Science fiction writer Ellen Klages is a wonderful storyteller; as Toastmaster for the Nebula Awards, she held an audience spellbound with the delightful, terrifying story of her late father's prized Scary Ham.
I must add here that my father bought the house in 1951, and died in 2008, so there was 57 years worth of household stuff from basement to attic. And no one in my family throws things away, so I spent that summer clearing out my childhood, and my parents’ entire lives, and a fair amount of several ancestors’ worldly goods. It took months.
Dad had died in April, and finally, at the end of August, I’d gone through every closet, cupboard, cabinet, drawer, and box that I could find. I’d shipped home the few pieces of furniture I wanted, innumerable cartons of photos and memorabilia, filled two large dumpsters. It was time for an estate sale and then getting a crew to clean out the house and put it on the market.
The ham was still hanging in the basement.
Every month or so I’d call Mary and ask about whether she wanted me to set aside various things, what she wanted to do with Mom’s wedding dress and Dad’s army uniform, questions that I couldn’t answer by myself. And near the end of each call. I’d say, “What about the ham?”
“A Viking funeral!” she’d say. And I’d sigh and say no.
(I should clarify. I have two sisters, both younger. One has Down Syndrome, one is an English professor. I tell many stories about my family, and it’s not always easy to figure out which sister I’m talking about. In this case, it’s the professor.)
Finally, at the end of August, Mary flew to Ohio for a week to sort through the last of the stuff, say goodbye to the house we grew up in, and load Dad’s minivan with furniture and boxes and drive back to Colorado.
On the second-to-last-day of her trip, I said, “The ham. We have to deal with the ham and we have to do it today or tomorrow.” I gave her the big-sister stare. “Do not mention Vikings. We are not lighting it on fire.”
The Scary Ham [Ellen Klages/Tor.com]