"Thus open the gates of paradise."

In this issue

Ralph Schefter

06 Apr 2002

Thou preparest a table before me... My cup runneth over

I thought I'd start with this psnippet from a Psalm if only because a lot of my memories of Ralph Schefter Sr. ("Grandpa Schefter" to me) center around the massive holiday meals my mother seems to effortlessly assemble. Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas -- just like the Three Appearances of Jesus as described in the Gospels, though sometimes he'd join us for birthdays as well. And can we say with any certainty that Jesus didn't appear at the odd children's party? Well there you are.

In the afternoon, he and I would play crokinole for hours until my head rang in a haze like bus exhaust. Flick. Flick. Flick.

"How'd that get in there?" as he made a 20.

Flick. Flick.

And maybe he'd pop a chocolate in his mouth between shots. But just one because the doctor wasn't keen on him eating sweets, or anything spicy. "He said one or two is OK. But just don't sit there eating one after the other, " and then "Why'd you do that?" as one of his pieces left the board.

Dinner was in the dining room, so you knew it was a special occasion. Mom and Scott sat at the either end of the table. Grandpa always sat beside my sister Karina, and across from them would be me Olivia, and my other sister. I'd say we laid an extra setting for him, but as I don't live there either, I guess there were really two extra settings. And since the dining room isn't often used anyway, you could say that all the settings were extras, and that we were all guests. But that'd be dumb.

Smashed potatoes, vegetables, fruit salad, a roast of something. Pickles and cranberry sauce (two kinds: one from scratch, and one from a tin which Grandpa preferred). Often, there would be pie for dessert, made earlier that day by Mom while talking about something else entirely, casually dropping shortening into a bowl and later rolling it for a few moments when you were distracted by something one of the kids said. In fact, you could fool yourself into thinking that she wasn't even making pie, and that there had always been a pie shell on the counter, and that it had always been filled, and baked, and left out to cool.

Ann and Grandpa, decrypting enemy intercepts

After dinner is a fine time for a nap on the living room couch, and while I did that, Grandpa would play cribbage in the dining room once the table had been cleared. "You know 29 is the perfect hand. I only got it twice. Once was in Winnipeg. We were playing over lunch and I got it. 29. Someone -- I don't know who -- but someone called the newspaper. There was a picture of me in it the next day with the perfect hand." He played with my mother's friend Ann (who was also at supper from time to time, though I didn't mention her earlier, and despite her not being mentioned in the Gospels). Memories of drifting in and out of slumber while hearing Grandpa count cards in the other room in a system of scoring that is similar in complexity only to neurosurgery, code breaking, or possibly, bridge.

I'd usually drive him home since it was on my way out of town. And every time we hit the off ramp from the QEW onto Brown's Line, he'd look up at the elevated cloverleafs above us and say, "The fellow who designed this must have had quite a head on his shoulder." He said this every time. It got so that whenever I felt the pull of the turn from the ramp, I'd be waiting for it. For some reason I'd want to hear it too. There was no special meaning to it -- it wasn't arch or funny. I just needed to hear it, just like anything else you find yourself needing to hear even though you already know it. He always said it. Without fail.

Ralph Schefter died on November 21, 2000 after living for more than 96 years.