Copyrighted November 1996
Last year found me in the hospital so I never got a chance to share my annual (one of two) Thanksgiving stories. I hope it is not to late, but if so, read it when you get home.
The oversized Currier & Ives calendar from the Hereford State Bank read November 21, 1961. Though folks were busy running about to and fro doing their last minute marketing, life in this little corner of Iowa moved a bit slower than the rest of the world, or so it seemed for a certain young boy.
Eric thought every minute seemed like hours. As the Lake School District fourth grade class sang "Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go," intoxicating thoughts of grandmother's turkey drifted through his imaginative mind. With visions of tomorrow's Thanksgiving feast overtaking him, Eric crooned on for another verse–alone.
When the snickering of his fellow classmates returned him to reality, he scrunched down into his wooden desk where he prayed for a chance to crawl under the door. To his relief the school bell finally rang. Eric grabbed his construction paper turkey, somewhat sloppily held together with library paste and bolted for the door. Before he could reach the hallway, Mrs. Olsen called him back. With a comforting hug she thanked him for the wonderful solo. Eric smiled, thinking he pulled one over on the teacher. Like any good teacher, she knew his thoughts.
Like the long-awaited-school bell, so it was with the lengthy bus ride back to the farm which also seemed to take an eternity. Eric anxiously anticipated the holiday aroma of pumpkin pies and warm bread straight from the oven. After the bus dropped him off he could see the windows steamed up from the busy cooks in the kitchen.
For Eric there were no rivers or woods to cross in order to get to Grandmother's house because his grandparents lived with him, or should it be said, he and his mother lived with his grandparents. Either way, the farm became a home for the four of them and life was good.
As he flew through the back door everything looked and smelled just as he imagined on this long day of great anticipation. Mom and grandma were up to their elbows in flour as the mantle clocked ticked away towards the last 16 hours before the plump turkey made it into the roaster to send his senses into overdrive.
Yet, something seemed out of place. Suitcases and boxes were strewn about all around the livingroom and Eric knew they weren't going anywhere for Thanksgiving. All one had to do is look in the kitchen to figure that out. Plus, who would feed the livestock, gather the eggs and all the other chores he always helped with.
"Who belongs to all these suitcases?" Eric asked his mother as he scrapped his finger along the bowl of frosting, withdrawing it quickly after he received fair warning that no unwashed hands were allowed in the kitchen.
Mother replied in an indifferent tone as she grabbed his hand away from another bowl."Your cousin from Washington has come to spend some time on the farm."
"Cousin from Washington? What cousin?"
"Ya, your cousin and you must do all you can to welcome her here. She has never been on a farm before, you see," Grandma said from the pantry.
"She! Oh no, sounds like trouble," Eric said in a disgusting voice as he picked at the cinnamon coated pie apples. His hand was slapped once again.
His mother explained that his cousin Janine would be staying on the farm, hopefully forever. She sat him down and explained abut Janine being in a foster home for several years and mother said with a thoughtful sigh, it was time for her to be here with real family.
About the time Eric started to ask what a foster home meant, a strange sound came down the darkened hallway. Soon a freckle faced, ten-year-old with fire red hair–and braces on both legs appeared. A set of arm crutches stabilized her. She smiled bashfully at Eric
"Eric this is Janine," said Grandma. A long uncomfortable moment of silence followed. To him, it seemed as long as waiting for Christmas. "She had polio at the age of four and is doing so much better now that, ya, we felt it would be good for her to come and live on the farm with us. We need more smiling faces like yours," she continued.
The silence remained and Grandma knew it to be a good time to make the needed adjustments. After the introduction and explanations, Eric raced out the door, devastated that his home became a dumping ground for a 10-year-old girl with crutches. He knew everyone's attention would now be focused on this strange girl who couldn't help a bit with chores. Why, she was just a dopey ol'city slicker!
Wiping tears from his eyes, he grabbed a shovel and headed for the pig barn.
"The heck with the turkey," he muttered. "As a matter of fact, the heck with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years too."
Grandpa finished cleaning the farrowing pens and came over to ask his grandson what he thought of his cousin. Eric scowled at the whole idea of her being there. He wanted no part of sharing his house with her and that's that. Silently the two guys walked to the cattle shed.
Without so much as a word between the them, grandson and Gramps finished feeding the cattle. Grandpa looked down at Eric, put a steady hand on his shoulder and said, "Ya, I know just how you feel."
Eric felt he already held the upper hand in this deal and soon, out she would go, as he sheepishly looked to Grandpa for a line of defense, but Grandpa now felt a strong sense of grief in his heart.
"Ya," Grandpa said once more, "I felt the same way when your grandma said you and your mom were coming here to live. Oh boy, did I hit the roof."
Grandpa threw in the last shovel of grain in the trough as the huge Angus snorted the dry feed into a powdery dust storm.
That comment sent a shock wave straight through Eric since he never knew Grandpa as a grandfather type person, he always seemed more like a father. You see, Eric's real father died in the Korean War about the time his son took his first step.
Grandpa stopped for a moment and knelt down to look Eric straight in the eye. "I told my son when he left the farm to join the military that I wasn't going to raise his family if something ever happened. I guess I was pretty sore at him."
He paused for a minute and wiped his eye. "The night your mother called from Ohio and told your grandma she wanted to come live here I did not want nothing to do with both of ya–until I heard ya crying in the background. You see my little friend, I never heard your voice until then. Until that time you were just a name, Eric Randall Junior."
Another long, silent moment took place as the two walked back to the farmhouse for some warm supper. The song lyrics, "Over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house we go," echoed through Eric's mind. Especially his embarrassing solo. He and mom made their long journey to Grandmother's house several years ago. Now his cousin made her journey.
Thanksgiving morning arrived and the chores were started early since twenty relatives were soon to gather about the table. The barn work should have been finished over an hour ago, but showing a city slicker how to gather eggs was no easy job, especially a city slicker with leg braces.
True, she would never be much good with a feed cart, but her ability to do arithmetic just may come in handy he thought, remembering the "C" on his last report card.
Yes, 1961 had a little more giving of thanks than expected. One more chair found a permanent place at the Nordstrom dinner table. Grandpa gave the blessing in Swedish as usual and thanked our Lord for the added family member. This year though, he gave Eric a wink after the Amen.
Happy Thanksgiving ya'll
Settle in, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy your stay here at Shelly's. The pie is great, the coffee pot is always on and soon you will find this to be the best place in town. SOON TO BE AMERICA'S MOST READ BLOG