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Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Thanksgiving Story


The car bounced and rattled over the gravel roads as we neared Grandma’s house   My two kids jumped up and down with excitement despite my admonitions for quiet and I couldn’t really blame them.  Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays and going to the house where I grew up to celebrate with my mom and dad made the holiday special.
            Jeremy had been talking about his pumpkin pie for the entire last week.  Grandma always made him a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving because she knew it was his favorite.  Grandma made the best pumpkin pie in the world according to my 9-year-old son and I was inclined to agree. 
“Grandma’s making turkey and potatoes and rolls too, and red Jello salad with cranberries,” 7-year-old Jessica piped in.  “But I’m saving room for the pumpkin pie.”
Russ laughed.  “Me too, Jess,” my husband agreed.  “Your Grandma’s the best cook ever. Next to your Mama, of course,” he added just in time with a grin in my direction. 
We turned down the rock covered lane, a dusting of snow over the brown lawn looking as if someone had used a giant salt shaker to decorate with little swirls and curlicues through the big front yard.  In spring it was colorful with grass and flowers, but winter cold had changed it to drab brown and gray.  The sky was overcast, dark low-hanging clouds contrasting with the lighter colored ones above. In spite of the cold, Dad came out onto the old front porch and waved at us and we pulled into the driveway. 
“Grandpa!  Grandpa!” Jeremy and Jessica jumped out of the car before I could remind them to put their coats on first, and ran to him.  He enveloped them in a huge hug, then one child under each arm, he beckoned to Russ and me as we got out of the car a little more sedately than our children.
“Hi, Dad!” I called.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” Russ shouted, loud enough for mom to hear inside the house.  “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
“Sure is,” Dad nodded in agreement and I laughed aloud at them.  In spite of the gloom and cold, I knew they both really meant what they said.  Being together made it a beautiful day.  My sister and her family would be at her in-laws this year so it was just us, but still, anytime my kids could be with their grandparents was special.
Mom hugged us all in turn as we entered the warm, aromatic kitchen.  The table was set for six and the smell of fresh rolls in the oven made my stomach rumble.  I set the spice cake I brought on the counter top where a pecan pie and a plate of oatmeal cookies waited.  “What can I do to help, Mom?”
“Not a thing.  Dinner’s almost ready.  I just need to take the rolls out of the oven.  Oh, maybe you could find that carving knife your dad likes to use for the turkey.” 
I stared at her for a minute.  Her tone sounded worried.  But, she said nothing further as she thrust her hand into potholders and pulled the pan of golden brown rolls from the oven.
I rummaged through the utensil drawer and quickly found the carving knife.  “Anything wrong, Mom?”  I tried to keep my tone casual.
“No,” then quickly, “not really.  I was just wondering if you think Jeremy will be disappointed.  You see….”
At that moment Jeremy and Jessica bounded into the room.  “Is it time to eat yet, Grandma?”
“Yeah, I’m starving and it smells real good in here…”
I followed Jeremy’s gaze to the counter top where the desserts waited.  “Hey where’s my pumpkin pie?”
Yes, where was the pumpkin pie?  I knew Mom wouldn’t forget Jeremy or his pumpkin pie.  Maybe it was in the refrigerator.  I threw her a glance.  Worry creased her forehead.  Uh oh.  Maybe she burned the pie and had to throw it out?  No, Mom never burned anything.  What was I thinking?
“Jeremy, honey, come here a minute.  I have something to talk to you about.”  Mom held out her arm to him and I watched as he hesitantly edged to her side and let her draw him against her.  “Let’s go sit down.”
I could tell he was suspicious.  How would he react if Mom said she burnt his pie?  Would he be grown up enough to handle it or were we in for a temper tantrum? I started toward them but Mom motioned me back.  Dad and Russ now stood in the kitchen doorway as well.  I had a feeling they knew what she was about to say.
“Jeremy, sweetie,” Mom’s voice still sounded worried as she pulled out two chairs and they sat down facing each other.  “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.”
His eyes narrowed and his lips formed a pout.  “What?”  I could tell he knew the bad news involved his pumpkin pie and he wasn’t happy about it.
This morning I was taking the pumpkin pie out of the oven.  It was beautiful and smelled so good.  But I heard a knock on the kitchen door.  I set the pie on the stove and went to see who was there.  It was the boy from the house down the road.  His family goes to our church in town and I think he’s about your age.  His name is Eric.”
“What did he want?”  Jeremy’s voice had grown even more suspicious. 
“Eric’s mother is in the hospital.  She’s been there for a couple weeks now.  The doctors say she’s going to get better, but it will take awhile longer.  People in our church have been helping out, bringing them meals, taking turns staying with Eric and his brother and sisters while his daddy goes to work, but it’s been really hard on their family to not have their mommy at home.”
Jeremy’s expression did not soften in the slightest.  “Where’s my pie, Grandma?”
“Jeremy….” I began, but Mom shook her head slightly at me and I didn’t finish my reprimand. 
“Eric came here this morning on his bicycle.  He only had a light jacket on so I invited him inside.  He stared at the pie I had just taken out of the oven and told me how good it smelled.  He said his mama always baked a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, but this year she couldn’t because she was in the hospital.”
She paused and suddenly I knew where this conversation was going.  Oh no.  Please, Jeremy, try to understand, I begged silently.  My nine-year-old son, focused only on his own wants and wishes, did not comprehend that his reaction to what was coming might very well break his grandma’s heart and ruin the holiday for everyone.
My mother continued.  “Eric said his daddy sent him over here to see if I had any catsup they could borrow.  He said his daddy was cooking hotdogs and they had run out of catsup.”
Here, Jessica who stood in the doorway by her father interrupted.  “Hotdogs on Thanksgiving?  What about the turkey?”
Grandma smiled slightly.  “That was my thought too, but I didn’t say anything.  I just went to the refrigerator and got the bottle of catsup for him.  But then poor Eric got tears in his eyes and said his daddy didn’t know much about cooking so he couldn’t make a turkey.  He said some of the church people have been bringing them casseroles and things but nobody brought a turkey and all his dad knew how to make was hot dogs.  He kept looking at the pie and finally I…I asked him if he wanted to take it home to his family.”
I looked hard at Jeremy, but he didn’t look at me or speak.  He just sat there staring at his grandmother, an array of emotion flitting through his big brown eyes. I wanted to cry.  Not for lack of a pumpkin pie, but for Eric, his family and the pain it brought my mother to relay this news to her grandson.   
Finally she went on.  “Eric’s eyes got big and round.  He could hardly speak.  He just whispered ‘thank you,’ picked up the pie and left, driving his bike one handed so he could hold the pie and headed for home.  He didn’t even remember to take the catsup bottle with him, but I suppose they won’t miss it too much.  I’m so sorry, Sweetie.  I know how you love pumpkin pie.  I promise I’ll bake you another one for Christmas.”
She looked hopefully at him, but still Jeremy didn’t move or speak.  We all watched him; even Jessica watched her brother as the news sank in and hugged her daddy’s leg as if uncomfortable with what might happen.
Finally, Jeremy met Grandma’s eyes with his, a frown forming on his lips.  I waited, not realizing I was holding my breath until I was forced to gasp for air.  But all my son said was, “Eric’s family don’t have a turkey?”
I resisted the impulse to correct his grammar.  What was he thinking?
Grandma shook her head.  “I guess no one in the church thought to invite them to Thanksgiving dinner.”
“Can we invite them?”
My mouth fell open in shock.  Was this Jeremy’s way of getting the pie back, or did his question run a little deeper?
Mom looked sad.  “I thought of that, but there are seven of them and I’m not sure there would be enough for all of us.  I didn’t make a lot of food since it was just going to be us and your Grandpa can’t eat up all those leftovers after you go home.  I was afraid we’d run short.”
“Well, maybe we could take our dinner to them, then.  Ya got any peanut butter?  I like PB&Js.”
His grandmother gasped in surprise.  In fact, all of us looked shocked.  Was this coming from my son?
“I don’t know, Sweetheart.  We’d have to pack up everything and drive it over there and maybe they’ve already eaten hotdogs and aren’t hungry anymore.  It’s nice of you to think of it, but I’m not sure it’s very practical.”
“I’ll help you,” he offered quietly.  “Please Grandma?”
Tear filled her eyes.  To be honest, tears filled my eyes too, and Russ’s as we stared at each other across the room.  Jess was practically sobbing as she joined in her plea.  “Me too, Grandma.  I’ll help.  I want Eric to have a turkey.  Puh-leeeeese?” she begged.
Suddenly, Grandpa’s laughter boomed through the room.  “That’s my grandkids!  All right, everyone, let’s find some boxes and get this Thanksgiving dinner on its way!”
Everyone sprung into action then, finding cardboard boxes, transferring dishes of potatoes, stuffing, green beans, even succulent light brown turkey gravy into an array of Tupperware containers for the trip to Eric’s house.  In a matter of minutes the feast was loaded into the car and my dad let Jeremy and Jessica go with him for the delivery. 
By the time they returned Mom and I had the makings for PB&Js on the table but the children hardly noticed.  Eyes shining as bright as Christmas morning, they told us about the expressions on the faces of Eric’s brothers and sisters as they unloaded the food and placed it on their table.  Eric’s father unashamedly shed tears of joy and gratefulness as the children crowded around the table staring at the delicious Thanksgiving dinner with eyes that betrayed both their delight and anticipation at the surprise holiday feast.  Dad was in tears himself as he added to the children’s descriptions of the surprised and happy family.
            I hadn’t given my son enough credit.  I was afraid he would have a temper tantrum and make it a difficult holiday for everyone.  Instead, he had blessed us all more than we could have dreamed possible with his generosity and love for people he didn’t even know. 
“I love you, Jeremy,” I whispered to him as I passed him the jar of grape jelly.  He pretended like he didn’t hear, but I know he understood how proud I was of him. 
I took a bite of the food in front of me.  Honestly, this has to the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich I have ever eaten in my life.

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