It was probably only the fifth or sixth Thanksgiving dinner the young woman had ever prepared by herself, and though she was a pretty good cook, gravy does not necessarily have a dependable result. Sometimes it can be lumpy, sometimes too thin, sometimes tasteless. Greasy? Scorched-tasting? Yes, it could turn out all those things.
Turkey gravy was made on top of the stove, in the roaster that the turkey would have just vacated, from the drippings of the roast turkey. Dry bird? Few drippings. Roasted too long? Burnt drippings. Over-basting? Oily drippings.
To bring the short story to its long history, the young mother was me, getting concerned about screwing up a guest's Thanksgiving dinner by making a lousy batch of gravy. Fr. Schmalhofer was hovering around the stove watching me fiddle with the food when I told him that making gravy was the most stressful part of Thanksgiving preparation.
"Here," he said, "I'll help." And he extended his hands over the heated roasting pan with its pre-gravy substance, and said a prayer over it!
I was surprised; I didn't really think priests had time or inclination to pray over such mundane things. And I don't remember what the prayer was that he said, just something along the lines of "Heavenly Father, please bless Sand's gravy and make it turn out well. Amen."
Yesterday we celebrated our 33rd Thanksgiving together. The bird was delicious, the pie was exquisite ... and that gravy was so perfectly rich and delicious that guests asked for more of it to crown the meat and potatoes. Bernie and I both thanked Fr. Schmalhofer (wherever he may be these decades later) for the continued efficacy of his blessing, just as we have every Thanksgiving since the one at which he was our guest.
This is a fact: I have never made a bad batch of gravy, be it beef or pork or chicken or turkey since Fr. Schmalhofer said his prayer. Bernie and I joke that maybe one day Fr. Schmalhofer will be known as the Patron Saint of Gravies.
Silly story? Maybe. But it gives me the opportunity, every time I make a gravy, to reflect on the efficacy of prayer, and to be comforted that God cares about us so much -- even in the little stuff.