step closer to the glorious ham awaiting us, unaware of what was to occur that fateful Sunday.
Easter Sunday, while a much anticipated holiday in our family, was not without it’s quirks. The year of the Stigmata Ham was no exception, and started out as many Easters had in the past. Rising at a leasurely hour, the family gathered around their brightly decorated baskets, mind boggling and gorgeous they were filled with toys and candy, and per our usual tradition, we assembled in the TV room to enjoy a breakfast comprised of their contents, mimosas and watch Ben Hur…as was our custom, paying special attention to the chariot race, where an extra was actually killed, and yet the scene remained uncut and released with his grizzly death forever memorialized on film…..somewhere after that, it would be time for the ham. As we carefully, deliberately and oh-so happily were preparing the ample ham for the oven, without fail, every year, we would recieve what became known as, “The Call”.
“The Call” is a thrice annual event, in which my grandmother calls our home, to make us feel guilty about not attending either Christmas, Easter or Thanksgiving service at the church we never went to anyway, because it was jam packed full of hypocrytical phonies and the pews were uncomfortable….it would start out the same way every time..”Are you still having supper?” she would ask, to which my Father would always reply with no small amount of exhasperation, “Of course we are Mom, we have it every year, don’t we?”…there would be a pause, as if she was turning the page in her script of guilt, “Well, I thought maybe you forgot it was Easter, we missed you at Service.” It is at this point, that she would begin to mention she saved us seats and how many people asked where we were, if we were alright, and how much they missed seeing us, dressed uncomfortably and dutifully trudging into that drafty old building for yet another hour of dreary singing and sermons that seem to go nowhere, while Mr. and Mrs. Noggle snore away in the third pew, and we all pretend not to notice….The Call is usually an event which is thirty minutes in duration, and always ends with, “Well, people noticed you weren’t there is all.” And since there is no response to such tripe, my father would simply say, “See you at three, Mom.”
Having gotten that ugly business out of the way, we were free to complete our remaining Easter traditions, which included setting our dining room table, vacuuming the house, each of us getting showered and dressed as well as laying out the epic Easter Egg hunt which was to occur on the property, after dinner. By the time our guests began arriving, the house was glittering clean, our family as resplendant as the cover of a Sears & Roebuck Catalogthe sweetly tempting smell of ham, in the air, it was Easter, it was happening and soon…the ham would be mine.
The cocktail hour passed easily enough, and slowly, the afternoon lost the constraint of an obligatory family event, and morphed slowly into a warm and lovely gathering, where we re-connected as only relatives can, with an un-forgettable ease which rivals that of an old pair of shoes….as things were reaching their peak, the swine called, and dinner was nigh. My Mother pulled my brother and I aside, and asked that we fill the glasses on the dining room table with ice and water, then help take in all of the trays to the buffet…
My Mother has yet to learn that leaving my brother and I anywhere near anything, even remotely important, NEVER turns out well…even as an adult, something, anything, can and does happen and I can guarantee, in spite of ourselves, it is never good. You would have thought that the New Year’s Dinner where the guests walked into a dining room with a plunger stuck to the wall would have been enough…It wasn’t, the Thanksgiving fiasco where a super heated bowl of cranberry sauce had erupted across the entire table just seconds before they came in to eat would have niggled at her, it didn’t…and here we were…alone together again, and just as we finished with the glasses, my Father proudly brought it in….the ham.
Glistening in the afternoon light, the steam rose off of it, as it sat majestically on a sterling silver tray, several of the ample slices, hanging heavily over themselves, burdened with their deliciousness, revealing a never ending feast of juicy, glazey, yummy ham. My brother and I were looking at it reverently, and then…the giant serving fork on the tray caught our interest. It’s tines were immense! At the end of a burnished wooden handle, the thing was impressive, and frightening and just begged to be toyed with…my brother seized it and began brandishing it like a wicked dagger, play fighting with the ham….and then suddenly, it happened.
He made contact, with the eye of the ham, one tine went right into the center of the bone that held the enormous thing together, the other wedged on the outside of the bone….stuck in there good! We could hear the adults in the other room, gathering the remaining dishes to come in and eat..we had to get it out of there. Without even thinking, a grabbed the end of that flaming hot bone with my bare hands and he pulled, it didn’t budge, second try I was blistering, and by the third I was numb…but the fork popped out, he quickly dropped it back on the tray and we hauled ass back into the kitchen as if nothing happened. We were smiling at each other as Mom gave me the scalloped potatoes and him the rolls, all wrapped in a linen napkin inside of a basket.
My Father made a courtley flourish as he announced that, “Dinner was served” and we all moved into the dining room, my brother and I bringing up the rear, ready to enjoy our Easter Dinner….then my aunt screamed. That was followed with a masculine, “Oh my GOD!” and finally one of the younger children started to cry, as we pushed ourselves through the adults, it was a shock even to us to see what our tiny mistake had created that nothing could have prepared us for.
The eye of the ham was bleeding, a wet, crimson stream was running down the front of those once irresistable slices, pooling on the tray and spilling over onto the white lace table cloth…it was The Stigmata Ham. A horror to behold, the entire scene took on a macabre and revolting air…because there was just, so…much…blood.
My grandmother held back a retch and clapping her hand over her mouth, made an unceremonious exit from our home, followed quickly by the remaining guests, who decided they would rather eat Easter Pizza than risk angering or even eating whatever supernatural force was possessing our ham. The four of us just stood there, mouths open in a confused and disgusted state…even more so for my parents, who had no idea what happened….and remain puzzled by the entire incident even fifteen years later as my brother and I decided it would be detrimental to our very lives to reveal the true cirumstance behind the hallowed and feared Stigmata Ham, the meal that left fear in the hearts of our entire family for the rest of their lives!
It literally took hours to clean up the mess from all of the blood, the tablecloth a casualty of the incident, and even now, around Easter, when we invite family to dinner once again to celebrate, they’ll always ask what we’re serving before they commit to attend, ham is indefinately OFF the menu.