My father did not grow up poor, but his father did. My dad grew up in Depression-era St Louis, the son of a dirt-poor man from Tennessee who had gone to the city and had some lucky breaks, but imbued in his son and daughter a life-long thriftiness that somehow combined with true generosity of spirit. I remember seeing my father build and repair tools rather than buying them, and he enjoyed a life-long quest for the Special Offer.
A couple of weeks ago, Best Beloved and I had our usual Christmas discussion about whether we would have a turkey or a goose for Christmas lunch.
“Turkey, Manamou!” he finally decided. “But not from Pepa (a village woman from whom we’ve bought turkeys for the last few years). She’s been getting greedy. Order a free-range one from the frozen shop.”
So I ordered a free-range bronze English turkey that would arrive fresh on the 23rd and be available for collection any time up ‘til lunch on Christmas Eve.
Yesterday I went to collect it at about nine. “Name?” asked the owner, a middle-aged English Cypriot whom I’ll call Charlie. I told him and his frown of worry deepened.
He went to the ‘fridge, scanned the tags on the two remaining birds, and came back to the desk looking tense. “Are you sure you ordered?”
“Yes,” I told him. “And you wrote it in the book.” Together we pored over the pages until we came to my name. “Ah!” he said with a smile of relief. “I misread the name as ‘Bachelor’! Now…” He launched into an explanation of how the other shop had mistakenly taken one of his turkeys and left him a fresh bird short “So, you could have this 7 kilo frozen defrosted one for half-price, if you want, and your fresh one will go to So-and-So… Or, of course you can have your slightly smaller fresh one at 12.50 a kilo...(And I'll find some other sucker to take the defrosted mammoth off my hands.)”
“When was it defrosted?” I asked.
“The girl in the other shop took it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge yesterday morning.”
He brought it down and my heart sank when I saw the price tag. How could someone pay 83 Euros for a turkey? I thought. Why didn’t I just get one from the supermarket instead of opting for this ludicrously expensive bird? “See, your fresh one is smaller,” Charlie said. It would have been 76 Euros.
I thought for a minute. “But this one is frozen, so are you offering it to me at half the price of a fresh one – which would be 6.25 a kilo – or half the price of a frozen one which would be less?”
“You’re a hard woman!” he said, throwing up his hands. “OK. A frozen one’s 10 Euros a kilo, so at half-price this one would be 33.”
We opened the plastic pack and smelled it. It smelled good.
“You’ve got a deal,” I said. “But if I die from food poisoning, I want a big wreath – a massive wreath,full of flowers and ribbons – at my funeral.”
”If you die,” Charlie answered. “I’m right behind you, because my family’s eating the same thing tomorrow.”
We laughed together. “OK, we’ll party in heaven,” I told him.
“You’re going there?” he asked, raising both bushy eyebrows. “OK, but I doubt that I am – and I don’t think they do very good parties there, anyway.”
“Further south, then,” I told him laying cash on the barrelhead and walking to the door with my prize. “It’s a deal!”
I was a bit nervous recounting the story to Best Beloved later. “What if he thinks I did the wrong thing and endangered all of us for the sake of 50 lousy Euros?” But born of cash-wise peasant stock, my husband had no such qualms. “You got the ultimate Special Offer, Manamou,” he said with a grin. “Happy Christmas! Colonel Jim would be proud.”