“Paw. I need your help in the kitchen.” The voice of Myrtle Wilson drifted lazily into the living room like the aromas of the food she was hastily preparing. George Wilson smiled to himself and closed the foot of his recliner. He shuffled into the kitchen and stood for a moment…just watching his wife. Her white dress with grey-blue accents was a new one. Bought just for the occasion. Her white apron was a new one. Given to her for Christmas from Paw the year before. He smiled again. “Forty-six.” The voice from behind her seemed to scare Mrs. Wilson a bit. “What?” She jumped, avoiding spilling gravy all over her clean floor by just an inch or two. She sat the bowl down and turned to face Mr. Wilson. “Forty-six. This will be…” he trailed off giving his wife a chance to match his smile and catch his drift. “Forty-six!” She sighed with a smile and eyes closed in memory. “Forty-six Thanksgivings together. Forty-five of them in this kitchen.” The two of them just stood there in that moment, looking at one another with the love that had gotten them through those forty-six years. Finally, Paw broke their silence. “Whadaya need Maw?” Myrtle wiped the tears from her eyes and pointed to a pan that brandished a turkey. A turkey that must’ve weighed more than 50 pounds George thought. But he grabbed the bird and moved it carefully…and laboriously to the oven.
Back in his recliner, George Wilson heard the first car of the day pull up in the driveway of his simple farm house. He knew without looking who was here. He got up and maneuvered down the stairs to open the door for his mother-in-law. Betty Marshall was just making her way up the front steps as her car pulled away. “Is Harold not staying?” Paw asked a little disturbed. “Of course not. He’s going home to get some more sleep and get ready. But he’ll be back in time for lunch.” Ms. Marshall spoke with a slight air of irritation, probably brought on by the fact that she was tangled up in her own apron strings. George took a step forward and took the basket from her hands so she could fix her apron. “Happy Thanksgiving, Mother Marshall.” George kissed her on the cheek and offered the crook of his elbow to steady her up the stairs. “Thank you George, dear.” Betty smiled up at the big man her sweet little Myrtle had married. She would never admit it to either of them but she was sure Myrtle couldn’t have done better in a million years.
It was four hours to the next car. But from the sound of the commotion outside it was again easy to figure out who it was. George Wilson was at the top of his stairs when a blonde and brunette hurricane came busting through the door. “I did not touch you!” Yelled George the third as he ran up the stairs with a sly grin on his face. Appearing behind him was a small child with a lollipop. Now, two things stood out about this lollipop: the first being that it was the size of the child’s head. The second being that it was severely stuck to the same part of her body. Her eyes were red from the tantrum thrown in the car, and George could not help the feeling of relief that this had all transpired away from his home. “YOU DID TOO TOUCH ME!” This tiny girl had a huge voice. Katie ran up the stairs ready to whomp a good one or two on her brother but instead found herself lifted above his head by the mighty man in the suit at the top. “My little Katie-did!” George pulled his beloved grand-daughter into his arms and squeezed her tightly. “Happy Thanksgiving Paw!” She muffled through his collar. He felt another set of arms around his waist. “Yeah Paw. Happy Thanksgiving!” Young George thought a lot of his grandfather and showed it more than most boys his age.
“Would you two get off of the man and let him breathe?” Karen and George the second had finally made it in the house with their large bags of food. Katie dropped from her Paw’s arms and immediately began to wail on her brother. “Ow! OW! Stop it! MAAW!!!” The two scrambled off to the kitchen to invite their grandmother to referee. “Good morning Paw. How are you?” His sweet daughter-in-law asked with a smile through falling curls. “Wonderful now.” Smiled Paw. His son lumbered up the stairs. Built like his father with some added weight, George Jr. was a hefty man. “Paw.” Junior offered. “George.” His father returned. The two men smiled and shook hands and everyone headed off to the kitchen.
The next to arrive were the twins. Harold and Hank. It always amazed Paw that these two boys, who fought more together than they walked or breathed together, had gone into business together. They owned and operated the local soda shop and candy store and did a great job. “Happy Thanksgiving Paw!” The twins offered in unison. They shifted their shifty-eyes between one another. Paw waited patiently for a moment and finally erupted, “Aw come on boys. If you got some’in to say…say it.” The boys offered a brown paper bag to their father. He took the bag and as he did…he recognized a smell he knew but had near forgotten. He ripped the package open and stood there astonished as his boys smiled from ear to ear. “How did you…where did you…how…where…” “Well now, don’t go finishin’ yer sentences there Paw. People are liable to think you’re not excited.” Harold spit this sentence out with great joy and brought a fit of laughter over his brother Hank. “Boys,” Paw finally got out, “we haven’t had coffee in over a year! They rationed it last year and we haven’t had any since then.” The boys smiled at one another and then Hank explained. “One of our providers offered us a good deal on some with our last order.” “Good business and all we give ’em.” Harold interrupted. “Yeah. So, we’ve done pretty good despite things and we figured we might as well bring somethin’ to Thanksgiving this year. So Happy Thanksgiving Paw!” Harold and Hank both grabbed their father at this point and pulled him in close. Paw let the moment flood his senses for a moment. He sank into the bright red of Hank’s hair, the overwhelming scent of Harold’s Cargo cologne, and the warmth of being held so high and close by his boys move him to tears.
Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, Maw was basting the turkey again. Karen and Mother Marshall were discussing the best way to plate the fresh fruit, celery, and cranberry sauce. The voices of Katie and George from the back porch could be heard…but not too much. Junior sat at the counter and erupted into fond laughter as two new voices mingled into the chaos. Maw obviously recognized the voices of her middle sons, Hank and Harold. Paw shuffled in and Maw was nearly positive…why yes! He was making coffee! She didn’t know where it had come from…but she was very glad to have it.
She was moving quietly down the hallway, headed for the restroom, when she heard the door open. She peered over the handrail, wondering who was left, and saw at the foot of the stairs a sweet-faced, brunette. Her hair was curled perfectly, her makeup was modest, and her dress was plain but beautiful. Much like it’s wearer. Maw gasped. Patricia looked up at her and smiled gingerly as a single tear ran down her cheek. Maw made her way hastily down toward the girl and wrapped her quickly in a tight embrace. The two of them just stood there for a bit. Maw could tell from the spot forming on her shoulder that the girl was crying rather hard. Maw on the other hand was forcing herself to control it for the good of the girl. Finally the pulled back from each other. “I just wasn’t sure you’d come.” Maw forced out. Pat smiled a beautiful, beaming smile and replied, “Theres nowhere else I’d rather be Maw.”
Maw escorted Pat upstairs and she was greeted by all with shouts of joy and sweet embraces. Paw noticed the lines on the faces of his girls. He caught Maw’s eye and nodded to make sure she was okay. Maw smiled weakly and turned to make her way down the hall. When she returned to the group, Pat was leaning into Paw who had his big arm around her tiny shoulder. George, Hank, and Harold stood in the space between the kitchen and the dining room talking to and over one another. Karen and Mother Marshall were laughing at the three cut-ups. The children made their way back in, drawn to the noise of their uncles of course. Katie and George hugged Hank and Harold. As Katie turned to find her grandmother to ask for something to drink, she noticed her aunt Pat. “PAT!” Katie screamed and ran to the young girl who smiled hugely and picked her up and spun her in the air. “Hello there sweet Katie! Happy Thanksgiving! How are you?” Pat finished her pirouette and sat the small girl down in the middle of the kitchen. “I’m good. Happy Thanksgiving to you!” Everyone was smiling at the site when suddenly, the little girl asked a question that stilled the room. “Have you heard from uncle Ron?”
The silence was visible. Karen put a hand up to her mouth, embarrassed by the rashness of her 8-year-old. Paw stood transfixed, staring at his wife. Maw was staring at the sweet face of her daughter-in-law Pat. Pat on the other hand, was handling the question better than anyone in the room. She smiled at the little girl, ran her fingers through her blonde hair, and spoke through her single tear, “I haven’t heard from him in a few weeks now.” The little girl seemed content with this answer. “Just over a month actually.” Pat finished. More for herself and the others in the room than for Katie. As if to prove that children are wiser than anyone else, and sensing the air in the room, Katie spoke tenderly, “But that’s good isn’t it? I mean, we’d love to hear from him, but at least you haven’t heard anything bad in a month…right?” Pat looked around the room at her family by marriage. Her eyes landed on little Katie. A huge, genuine, toothy grin took over the young lady’s face. “You’re right Katie! No news is good news!”
As the old grandfather clock in the den chimed twelve noon, the family had seated themselves around the dining room table. Katie, George, Junior, Karen, Harold, Hank, Mother Marshall, Pat. Maw and Paw stood in the kitchen waiting to unveil the turkey. They had driven everyone out right before Paw pulled it out of the oven. He watched his wife had some sparse greens to the plate. He walked up behind her and sat his old chin on her shoulder as he wrapped his big arms around her waist. She quietly cried as he leaned on her. “Tough year, aye Maw?” The old man’s voice broke as he spoke. “Yeah Paw. Tough year. I had so hoped to have my Ronny home for this Thanksgiving.” The two turned to look at their kitchen window. There was a picture of their sweet red-headed youngest child in his army uniform in the window and a flag containing one lonely star in the window. “We’ll have him back next year Maw. Our boy knows to keep his head down and he knows that sweet Pat needs him to come home. He’ll be alright.” Maw smiled, although she wasn’t sure whether he was trying to convince her…or himself.
A silence fell over the room as the giant bird came to the table. Paw stood at the head of the table. The chair to his immediate left was for his beautiful bride. Pat was seated between Maw and mother Marshall. Paw smiled as he looked around the table. And then, in a voice made deep and solemn by years of life, he spoke over his family.
We’re here today. We’re not whole. But we’re here. And we have food. Not much. But we’ve got it. And that’s more than most can say. I’m thankful for every soul in this room. Katie-did, you’re a precious reminder that each day is new. George, you’ll be carrying on the family name in this town and we’re proud to have you. Junior, you’ve worked hard to provide for your family and that’s all a father can hope for his son. Karen, you’ve embraced this family as your own and we’re plum glad to have ya. Harold, you work hard and you make an honest livin’. Hank, you work hard…I’m not sure how honest yer livin’ is. Mother Marshall, you’re the history of this family and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Pat, you’re the newest member and by gosh we love ya some’in fierce. Maw, you’re the glue. Plain and simple. We’d fall apart with out ya. Least I know I would.
Couple years ago, President Roosevelt gave a speech. He said somethin in it about freeing the people of this great country to essential freedoms. Four freedoms I believe it was. Freedom uh speech, freedom uh worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. And we seen hard times since then. Lean times. But we stand here today, livin and leanin on them freedoms. We got the freedom uh speech, and I know that because I been runnin’ my mouth here for a pretty long time. We got the freedom uh worship, and I know that because I still got the right to pray over this meal Maw’s worked so hard on. We got freedom from want, and I know that because even though things are rough we still got a bird on the table big enough to feed most of the county. And we got freedom from fear. We’ve got a freedom from fear of what the next few years’ll hold for all of us. We’ve got a freedom from fear of what’ll happen to our sweet Ronny. And I know we got freedom from fear…because we have freedom uh speech, freedom uh worship, and freedom from want.
We got a roof, we got four walls, we got food, and we got family. If them others are four freedoms…we’ll call these the four blessins. We also got some holes. But may the holes that keep us un-whole be filled by God, love for one another, and good food. Amen.
AND SPECIAL THANKS TO ALL THE MEN AND WOMEN SERVING AROUND THE GLOBE TO KEEP THIS COUNTRY AND OUR WORLD SAFE.