A Thanksgiving Gathering

November 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

{The following is a chapter from “An Unexpected Frost,” the third book in my Tucker series.}

Thanksgiving morning Tucker comes bustling through the back door carrying an armload of firewood.  Right on her heels, August follows carrying an equally heavy load of wood. 

As they pass through the kitchen, the rich smell of ham drifts from the oven and fills their nostrils.  Arriving in the living room, Tucker drops her load into the box beside the wood stove.  “Y’ done a real good job o’ splittin’ this here wood August.  There’s a piece ‘r two o’ elm in here an’ it can be th’ devil t’ split.” 

August drops his cargo on top of hers.  Small pieces of bark and a few long, thin splinters bounce off the wood and land on the floor around the box.  Gingerly opening the door of the hot stove, he sticks two sticks of wood into the waiting bed of hungry coals.  Trying to appear nonchalant, he says, “It wasn’t nothing to it.  With me using the splitting maul and sledge hammer, that wood didn’t stand a chance.”

Tucker rests her hand on his shoulder.  Looking him in the eye, she says, “You’ve really been growin’ up August.  You’re becomin’ a fine young man.  I’m proud of y’.”

Feeling uncomfortable with this unusual brush with praise from Tucker, August says, “You need any help in the kitchen?”

“No, I’m good.  If you’ll go feed th’ animals, I’ll get busy with m’ taters.”

                                              

In Ella’s house, April is folding napkins and giving the edge a crease with the side of her hand, just the way Ella showed her.  The new full size dining table that was delivered yesterday looks twice as long as the small breakfast table it replaced.  “I’ve never seen this many plates and glasses in my life,” she exclaims.  “And they all match!”

Ella looks up from the bowl of meringue she is mixing.  As she turns on the mixer, she says, “And you did a beautiful job of putting everything perfectly into place.  I decided I just had to have a table big enough for everyone to sit around.  Aren’t you excited about having everyone over?”

April joins her grandmother to watch the meringue begins its transformation into white puffy clouds of sweetness.  “Yes, it’s going to be fun.  But I can’t help think about March.  I wonder if he’s having a Thanksgiving meal somewhere.”

Ella feels an aching because of the longing she hears in April’s voice.  “Yes, I do, too, April.  But always remember this, don’t ever let your focus be so much on the one cloud in the sky that you miss noticing the unending expanse of beautiful blue and the brilliant, shining sun all around.  What I do know for sure is that wherever March is, he would want us to enjoy ourselves.  Don’t you agree?”

April cautiously slips one finger to the edge of the bowl and swipes a dollop of meringue.  After she sucks it off, she says, “Yes ma’am, you’re right.”

Ella turns off the beaters and, using a plastic spatula, piles the meringue on top of the waiting sea of chocolate in the pie dish.  Then she slides it into the warm oven.

Just then they hear the sound of an engine out front.

 “It sounds like Smiley Carter,” April says, as she goes dashing toward the front door.

“Let them in,” Ella calls to her.

As April opens the door, she sees Smiley Carter alighting from his tractor seat and Shady Green jumping off one of the rear fenders.  “Ya’ll come on in,” she says from the front porch.

At the sound of her voice, Carter looks up.  His face breaks into a celebration – eyes dancing, dimples winking, and his famous smile.  “You are as pretty as the morning sun shining on the dew!  Come here and give ol’ Smiley a hug!”

April dashes off the porch and leaps into his waiting arms.  She hugs his neck.  His normally prickly face is smooth and she detects the smell of Old Spice.

“Goodness, girl,” Carter says, “I used to throw you into the air like you was a ball.  But not no more.  You’re becoming a big girl.”  He sets her down.

April brushes the wrinkles out of her new dress and says matter of factly, “I am a big girl.”

Shady Green comes from around the side of the tractor.  “Ehwoh A’ril.”

“Hi Shady,” she replies.  “Ya’ll follow me in.”

“Let’s unfasten my banjo and your guitar off the hood of the tractor and take them in out of the cold,” Carter says to Shady.

“Eh-sir,” Shady answers and unfastens the makeshift leather straps.

With their instruments in hand, Carter says to April, “Lead the way madam.”

Walking through the front door produces an olfactory assault on the two men.  They both inhale deeply through their noses.  Carter closes his eyes and says, “I smell fresh rolls, a baked turkey, cinnamon, chocolate, coffee, corn – “

Shady chimes in, “An’ gwee bea’s.”

“Yes sir,” Carter says with a laugh, “and green beans.”

They set their guitar and banjo down and begin unfastening their heavy coats.  When Carter slips off his denim jumper he reveals a powder blue dress shirt with a button-down collar.

April whistles.

Just then Ella walks into the living room wiping her hands on a hand towel. 

“Doesn’t he look nice?” April says admiringly.

Ella’s taken aback by Carter’s polished appearance and stands staring mutely.

Breaking the awkward silence, Carter strikes a pose and says, “You all will probably see me on the cover of the next issue of GQ Magazine.”

Everyone laughs.

Ella walks forward to greet her visitors.  “I’m so glad you two came.”  Noticing the banjo and guitar cases, she adds, “And that you brought your instruments.  Just have a seat and make yourselves at home.  I’m still busy in the kitchen.”

Just as the men start to sit down, there is the sound of heavy footsteps on the porch, then two heavy blows at the base of the front door.

“Tucker!” April squeals.  She darts to the door and flings it open.

Tucker’s bulk fills the doorway.  In each hand there is a large picnic basket.  She turns sideways so she can squeeze through the opening.  Spying Carter and Shady Green, she says, “Jest like a couple o’ men t’ stand ’round watchin’ a woman what needs helpin’.”

The two men spring into action like a couple of school boys.

“Here, let us help you,” Carter says, reaching for a basket.

Tucker swivels to block the attempt at help.  “I ain’t got but ten more feet t’ go.  Ya’ll just do what y’ do best an’ stay out o’ th’ way.”

August then steps through the open door carrying two five gallon buckets. 

Carter beams as he looks at the boy.  “Shady, ain’t that the finest looking young man you ever seen?”

“Him sure is,” Shady agrees.

“What’s in the buckets?” Carter asks as August passes by.

Shrugging his shoulders, August says, “Pots of food stacked up on pots of food.  That’s all I know.”

“What about Tucker’s ham?” Carter whispers loudly.  “Did she cook a ham?”

August smiles and winks.  “No problem,” he whispers back.

After a few minutes, the call they are all eager for comes from the kitchen.  “Let’s all have a seat,” Ella says.

As they start finding a place to sit, Ella says, “Wait just a minute.”

Everyone stops and looks toward their host.

“Smiley, I want you to see here at the head of the table.  I’ll sit on your right so I can get to the kitchen easily.  April you sit beside me, then Tucker you sit at the other end of the table.  August you sit to Smiley’s left and Shady you sit beside August.”

Everyone shifts around the table according to Ella’s instructions.

Once everyone is seated, they pause expectantly.

“I’d like to ask Smiley to offer thanks for our blessings,” Ella says.  “And I’d like for us all to hold hands with each other.”

Hands are clasped and heads bow.

Carter’s rich baritone voice fills the air, “Our Lord God in heaven above.  It is with hearts full of thankfulness that we praise you.  No one has ever seen the limits of your love and mercy.  For this bountiful feast, that many folks will never have, we praise you.  For bringing all of us into each other’s lives, we praise you.  The twists and turns of life, only you God sees the path.  But we trust that wherever March is this day that he will know we all love him and especially that you love him.  In the name of our blessed savior we pray, Amen.”

There is a collective sniffing of noses as Carter’s prayer ends.  “Let the feast begin,” he says.

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