Kathy got us started on our free Thanksgiving stories with a fun space aliens/amish/Christian story on Monday while Rob Cely took us to the dark place and then back again yesterday with a tale of trauma, doubt, belief, and a potty mouthed preacher.
It is my turn today, and I have a fun bit to share. Nothing earth shattering of life changing, but I hope you can find yourself in here as I’m taking the Fondue Writers Club back to its roots with a COVID-19 story wrapped around Thanksgiving. Or is it a Thanksgiving story wrapped around COVID-19?
Mostly it is a character study — six people making the best of a bad situation. I just had a good time writing it and I let myself be carefree, unlike my Halloween tale about Felix and Fortunatus, which I forced myself to be disciplined with every word choice.
I hope you like my story. Come back tomorrow for another FREE STORY.
Six People, Six Pies
Jamie D. Greening
Fondue Writer’s Club
Marci pulled her Lexus into the garage. The cobalt blue SUV was filled with all the ingredients needed for Thanksgiving. She sent a quick text to Frank from the car telling him to help her unload the twenty-pound turkey, spiral sliced ham, fifteen pounds of potatoes, pecans, fruit, cheeses, and bottles of wine. After she sent it, she noticed two other texts she’d ignored while driving. The first was from her son, the oldest of two children, telling her they couldn’t come for Thanksgiving because his wife had been exposed to COVID-19 at work and she’d now be under a quarantine that would last well beyond the holiday weekend. Right behind that depressing text was another one from her daughter with much the same story, except this time it was her son-in-law. His boss was in the hospital on a ventilator with COVID-19 which was sad, but it also meant he would have to work through the holiday weekend. Their daughter’s family wouldn’t come either.
“Shoot!” she banged on the steering wheel. Then she said, “shoot” over and over in rapid succession until Frank, who finally arrived in the garage, asked, “What happened, did you forget to buy a ham?”
“No,” she said. “No one can come. The kids are all quarantined for the holiday. Our son and daughter will not be here, but more importantly my grandchildren will not be here. It looks like it will just be you and me.” She moaned, then said, “How miserable. Just you and me, like every other day of my life.”
Frank feigned insult. “Sorry to be so miserable.”
“Oh, shut up,” Marci said. “You know what I mean. I’ve been thinking about this Thanksgiving all year long. First, we missed Easter, then we missed the Fourth of Frickin’ July and now Turkey Day. This is the worst year of my life.”
“I know,” Frank said, “stupid COVID.” That was all he said. They unloaded the groceries without speaking. When they finished, Marci told her husband, “I’m going to the mailbox to see if any more bad news can possibly come today. Maybe we’ll get an eviction notice, or worse, a summons for jury duty.”
The Monday mail was only fliers for virtual Black Friday events and a catalogue for useless gadgets.
The sun had set orange behind the trees, and Marci saw someone walking toward her on the road, but she couldn’t tell who it was until she saw the dog. “Hello there, Chewbacca!” The golden retriever wagged his tail. “How are you and your owner tonight?”
“Ruff ruff barky bark” said a young female voice in reply.
Marci laughed, “And how are you doing tonight, Sandy?”
Sandy said, “Work was good, everyone is on slow-mode as we enter the holidays, but it doesn’t feel very holidayish at all. Dakota and I aren’t going anywhere?”
“What do you mean?” Marci asked.
“We always go to the metro area to be with his folks at Thanksgiving, but that has all been scrapped. His parents are spooked about the virus and all his brothers and sisters have decided to hunker down at their homes. Looks like we’re stuck here with nothing, and I don’t even know how to cook a turkey or bake a pie.”
A smile crept across Marci’s angular face. “Our kids told us they couldn’t come this year, too. But, you’re about the same age as they are; why not come have Thanksgiving with us? It’d be great. Let’s say we eat around one in the afternoon?”
“That sounds fun. Let me talk to Dakota about it. Are you sure it is okay with Frank?”
Marci laughed out loud. “Frank does what I tell him. Besides, he’d love to have you guys over. We’ve been talking about it since you moved here back in February.”
The next morning Frank invited Herb to Thanksgiving while they talked across the fence about winterizing the grass. In the afternoon, Marci walked three houses down to Ellen Baker’s house. Ellen was in her eighties and had been the first person to welcome them to the neighborhood thirty years ago. Though never close, their relationship was cordial and somewhat formal. When Ellen’s husband died five years ago, she’d asked Frank to be a pallbearer.
Thanksgiving was back on the calendar for Marci and Frank, Sandy and Dakota, Ellen, and Herb.
Marci reassured everyone she had plenty of food, but that didn’t keep Ellen from making two pecan pies, two pumpkin, a chocolate, and a mincemeat. “Six people, six pies. One pie per person,” Ellen said. “It’s a rule we’ve lived by in my family since we got off the Mayflower.”
She also brought homemade rolls. “Her bread smells just like my grandmother used to bake,” Frank said. “Hey Marci, why do your rolls never smell this good?”
“I am sure they smell this good when the baker makes them at the grocery store,” she said.
Sandy and Dakota brought ice cream of various flavors, a cheeseboard, and a can of cranberry jelly which came in handy as a base underneath the cornucopia to hold the centerpiece upright on the table.
Herb brought an eighteen-year-old bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey.
The six of them talked in generalities about the weather which turned into a conversation about the neighborhood and how it had changed over the years. Ellen told them about the grocery store where the empty lot was. Herb complained about his property taxes going up, Sandy complained about cars driving too fast down the road, and Marci asked if it was true that the house on the end of the street was owned by a tech billionaire. No one knew the answer, but Sandy was certain that same house was occupied by people who lived in some sort of polygamous family because different women and children were always coming and going.
When everyone had filled his or her plate, Frank said, “We all know each other, but we don’t really know each other well. So, let me ask one of those open-ended questions designed to get conversation going and help people get to know each other. What book is on your nightstand? Ellen, do you mind going first?”
“Ah, well, I have several. My Bible is always on my nightstand, but so too is a copy of the recent ‘National Geographic’. I love to look at the pictures. But right now, I am rereading the Anne of Green Gables series.”
“Ah, good one,” Sandy said. “I loved Montgomery’s books when I was a kid.”
“What is grownup Sandy reading?” Marci asked.
Sandy said. “I’m reading Phil Collin’s autobiography.”
“Phil Collins?” Frank said. “The singer?”
“Yeah,” Sandy said. “My mom recommended it to me. We both love his music.”
“I would have never called that one.” Frank scratched his head. “How about you, Herb, what are you reading?”
“The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Not the science fiction one by H. G. Wells. It is easy to get them mixed up.”
Ellen raised her eyebrows. “Ellison. Impressive. One of the classics.”
Herb smiled at Ellen. “It is on my list of one hundred books to read. I hope to finish the list before I die.”
“How far into your list are you?” Marci asked.
“This one is number forty-two.” Herb looked at Dakota. “What are you reading?”
“Tech manuals for work. I just got promoted this year and I’ve learned there is a lot I need to learn, so every night I read and study some. It is boring, but it is making me better at work.”
Herb nodded. “There is nothing boring about wanting to be better at what we do. Well done.” He raised his fork, which had a thick piece of gravy slathered turkey breast, as a salute.
Marci blurted out, “Well, I’m reading pure smut – one smutty romance after another.”
“You’re not supposed to tell people that,” Frank lowered his voice to a fake whisper. “Honey. Remember, we talked.”
“Ah, these are our friends. They might as well know the truth. I don’t live a wild and crazy life filled with flings, frolics, and fornication but I enjoy reading about it.”
“What are you reading?” Sandy asked Frank, clearly not wanting to get bogged down in smutty romances.
“Ah,” he said, swallowing a mouthful of chicken and dressing. “I’m reading this clever little collection of short stories called The COVID Quarantine Cantina. They all have a COVID-19 theme to them. It’s like a lot of people locked in a bar and they are sharing stories with each other. Lots of talented authors who no doubt have promising futures in literature.”
Marci decided they would have dessert and coffee in the den where the fire roared. Light jazz played on a digital speaker. A picture window revealed the raindrops dripping off the autumnal leaves. The wind blew. As they talked, the temperature dropped. The rain fell softer and floated down as snowflakes. A neighborhood tabby cat sat in the crook of the largest tree limb.
Inside it was warm. The conversation moved from books to films. Sandy insisted the greatest Christmas movie ever was Love Actually while Frank insisted it was Die Hard. Poor Ellen had not seen either of those, but she believed Meet Me in St. Louis was the greatest. She sang two lines from Judy Garland’s famous song from the film:
Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us, once more.
Herb kept quiet until Marci made him answer. He said his favorite Christmas movie was The Lord of the Rings. No one challenged him that as great as The Lord of the Rings is, it is not, in fact, a Christmas movie.
“Whose up for a game?” Marci said.
“Sure,” Herb said, “As long as it doesn’t involve running, throwing, jumping, or thinking.”
“I second that,” Dakota rubbed his stomach. “I can’t move.”
Marci brought out various board games, but nothing seemed to fit the mood. Before they knew it, they were sitting around a table playing Go Fish. They played three games, and Ellen won all three.
“How do you do it?” Sandy asked.
“I was a court reporter for thirty years. My brain is wired to remember things. And then play it back.” Ellen winked at her, “My dear, you asked for nines four times in a row.”
Marci opened another bottle of wine. Frank, Dakota, and Herb each took a tumbler of the Irish whiskey. Marci handed Ellen a glass of merlot, but Ellen declined. “I prefer grain to grapes, dear,” she giggled. “It is the secret to my long life, so hand me some of that Irish goodness, if you would, Frank.”
“Alright,” Frank said. When he brought her glass back, he said, “Now everyone needs to tell us what was your best Thanksgiving ever? This will be our last open-ended question. I promise.”
Dakota started laughing. He whispered into Sandy’s ear and she blushed.
“Do tell! Do tell!” Marci shouted as she pointed at them. “What is it?”
Dakota said, “Our second Thanksgiving we got snowed in and weren’t able to go home. It was a terrible blizzard, the kind that shuts down everything. We weren’t able to leave the house for four days.”
“That was your best?” Frank said.
“Yeah. Absolutely. Best ever. Hands down.” Dakota said and Sandy punched him.
“Oh dear,” Ellen said. “I think I understand. Pour me a little more that whiskey, there, Herb.”
Sandy said, “That was Dakota’s favorite, for obvious reasons, and it was nice, but my best Thanksgiving memory is when I was a little girl. We went to my grandmother’s house and in the afternoon when everyone was watching the football game, I helped her do the dishes. Afterward, we sat in her bedroom and talked. She showed me all the family photo albums and many of her heirloom jewelry pieces. She told me what they all meant and where she’d gotten each one. When we finished, she gave me an emerald ring. Grams told me it was given to her by her grandmother. She said it wasn’t valuable, but it was meaningful.”
Sandy grabbed the gold necklace around her neck and lifted it up. At the end was an emerald ring. “I don’t trust myself to wear it because it is fragile, so it goes around my neck.” Her eyes watered. “My grandmother died before Christmas that same year. It was a heart attack. I guess because of that, the memory and the ring have always been a treasure to me.”
Dakota reached out and took his wife’s hand.
Sandy wiped her cheek, then she asked Marci, “What was your favorite?”
“My favorite memory isn’t as great as that one, but it was five years ago. I was still working then, but during the holiday I ditched Frank and all the normal stuff and flew my mother and daughter to Chicago for a girl’s shopping trip. It was awesome. We had so much fun and we spent money with reckless abandon.”
“Yeah, I had to a get a part time job delivering pizzas to pay for it.” Frank said.
“What’s your favorite Thanskgiving, Frank?” Sandy nibbled at a cookie. “You’re always asking us, but what about you.”
Frank rubbed his chin. “I thought long and hard about that one yesterday, actually. I decided it was the first Thanksgiving after I became a Christian. For the first time in my life, I understood that I was thankful to someone specific for what I’d been blessed with. Up until then, there had always been this nebulous idea of thankfulness within me that was vague and strange. But once I found the Lord, I knew who I was thankful to. I remember when the pastor read out at the worship service the night before Thanksgiving the words from the Psalm, ‘Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.’ It shook me. I almost had an out-of-body experience when I put the two together, trusting and loving the Lord and thankfulness. I didn’t realize you couldn’t really be thankful without Jesus. It changed everything for me.”
Dakota sat up. The air in the room changed. “Are you saying,” Dakota pointed at Frank, “That because I am an atheist then I can’t even be thankful? That holidays are just for church people?”
It was not the response Frank had expected. He stuttered and shook his head. “No, that is not what I was trying to say. I didn’t mean to offend you,” He looked at his wife. “Marci, you know better what I mean than I do, can you help me out here and tell Dakota what I mean?”
She patted her husband’s thigh. “Of course. I am happy to bail you out anytime.” She looked into the young man’s eyes. “Dakota, he didn’t mean that as an accusation or an insult to you. What he was talking about was his own perspective. You have yours and he has his. As you might have guessed Frank and I share a lot of the same views. Our faith is very important to us. It wasn’t always. Once, we didn’t think much of it. But then, one day, we did. And since that change has come, it helps us focus. Thanksgiving is a spiritual holiday for us. It is as much about our connection to the Lord as it is anything else. Frank isn’t saying you can’t be thankful if you don’t believe in the Lord, but instead what he means is that for those of us who do believe it adds a layer of meaning that is bonus. It doesn’t take away any of your feelings or thoughts and it certainly doesn’t minimize them. It just makes us think about it from a religious perspective a little differently.”
“Amen!” Ellen said, as she took a sip of whiskey.
Marci took that cue to deflect. “Ellen, you’ve had more Thanksgivings than the rest of us. What was your favorite?”
Ellen stared into the fire for an awkward moment. “Well, they all run together, to be honest. Turkeys, pies, kids, grandkids.” She cleared her throat. “But I can tell you the worst one ever. It was the year they killed the President. They shot him on a Friday. We buried him on Monday. Thanksgiving was Thursday. It was awful. The whole nation was stunned in mourning. It felt like we’d never be happy or thankful again. Camelot was gone. I’ll never forget the dread.”
“1983,” Marci mumbled. She looked at Frank and he frowned. “That was our worst Thanksgiving ever.” She took a sip and swallowed hard, harder than the tiny bit of wine required. She said nothing else.
Silence remained until Ellen looked at Herb and said, “And you, reader of classic books, what was your favorite Thanksgiving?”
Herb sighed. “I have spent every Thanksgiving alone for twenty-seven years. I was happy once, but it evaporated. My friends are always busy with their own families during the holidays. I usually eat a frozen pizza, watch a movie and drink too much and pass out.” He looked around the room at each one of them in turn. “Without a doubt, this is the best Thanksgiving I have ever had. I feel privileged that you have shared it with me.”
“Amen!” Ellen said. “Pour me another drink, Frank.”
The six of them soon were eating again, then they watched Die Hard. Frank read three short stories from the book on his nightstand. Herb explained the social and racial dynamics of The Invisible Man. Sandy told how her family ancestry went all the way back to Scotland. Dakota and Frank went for a walk around the block and talked about how similar their jobs were.
It was after midnight before Frank drove Ellen home and the house cleared out.