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  • Yams
  • Ladee Hubbard (bio) and Anna Schuleit Haber (bio)

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Art by Anna Schuleit Haber

[End Page 57]

Just then they were all eating yams, candied and still hot from the stove. Golden-brown pieces glistening with sauce that dripped from the serving spoon as it moved between the bowl and the plates. Heavy sweet pieces that clung to their forks, sank and settled on their tongues and then dissolved in a swirl of rich textures.

The girl’s uncle Todd pushed back his chair and reached for the bowl and a second helping. His broad hands pressed across the table, past his water glass and the ladle of gravy, the tea lights and decorative poinsettia, up and over the enormous ham.

“Why can’t you just ask?”

The girl looked up and saw her uncle Richard glaring at his brother as he held up a glass of iced tea. She had two uncles; Uncle Richard always sat on the opposite side of the table between his wife, Aunt Ruth, and his daughter, Cousin Simone. Todd always sat next to his sister, the girl’s mother.

Uncle Todd seized the bowl with both hands. He lifted it high above the table before he realized it was still hot. His arms shuddered in a quick spasmodic jerk as the bowl tilted and dipped between his fingers.

“The ham!” the girl’s mother gasped. But Uncle Todd did not drop the bowl. He jiggled it between his fingers for a moment and then yanked it toward himself like a quick intake of breath, setting it down hard on the table.

“That’s what the tongs are for,” Aunt Ruth said.

Uncle Todd dunked the spoon into the bowl and dumped a large portion of yams onto his plate. Uncle Todd was her uncle who seemed convinced that if he waited for tongs he would only find that he was still hungry and perhaps that there was nothing left.

At the head of the table the girl’s grandfather asked for more iced tea. The pitcher was passed down, every hand moving slowly and deliberately as if offering a demonstration of how such things were properly done.

“Margaret called today,” her grandfather said. “You get that message?”

“What did she want?” Uncle Todd said. He was her uncle who had quarreled with his wife and was currently sleeping on her grandparents’ couch.

“To wish you a happy holiday, I imagine. How are things coming along, anyway? Everything [End Page 58] all right?”

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“It is what it is,” Uncle Todd said. “I mean I’m still here, aren’t I? Haven’t given up yet.”

Uncle Todd was her uncle who talked with his mouth full and then spit when he talked, sometimes slinging great gobs of half- masticated yams right onto the table. He turned his head and noticed the girl was staring. Mistaking her expression but noticing the lull in the conversation, something inside of him must have resolved to fill it.

He put down his fork and wiped his hands on his pants. He reached for the spoon and scooped out the last large piece of yam. He swung his arm across her mother’s chest and held the spoon over the girl’s plate.

“Here,” Uncle Todd said.

The girl covered her plate with her hands and shook her head. “No, thank you,” she said. She told him that she’d had enough and was already full.

“Eat them anyway,” Uncle Todd said and tipped his spoon. The only thing that saved her from burning the backs of her hands was a sudden instinct to flinch.

“What are you doing?” the girl’s mother said. Uncle Todd told the girl to eat her yams. He told her it was important to eat yams because [End Page 59] it prevented sickle cell anemia. Years later, as a grown woman, she would be sitting in a doctor’s office, thumbing through a medical journal, and come across an article that offered the far more plausible explanation that sickle cell had developed in Africa as a defensive response to...


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pp. 56-61
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