There was something unbelievable about the stuffing my grandmother made every Thanksgiving. It wasn’t just good – it was beyond amazing. Every morsel of meat and bread and vegetable was flavored to perfection. The meticulousness and love involved in the preparation process shone through with every bite. We’d eat until we were stuffed (pun intended) and still felt great afterward. Hell, we even felt invigorated, which was the last thing one would expect after Thanksgiving dinner.
Our family had been trying to get her to tell us the recipe for years. She wouldn’t even give us a hint.
Since our family has always had a love for dark humor, when we’re around the Thanksgiving table, we liked to speculate on how she did it. My sister thought she mixed in crack cocaine. My father said she sold her soul to Satan in 1955. Even Mom, who was the least indecorous of the group, quietly said, around a mouthful of stuffing, “I bet it’s made from the bodies of better chefs.”
We all laughed. Especially Grandma. Then we had a little moment of sad silence. Grandpa had been a chef. He’d passed away over the summer. Everyone missed him.
Dad broke the silence with a truly spectacular belch, and we all groaned and giggled and got back to eating.
Even though I’d resumed packing my mouth with mashed potatoes, I still felt bad for my grandmother. She’d taken Grandpa’s death very hard. Even with her network of friends, family, and coworkers at the place where she volunteers, her loneliness was obvious. Seeing her smiling with us on Thanksgiving warmed my heart. It felt good to hear her laugh again, and it was obvious she was happy that we loved her stuffing as much as we did.
The Friday after last Thanksgiving, I’d finished my Black Friday shopping and was bringing my niece’s presents over to Grandma’s. It was tradition for us to go there on Christmas morning to open our gifts. I wanted to get an early start so I wouldn’t have to deal with last-minute shopping.
When I arrived, Grandma wasn’t there. I figured she was doing her volunteering, since it’s always busy there around the holidays. I had a key, though, and I let myself in.
Her house was as neat and perfect as ever. I left the packages in the living room, and was about to leave through the kitchen when a truly sinister thought crossed my mind. I was finally going to get that stuffing recipe.
I opened her recipe book and there, between souffle and tandoori chicken, was stuffing. I read it over and my heart sank.
It was almost completely unremarkable. The recipe looked like any ingredient list from the back of a stuffing box. There was only one thing I didn’t recognize right away: “¼ cup STC.” I scratched my head for a second, then realized it was an abbreviation for salt, turmeric, and cumin. After all those years of wondering, it all came down to Grandma just being a really, really good cook. I should’ve known.
It’s been almost a year since then. The family’s been gearing up for another Thanksgiving. The menu is planned, the tablescape is designed, and the guests have been invited.
Yesterday, out of the blue, I got a call from my mom. Her mother, a.k.a. my grandmother, had been arrested. I couldn’t believe it and asked what had happened. Mom replied that she’d been caught stealing from the place where she volunteers. They had security camera footage and everything.
To say I was confused was a massive understatement. First off, how could my grandmother, the kindest, sweetest person I’ve ever met, be a thief? And second, what the hell is there to steal from where she volunteers?
Mom went to the police station to deal with the situation while I stayed at home and cleaned. I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened. As far as my first concern, I chalked it up to Grandma getting old. Maybe she’d gotten confused and had taken something without even knowing it didn’t belong to her. That had to have been it, and it made me sad to think about.
Mom called me an hour or so later. She’d bailed Grandma out and was waiting for it all to get processed so she could take her to the hospital to get examined. I asked Mom what the hell was going on.
She told me it was pretty much exactly what we’d thought. Grandma had taken something from her volunteer place and snuck it away. The security office even rolled tapes back and caught her doing the same thing for the last eight years, all right around Thanksgiving.
“What the hell did she take?,” I asked, so overwhelmed with confusion that I wanted to tear my hair out.
“Well, that’s why I’m bringing her to the hospital,” Mom replied. “Not just because I think she might be losing it, but because it was just waste that the place incinerates anyway.”
I felt a chill start at the back of my neck and plunge down my spine. “Like…medical waste?,” I asked in a hollow, detached voice.
“Yeah. Biohazard stuff.”
I thanked Mom for calling and said to let me know if there was anything I could do to help. We hung up.
I sat there in the quiet house and put seemingly-impossible pieces together. The stuffing. The feeling of invigoration. The recipe. Everything in the room blurred and my mouth felt very, very dry.
“STC” wasn’t salt, turmeric, and cumin. Not even close to salt, turmeric, and cumin.
STC was stem cells.
Grandma was a volunteer at Planned Parenthood.