Grace – that wonderful pre-meal tradition where you thank some invisible dude for the food you’re about to eat that you know damn well was actually produced by a farmer somewhere and purchased with your hard-earned money.
When I was a kid, grace was a big deal. It was always said before each meal and the honour of spouting it off was usually rotated through myself and my three other siblings. My parents never had to say it, although on special occasions – like Christmas, Easter or Thanksgiving – my mother seemed to have the power to whip a long, flowery one out thin air. It would go on and on and on as the food steamed and went cold around us.
As the youngest and least powerful member of my family, the job of saying grace seemed to fall on my shoulders a bit more often in the rotation. I hated it. I was hungry. I wanted to eat the meal that I knew my mother actually prepared, not some alleged high and mighty deity. Why’d I have to thank HIM? As with all things I didn’t want to do, I eventually rebelled.
I think I was about 14 or 15 when the incident happened. For my 13th birthday, my father had finally given in to my years and years of incessant whining and begging and had purchased me my very own horse. His name was Pongo (named in honour of the dog in One Hundred and One Dalmations) because he resembled a Dalmation – white and covered in brown spots. He was purchased at the annual Norwich horse auction and I was never prouder than the afternoon I led him up our farm driveway, much to the horror of my mother (she wasn’t a fan of horses).
Owning Pongo resulted in many adventures, including near death experiences for both the horse and myself. As a result of the illness that almost killed Pongo – a story for another day – he would experience “off” days when he wasn’t 100 per cent healthy and would lay around groaning in the field. It was amazing how often these episodes seemed to correlate to the times when I wanted to go for a ride.
It was during one of these bouts of equine malaise that the great grace incident happened. It was a Saturday and I had spent most of the afternoon sitting beside my groaning horse in his pasture rather than actually hacking with him down the road. I was concerned I might have to phone the vet – again – and my father wasn’t home to bounce the idea off or finance the visit. I was contemplating selling my new English saddle to pay for the vet bill when my mother yelled out the back door for me to come in and have dinner. About 10 minutes later, she was back shouting for me again. After the third shout and the use of all three of my names, I decided I better go in. With one last concerned glance at my suffering steed, I went in the house to eat.
It was just a small group for the evening meal – my sister, her boyfriend, my mom and I. As I sat down after scrubbing my hands in the laundry room sink, my mother informed me they had already said grace but I was going to need to say it as again since I was so late to the table.
“GodisgreatGodisgoodletusthankhimforourfoodamen,” I mumbled, actually reciting that blessing faster than the speed of sound. My lips actually stopped moving before the sound of the grace ended – I’m not shitting you.
I reached out for a bowl of mashed potatoes but was stopped by the sharp use of my name.
My mother wasn’t impressed with my amazingly speedy recitation. She trembled in her chair with outrage.
“You’re going to say it again but this time, with feeling,” she said through clenched teeth.
I’m not sure what made me do it. Maybe it was the idea of entertaining my sister’s boyfriend. Maybe I was unstable after the stress of caring for my sickly horse all afternoon. Maybe I just wanted to be a smart ass. Whatever the reason, I mentally snapped. She wanted a grace said with feeling, she’d get a grace said with feeling.
The rest of them stood open mouthed in disbelief as I stood up from my chair.
“GOD IS GREAT,” I boomed in my best impression of a Baptist preacher, both of my arms extended up to the ceiling like I was worshipping the wagon wheel chandelier (Yep, we had one of those ugly things).
“GOD IS GOOD,” I added, pointing at each one of them sitting around the table.
“LET US – THANK HIM – FOR OUR – FOOOOD!” I shouted, rattling the plates and silverware as I pounded my fist on the surface of the dining room table to the beat of my voice.
Now for the big finish.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMEN,” I sang, holding the note for as long as I could.
I plunked back down into my chair and once again reached for the potatoes. I KNEW those acting lessons would come in handy some day.
My performance was met with complete silence. I think I was two spoonfuls in to loading my plate when I heard the first noise. It was a choking sound deep in the throat of my sister’s boyfriend. I quickly glanced up at him. His face was turning bright red and I knew I had him. A laugh exploded out of his mouth along with some green beans. He gasped for breath in between bouts of laughter, tears streaming down his face. My sister soon followed, her shoulders shaking with the effort of trying to keep in the sound. She soon lost the battle, hanging onto her boyfriend for support as she laughed and laughed.
My eyes turned to my mother. If I thought she was trembling before, now she looked like she was experiencing her very own internal earthquake. She positively vibrated in her chair. Her eyes were huge, her face pale except for bright red patches on each of her cheeks. She gripped her cutlery, her knuckles white. We stared at each other for what seemed like hours. At first I was worried. She looked pretty pissed off. But then I saw it, that slight quiver in the corner of her mouth, a small curve to her lip. She was fighting back a smile. Without a word, she dropped her eyes back down to her plate of food and I did the same.
It took my sister and her boyfriend a few minutes to gain back their composure but they too were soon eating their meals.
The battle of grace had been waged and I had won this round anyway. I had made my point, expressed my opinion, let my view on the exercise be known in the best way I knew how – like the smart ass I was.
After that, my mother always paused before asking me to say grace. Perhaps she wasn’t sure what I would actually do. Or maybe she was just trying to choke back a chuckle.