A Thanksgiving from Long Ago

“Hold him still, Billy.”
As soon as the ax severed the turkey’s head Billy released its convulsing body. While not as lively or long lasting as the run displayed by chickens with their heads cut off, the post mortem activity of this tom was enough to entertain his executioner’s helper. He flapped his wings and strutted in a small circle as Billy tailed him.
“Gobble, gobble, gobble!” Billy supplied the call the bird had made to its dying breath. He ceased it when the turkey fell over and stopped twitching. “Ah, shucks. How come turkeys don’t run around as much as chickens do, Rod?”
“I guess because they’re not born in the woods to be scared by an owl, Billy. Bring it over to the porch so we can pluck it and dress it out so Patty can get it in the oven.”
“Okay.” He flopped the 28-pound bird over his shoulder and carried it to the porch. “How come our carryings on celebration times ain’t as fun anymore, Rod? You think maybe it’s ‘cause Grandma died?”
“Maybe.” Being the older brother of one who was “touched in the head” was proving tiring for Rod Lee. But he had seen worse little brothers than Billy. So what if Billy called Rod’s mother-in-law Grandma?
Mrs. Pierson’s passing last summer had relieved the Lees of the thirty-mile roundtrip by horse-drawn wagon to her boarding house for Thanksgiving dinner. Rod was thankful for that but weary of his wife’s depression since her mother’s death. Patty’s cold isolation had unraveled the once tight knit family.
“Don’t worry, Patty. She’s just left the boarding house for her cabin up in glory land.” Rod had joked a month after the funeral. That was a sufficient period to grieve, he thought.
“Let me be. You grieved for your dang newspaper for a long spell and it wasn’t even a person.” Patty had sobbed as she turned away.
When the Tri-State Herald’s last edition came out during the Panic of 1893, Rod had moped around the farm for months. The ensuing nationwide depression did not allow him to resurrect the paper he had edited and published.
More out of desperation than hope, he then turned to his unfinished novel. Within a year he had finished it. Five years of trying to sell it had followed. During that same period, one of his former correspondents for the Herald, Samantha Hillsdale, had graduated from having her short stories published in magazines to getting her first novel in print. Desperate to know her secret, Rod had visited her in Central City, Kentucky a month earlier.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with my book,” he had told her.
“I read through the first two chapters that you sent me. Your writing is strong but the plot isn’t what the publishers want nowadays.”
“I guess so. In the last five years, it’s been Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde, or H.G. Wells’ time machines and invaders from Mars that people are buying. That and love stories like Ships That Pass in the Night or your book. But I don’t know how to write that way. I guess my story of a farm boy going off to the big city and then to Egypt to be a writer just isn’t exciting enough. That’s what the last editor wrote back and said, ‘I can’t get excited about your book.’ I don’t need her to get excited. I need her to get the publisher to buy it.”
“That’s you as the main character in your book?”
“It shows through that bad?”
“There’s nothing wrong with making your experiences into a novel. Mr. Clemens and Mr. Dickens both did it more than once. Maybe you need a second main character to play off the other one? Remember how Tom Sawyer had Huckleberry Finn?”
On the train ride home, Rod had thought of possible people on which to base his secondary main character, such as one of his other former correspondents. All of them were colorful characters in real life. But each seemed too similar to the main character of his novel, and Samantha had warned that any secondary main character must be very different or readers would get bored and word of mouth about his book would doom it to few sales. Just as the train had pulled into Evansville, Indiana, Private Benjamin Worthington appeared in Rod’s mind. He wondered if his friend had survived his initial enlistment and if he could serve as the basis for a suitable character.
He had had no contact with the English soldier since they had parted company in Egypt years ago. But Benjamin had given him an aunt’s address in London and message to deliver, “just in case you stop off there on your way back home. Stop in and tell her I’m doing well.”
So Rod decided to have Billy type a copy of his book to send to Benjamin in care of Aunt Bessie along with a request for Private Worthington’s story to be inserted into it. Billy hit the typewriter keys with his two index fingers. But at a nickel a page, he typed furiously.
“I’ll be finished typing it by Christmas. I’m going to get me a two-way radio from all the nickels you give me,” Billy told Rod to motivate himself. “Then you and me can talk to your soldier friend no matter where he gets sent off to.”
Since her mother’s death, Patty had communicated only as necessary with Rod, Billy, and her three children. This had caused Rod and Billy to become friends more than brothers as they turned to each other to make up for their missing relationship with Patty.
They joked about whether they should invite any of the local Shawnee to the feast to make it a true Thanksgiving.
“Maybe we best not.” Billy reflected. “Pop would probably pull his gun out and start shooting at them. He’s sometimes forgets that they are peaceful like nowadays.”
Once the turkey was a steaming golden brown, Patty removed it from the woodstove and wrapped blankets around the pot that held it and loaded it into the wagon where the others sat waiting, the children almost hidden underneath quilts. Rod pushed the horses so that they covered the five mile trip in an hour. His father William herded his guests to the table immediately.
“Put that turkey up on the table and get busy carving it up, Rod. Nothing worse than cold turkey for Thanksgiving. Makes decent sandwiches for later on, though. Think you could leave some of the leftovers here?”
“Maybe you could say the blessing first, Pop?”
“All right, all right.”
William hurried through the blessing and his meal. Rod was only half finished when William asked his son to join him by the fire in the parlor.
“Not many folks that live most of one century make it on into the next one.”
Not again, Rod thought. He’s told me that a dozen times already.
“Hard to believe 1900 will be here in just a month.”
“I’ve whipped my weight in wildcats, Rod. It’s time for me and your mother to hang up the plow. We’re fixing to sell out and move into Evansville. I wanted to give you the news first. Only other person that knows is Mr. Tomasci the real estate man. He’s going to list the farm starting tomorrow.”
“Thanks for letting me know. What you going to live in?”
“Oh, we’ll just get us one of those little houses, nothing fancy. So, did your book sell yet?”
“No. I’m still looking for an editor who thinks like I do and likes my writing.”
“Oh. Well, after listening to Billy recite most of it at dinner I got a little suggestion.”
“You need some more blood. Now that America whooped the Spanish down there in Cuba and the Philippines, people want to read all about it or something like it. Write about that English soldier that Billy talked about. Have him fight in some wars in your book.”
Rod pondered his father’s advice as he finished his turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, corn, and cranberry sauce. I wonder how willing Benjamin would be to write about what he went through. He recalled what they had seen in Egypt. He had met Private Benjamin Worthington in Alexandria in 1882 when the Egyptian Army had revolted and dozens of foreigners and hundreds of Egyptian Christians had been killed by Moslems who shouted, “Death to foreigners! Death to Christians!”
Private Worthington might even be sent to fight in England’s latest war against the Boers in South Africa. From what Rod had read in the papers, over 100,000 troops were being sent from Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand to South Africa. Rod was still daydreaming about how including his friend’s exploits could make his book a best seller while he ate his slices of pecan and pumpkin pie three hours later.

Adapted from The Prince of Alexandria. Hope this short tale helps this Thanksgiving be more memorable for you. Thank you for reading it.


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