Life has come at me very fast lately, so I give you this snippet from my short story An American Thanksgiving, which takes place in 1865 and will be available later this week. Thanksgiving seems to be losing some of its importance to American culture in recent years, so I came up with this different take on the holiday stories that are popular at this time of year:
Of course, Freddy must talk of Grit’s adventure in the kitchen, and he’d recovered himself enough to make it a fine tale, punctuated with silly faces and wild gestures that had everyone in stitches.
“I suddenly found myself awake last night, and I couldn’t think why,” he said, pretending perplexity. “And then I heard a little scratching noise from downstairs, and I thought, it can’t possibly be a mouse; all the mice for five miles around know they daren’t set foot in Mother’s kitchen, lest they be squashed flat- do you remember, Will- I think I was about six and we were playing in the garden when we were supposed to be weeding-”
“- and we heard the loudest shriek from inside the house,” Will added, grinning. “We thought one of the pigs had gotten in and was savaging our poor mamma-” he winked at her.
“-and it turned out that she’d stepped on a mouse,” Freddy finished, to gales of laughter from the others, Margaret included. Well she remembered the incident. “A tiny little mouse!” Freddy exclaimed. “We thought she had her leg off!”
“Here, now,” she scolded through her laughter, “if you had to wear skirts, and worry that a mouse would run up your leg, you’d scream, too!”
That set them off again, and they only quieted a little when Grace slipped under Margaret’s arm and looked up at her with wide eyes. “Were you scared, Mamma?”
Margaret hugged her. “No, sweetheart; just startled. I was expecting to step on the floorboards, not something soft that squeaked.”
Grace giggled and hugged her back, her faith in Mother’s courage unshaken.
“But- Freddy,” Celia said, “what about Grit?”
“Oh- right,” he said, the gleam coming back into his eyes, “Well, there was a scratching noise, but then it went away, and I was only half-awake anyway, so I fell back to sleep and didn’t think anything more of it. Until I came downstairs the next morning.” Now he wore a look of comical dismay. “I peeked over Will’s shoulder and- dear Lord- you could have knocked me over with a feather.”
“Watch your tongue,” Margaret murmured.
Freddy looked momentarily abashed, then went on with, “It looked like a grape shot had exploded right in our kitchen, if grape shot was filled with rags and food and dishes, and all manner of kitchen things. I didn’t know one dog could make such a mess!”
“Maybe he didn’t,” Will said slyly. “Maybe we were ransacked by rebels in the night. Very stealthy rebels,” he added, making a silly face.
Everyone else thought this rather amusing but Johnny burst out with, “Rebels couldn’t come this far north, could they?”
“Of course not, silly,” Will said. “It was the dog. If a rebel came near the house, we’d all know it; they’re not exactly quiet.”
“Certainly louder than Mother, when I confessed what I’d done,” Freddy noted. “She only turned, and gave me this look, and I think my blood froze,” he said gleefully. “Mr. Lincoln should have commissioned you as a general, Mother; those rebels would have taken one look at you and slunk off back to their homes in a trice!”
She really and truly didn’t want to think about the war, not when Josiah was still missing and Will was carefully not putting any weight on his injured ankle, even while he sat on the sofa. “Well, that’s over and done with, now, so we don’t have to worry. And if I was made a general, I wouldn’t have time to make Thanksgiving dinner for my battalion of children,” she tried to joke.
George immediately perked up at this. “So there is food, even if Grit did make a mess of the kitchen.”
“Of course there’s food,” she said. “Freddy helped me clean up, and we’ve all been cooking for the past four or five hours. You didn’t think I’d let my family starve, did you?”
George exclaimed against the idea, and Freddy said, sotto voce, “Brigadier General Mother.”
“A better quartermaster than anyone else in the army,” Will said, equally quietly, and though they were both smiling, Margaret’s heart ached to think of what they must have suffered. Vividly could she imagine companies of hollow-cheeked men, marching all day and praying they’d find food at their next stop, only to sink down beside their mean little fires in despair when they learned there were to be no rations that night.
She couldn’t stop to think of it. Not now, not when her boys were home and they were about to sit down to dinner. “And it’d be a shame to waste the food because you were too distracted by your scheme to make me a general,” she said to the room, “so let’s eat. Johnny and Grace, please lay the table. George, we need two more chairs in the dining room. Will and Freddy can take care of the turkey. Patience, Celia, help me with the rest of the food.”
No further encouragement was needed; her instructions, combined with the wonderful smells of roasted meat and spiced fruit emanating from the kitchen, were a great motivation to her children, and the entire family rose from their seats and moved as a noisy herd to their tasks.