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Ham Jam




My dear friend Susan Spratt is a highly respected endocrinologist at Duke, but I think her true calling is celebrating the wonder in regular life all around her. She sent close friends this account last night and has granted me permission to make it my first guest post.

Happy Turkey Day!


The line snaked around the ABC store. Goodness, I thought. This many people need alcohol to survive Thanksgiving with their families? But the ABC parking lot was empty. The signs in the empty lot explicitly said parking for ABC store only. I took the only spot left in the grass along the side of the road next to the No Parking signs. I had a 10:30 appointment to pick up a Honey Baked Ham. It was 10:25.

As I got out of the car, I realized that the line was not headed towards the liquor store. In fact, throngs of people faced the opposite direction in a meandering course starting from the door of the ABC store, down it’s driveway, across the grassy median between the two shopping centers, into the next parking lot, across the sidewalk for a dentist office with a large SMILE on its front wall, past a flooring store, and another store, and finally toward the Honey Baked Ham store. Surely, this line is not for those with pre-paid appointments?

I approached some people in the middle of the line. I don’t think I even got to ask my question before someone said, “It’s one line, even if you have an appointment.” “Yep,” said another person when she saw the look of incredulity on my face.

I walked to the back of the line. I asked the guard at the ABC store, “is it really true I have to stand all the way back here? I have an appointment.”

“Yep. They’ve been backed up like this since 8am when they opened. The manager got sick and was carted away in an ambulance. They only have one person working the register.”

The woman in front of me was talking on the phone trying to convince her mother they didn’t need ham. Her mother thought otherwise. The woman reminded her mother that she had a hurt tendon and wasn’t sure that she could stand. “They’re saying it’s going to take 2 hours!”

A woman joined us and acknowledged she had just been to the front of the line where there was a large sign posted – one line only.

The first woman was born and bred in Durham. The second woman was born in New Jersey but her mother had been born in Durham and moved back here so the second woman and her husband had moved here 10 years ago to support her mother. Now they’ve just moved into a bigger house so her mother can live with them. Her mother is losing her sight. The first woman was on the phone again talking about the line.

Two sisters came up. They are from Halifax Virginia. They have to bring a ham to their mother’s house tonight. Tomorrow they are celebrating with their Dad’s/Dads’ – maybe they are half sisters? One mentioned that her brother and sister had to wait two hours last year and she thought they must have done something wrong. We all came up with the conclusion that mail order option might be the best route next year.

A man came up carrying a ham wrapped in gold foil and a plastic bag. He had a big smile on his face. He told us he was where we were standing, three hours ago. We groaned. Should I stay? Do we really need ham? We didn’t have a turkey. But I had ordered beef tenderloin from Sage and Swift. The ham was for the whole weekend. I had things that needed to get done, but did they need to get done today? Couldn’t I just do them on Friday? I wish I had my ear pods.

I had already texted David and the family in our FAM chat. David repeated what every newcomer said, but I already paid? I have a reservation? David said everyone would take a shift. David was still working. Lily was working. It would have to be the boys or Sandy, my mother-in-law.

A little boy in his pajamas sat in the muddy grass covered in straw behind a sign that said Keep off the grass. The woman in front of me tut tutted. That would have driven my mother crazy, she said.

More people had gathered behind us and were talking, laughing, cutting the fool, as my Mama used to say. I caught snippets of their conversation: housing crisis, dating apps, best steak restaurants (Angus Barn, Homestead, not NanaSteak), men who were done with women, women who were done with men. This was a Slice of Life Durham right here, just like the Kroger grocery store on the corner of Hillsborough and 15-501. The woman in front of me tut-tutted some more.

Santa Claus appeared. He made the rounds and said Happy Thanksgiving. He had a real white beard. But his nose and eyes were red and it made me wonder if this was the only job he could get. There were at least two if not three policeman, two men and a woman, we could see as we got closer. The woman ahead of me said, why are there so many police here? We must stay vigilant. Swivel our heads and stay alert, she commanded. I scanned the crowd. No one looked dangerous. Everyone had the same look: am I really standing here for three hours to wait for a honey baked ham?

The news cameras showed up too. A helicopter hovered overhead. A young newscaster in long blond hair came out with a tripod. I said, look if this is the story over the Thanksgiving holiday, be grateful. We don’t need any more gun violence or parade accidents.

It was warm for November, approaching 60 degrees. As we got off the grass and onto the pavement, the sun started to beat down on us. Many started to sweat. One of the sisters came back with MacDonalds for the two of them. As we got closer the owners of the store passed out water. One of the guys behind me who was wearing a Detroit Lions coat said, hey – what’s taking so long? You need some help? I can put hams in a bag. The man handing out the water said, “Not with that Lions jacket, man.” Detroit said, “Oh man where you from, NY?” “Yeah Brooklyn.” And then there ensued some jabs about football that went over my head.

Finally we were five people away from the front door of Honey Baked Ham. A man with a t shirt that read HBH went through the exit. He exclaimed, working! as our eyes narrowed at him – HBH = Honey Baked Ham. Many people came up to the front door and said, But I have pre-paid. I have an appointment. We assured her (usually it was a woman) that so had we and had been waiting three hours. The look of despair, wondering the next step – do I stay or do I go? Yeah, we’ve all been there.

A lady and her daughter came up, one went in the entrance and the other went in the exit. The woman ahead of me said, what was that? I wasn’t sure but it looked like someone had cut the line. The woman who went in the entrance was pulled back out. She frowned at us as if we had done her wrong. Lady, we are all in the same three hour boat. About ten people at the same time told her she had to go back to the end of the line. She stayed there for 5 or 10 minutes. People muttered under their breath and some at the top of their lungs. She needed to go to the back of the line. The police were somewhere else. Finally she pulled her daughter out of the store and left murmuring about maybe Mr John will pay for you to stay in line.

A few minutes later, the daughter came back with a blind man. They went in the exit and bought a ham. A woman a few people ahead of me raised her oxygen cannister, “I haven’t gotten special treatment why should you? Just because you can’t read doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow the rules?” As he left, the women shouted, “God don’t like ugly.”

The woman behind me said, And this is why the police are here. She was a soft spoken peaceful person who didn’t want to divulge to much about herself. I didn’t want to appear too nosy.

I went back to my car for a mask an hour before I made it to the front entrance. As I passed people asked me how long I had been waiting. It was already 2 or 3 hours. I said “I still haven’t gotten a ham. I’m just going back to get a mask.” As I approached my car, several people eyed the grassy spot where my car was parked as a possible parking space for them. I shook my head to indicated I was not leaving!

We finally reached the inside of the building. The signs were confusing, line up here if you have prepaid the sign said but the arrow seemed to point to the same line for those who had not pre paid or pre ordered. Some people had to go through the entire line just to be moved to a different line. They had ordered 9 lb Hams and apparently the available hams were heavier and they weren’t willing to pay the difference. They were waiting on the size ham they paid for! As I saw them waiting in that second line, I made up my mind I was paying for whatever damn size ham they had!

I got the ham, a package of split pea/ bean ham soup mix, and turkey gravy (in a cardboard box).

As I walked back to my car carrying my 11 lb ham I passed a lot of people. How long did you wait? They wanted to know. I told them. I also told them I wasn’t sure it was worth it. But to tell the truth, I always love a good slice of life atmosphere. I wish I could have interviewed every person in that line. Maybe next year, I’ll pitch a story to the news.


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