Sunday, July 15, 2012
Thanksgiving in Camden Corners
Thanksgiving in Camden Corners
Turkeys were roasting all over town in Camden Corners on Thanksgiving morning. The silver had all been polished and the good china was sparkling on dining room tables in most every house in the village.
The Clarke family from England was preparing for their first American Thanksgiving. Leah was wearing a pretty velveteen dress Cassie Nichols made just for her. Alfie was struggling to keep his bow tie in place. They were anxiously awaiting the arrival of Faith Burke and the two newest Crowley babies. Polly Burke would be coming early to help Trudy in the kitchen. Trudy had been Oscar Crowley's housekeeper and cook for as long as either of them could remember. She knew if she let him into her kitchen, he would sprinkling salt into every pot on top of the stove. Trudy was the only person who ever intimidated Oscar and he knew better than to enter her domain. Polly was the only other person allowed in the kitchen. She was an exceptionally good cook herself and she knew enough not to even pick up the salt shaker. Nettie didn't mind. She enjoyed cooking on Trudy's days off but she left Trudy alone to perform her magic on other days.
Oscar and Philip Clarke were setting up the tables for dining and rearranging as their wives changed their minds about the seating arrangements. Jonas and Ethel Fulbright, their daughter and her family plus the Crowley brothers and their families were expected also. Polly Cooper Burke's siblings had been taken in by Arthur and Gladys Preston. They lived in Greensboro and would be arriving within the hour. The Crowley house would be bursting at the seams before the day was out. Nettie liked it that way.
It was a squeeze, but everyone found a place at the table. Oscar said a prayer of Thanksgiving and managed to mention every name of every guest at the table. Nettie finally had to remind him the food was getting cold.
Trudy had outdone herself. She accepted the praise as she sat with the family for this special day.
Polly's sister Gretchen asked if her beau could join them for the day. She and Danny Mackenzie met at Polly and Randy's wedding and, although they lived in different towns, they were together as much as possible. Both Danny and Gretchen would be graduating from high school in the spring. Danny had assumed he and Gretchen would marry and she would move to Camden Corners. It never occurred to him that Gretchen had any other plans than to be his wife and the mother of his children.
Oscar asked, “What are your plans after graduation, Gretchen?”
“Thank you for asking Mr. Crowley. I have been thinking quite a bit about that lately. I have decided I would like to go to nursing school. I would like nothing better than to tend to mother and others like her who have lost their way. My school counselor has mentioned the possibility of a scholarship for me.”
Everyone around the table thought that was a wonderful idea. Everyone except Danny Mackenzie. “Gretchen, I thought we would be married this summer. This is the first I have heard you talk about being a nurse. Does that mean you won't be marrying me until you finish nursing school?”
“Danny, we are only 17 years old. We have plenty of time for marriage. I know we don't talk much about the future but I was certain you had planned to go to college too.”
There was an uncomfortable silence until Nettie changed the subject. “What do you think of our Thanksgiving celebration Philip?”
“You Americans know how to observe a holiday. I have never had such a feast before.”
“I hope you saved room for pie, Your Grace,” said Trudy.
“Please, I am in the United States now, please call me Philip. Minerva and I have been talking. The children are so happy here in Camden Corners. The Crowleys and all of the people in town have made us feel so welcomed, we are thinking of extending our visit. On my walk this morning I noticed a house for rent around the corner. If it's still available tomorrow, I plan to speak to the owner about renting it for a while.”
“I won't hear of it Philip. We have plenty of room in this house. You are more than welcome to stay here with us for as long as you would like.”
“Miss Nettie, we couldn't impose like that.”
“Nonsense, it wouldn't be imposing. You must know how much we love your children. They are comfortable in their room, why disrupt them again when there is no need?”
In the Jamison Bentley house the meal was being served at the same time. Cassandra Rossi and Becky Bentley kept the new babies occupied while their mother's helped put the finishing touches on the meal. The girls had worn out Freddie, Lucy and Daniel and all of them were sleeping soundly. Todd and Alex invited their girlfriends, Tessa and Susannah to join the family for dinner. Caroline and Jamison were happy the boys were thinking about settling down and couldn't have been happier with their choices.
“Has anyone heard from Mitchell Anderson?” said Caroline.
“Not from him Mrs. Bentley but Lydia sent a note to Hazel saying she and Mitchell were married. Lydia is working at a hospital in Chicago. She hinted that Mitchell was not working at all. I can't pretend that Lydia was one of my favorite people but she doesn't deserve to be a slave to a man,” said Susannah.
“Maybe we should include them in our Thanksgiving prayer today,” said Jamison who didn't like to think of anyone being unhappy on a holiday.
They all bowed their heads and gave thanks for their friends and loved ones and added a special blessing for Mitchell and Lydia Anderson.
Lydia Anderson was tending a patient. He was an older man who was losing a battle with an undiagnosed illness but it was suspected it may have been from years of drinking. Lydia looked on his chart and noticed that he was only 42 years old. Her heart sank as she thought to herself, “Is this what Mitchell will be like in just a few years? He is so handsome and charming. I love him but it is becoming more difficult every day.” Her thoughts were interrupted by the charge nurse.
“Lydia, we have another gentleman who was celebrating the holiday a wee bit too much. He walked into the path of a street car. They are bringing him in on a stretcher now. I'm afraid it's going to be a busy day for you although our friend here doesn't look like he will be causing you any problems.”
The orderly rolled the gurney into the room. Lydia was shocked when she looked down and saw Mitchell lying there. He was out like a light.
“Mitchell, what happened? Mitchell, speak to me. It's Lydia.” Mitchell slowly opened his eyes.
“Hello darlin'. Sorry, I'm so late coming home. You know I love you.”
“Mitchell Anderson. Stop it. You are not home, you are in the hospital. You walked in front of a moving street car. Do you want to kill yourself? Mitchell, I want a divorce. I can't live like this one minute longer. Do you see that man lying there next to you? That man likes the drink as much as you do and he is not that much older than you are right now. He is dying, Mitchell. He is dying from every drink he ever took. That is what you will be like in a very short time and I will not watch while it happens. Now, go to sleep while you wait for the doctor to examine you.”
Mitchell took one look at the body next to him. Lydia can't be serious. That man is old enough to be my grandfather. Mitchell never knew how it happened but suddenly his grandfather was sitting next to him.
“Mitchell! Whatever happened to that fine young boy I use to call my grandson? You are a mess. When did you start on this downward path?”
“Grandpa, it can't be you, you died when I was 10 years old.”
“You don't have to tell me that son. I remember it well. You cried your eyes out, I remember you begged me not to go but I had to. I didn't want to leave you, but I didn't have a choice.”
“Is it the drink that's gotten to me? I knew I was drinking too much last night. Or was it this morning? I don't remember.”
“Mitchell, if you don't stop drinking, you will end up like that fellow in the next bed. That is if you are lucky. You could go on for years. You heard Lydia, she is leaving you. I don't blame her. She has her faults alright, but she doesn't deserve to be married to the likes of you. I'm ashamed of you, son.”
“Don't say that Grandpa, I want you to be proud of me. I love you Grandpa. I'll stop drinking, I promise. Grandpa, don't go..”
Mitchell's injuries were minor. He woke up with a few aches and pains but was released later that afternoon. Lydia's shift ended and she took him home.
She didn't leave Mitchell that Thanksgiving Day. He seemed sincere about giving up the whiskey. She had heard empty promises from him before but decided to give him one more chance.
Mitchell kept his promise. From that day on he never took another drink. Anytime he had a craving for a drink his grandfather's face appeared before him. He told Lydia about his grandfather and they both wondered if somewhere, somehow, someone had brought the vision of his grandfather to him. He would always be thankful for whoever it was who helped turn his life around.
The Marino Trattoria was open this Thanksgiving day. Mamma Rossi thought the doctors and nurses who were working that day should be able to enjoy a fine turkey dinner along with the rest of the town. Not only was turkey served along with the usual side dishes, Mamma and Eduardo competed with each other for their specialties in Italian cuisine. No matter how hungry folks were when they entered the restaurant, they were all stuffed even more than the turkeys were that day. Grady and Elizabeth Murphy were enjoying their feast when Addie and Leo Schmidt stopped by to drop off some pies as their donation to the meal. They were happy to spend some time with the young couple.
“Grady and Elizabeth both work so hard,” said Addie
“Grady has been a hard worker since he was a boy. Unlike his father who always looked for the easy way out. I know I shouldn't be so critical on Thanksgiving Day but when I think of the danger Millie's cousin was in earlier this year because of that quack I want to wring his neck.” Leo said.
“Oh here they come. Happy Thanksgiving you two. Elizabeth, you look positively green. Are you feeling alright, dear?”
Elizabeth didn't wait to answer, she ran to the ladies room.
“Elizabeth can't seem to tolerate certain odors these days. She'll be fine in a few minutes.”
“Do you have an announcement to make Grady?” Addie's eyes lit up.
Grady smiled at this dear lady who was always like a mother to him. “How do you feel about being a grandmother this summer?'
“Oh Grady, we couldn't be happier. What a happy Thanksgiving you have made this. Poor Elizabeth. She isn't enjoying the day, is she?”
“You watch, once she splashes cold water on her face she will be out here and she'll be filling her plate.”
Elizabeth walked out of the washroom, took an empty plate and filled it to overflowing. “Did you guess our news, Addie?”
“Yes dear, and we think it's wonderful. Don't we, Leo.”
“I'm just wondering how soon I will be able to teach our grandson to drive a car.”
“Leo, what if it's a girl?”
Everyone was congratulating Elizabeth when Amanda Rossi had a pain. It didn't last too long but then another came and another. “Mamma Rossi, I don't think I'm going to be able to judge your contest with Eduardo today. Grady, take your time with your meal, I'll see you at the hospital.”
“First babies always take a while. I think I have time for a slice of that pumpkin pie Addie and then we'd better get back to the hospital. Another Rossi is about to come into the world.”
Just before midnight on that Thanksgiving Day, Anna Rosa Rossi was born. She was named after her paternal grandmother and aunt. Anna Rossi now had two babies to enjoy. She was thankful she and Lou decided to travel across the ocean to be with their family in Camden Corners.
Margaret and Harvey Wilson celebrated the holiday with their seven adopted children. They were joined by Neville and Helene, their daughters, Michael Cassidy and James and his sweetheart, Ella. Their newly adopted daughter, Marvella was learning to trust more and more each day. She had many friends in town and almost forgot how she and her little sister, Marissa had been bounced around from household to household after their mother's tragic death.
Marvella and Melissa had taken a liking to the Hawthorne boys. Lucas and Abe worked at the ski lodge every winter. Although there wasn't enough snow for downhill skiing, there was just enough for snowshoeing . A group of young people were gathering in the afternoon for a hike in the hills and later sitting around the campfire at the lodge.
Michael Cassidy was jumpy from the moment he arrived at the Wilson home. He only had one helping of the Thanksgiving feast.
“Michael, are you feeling alright? I've noticed you haven't been yourself since you walked through the door.” said Helene.
“I'm just fine Mrs. Merryweather. I have some things on my mind. That's all.”
“What do you have on your mind, Michael? Have I done something to annoy you?” Melinda said with fear in her eyes.
“No, its nothing like that Melinda.”
Melinda began to worry. When she thought about it, she realized Michael had been very distant the last few days. Her imagination began to get the better of her. She remembered she saw him talking with Peggy Ashcroft the other day. They were laughing as she handed him a small package. “Was it possible he had fallen in love with another?” Melinda's fears got the best of her. She began imagining Michael and Peggy together and was miserable. Melissa and Marvella began to worry about their sister. It was as though a dark cloud had come over the table where all the young people were sitting.
Neville stood up and asked Michael to come outside with him. He followed the older man to porch overlooking the lake.
“Michael, do you have something to ask me?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“Well, son, ask away, our food is getting cold.”
“Sir, I love your daughter and I.....”
“And you want my permission to marry her.”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“You have it. Now I'm going to finish my meal. You wait here, I'll send Melinda out.”
Neville had lost patience with the whole situation. He was hungry and couldn't enjoy his meal while his daughter was suffering. Those two had been in love for two years now. He couldn't understand why Michael would be afraid to ask for Melinda's hand.
“Melinda, Michael would like to see you on the front porch.”
Melinda was shaking as she walked out the door. How was she going to face everyone after Michael dumped her for Peggy Ashcroft. She had forgotten that Peggy worked in the jewelry store. Her previous fears were forgotten as Michael slipped a ring on her finger. When they walked back into the house, they were both grinning from ear to ear.
“Michael and I are engaged. He has asked me to marry him and I said yes.” Nobody was the least bit surprised.
“That is lovely dear,” said Helene. “After dinner we will have to start planning the wedding. Michael, would you like more turkey?”
“Yes ma'am, I'm starving. He proceeded fill his plate for a second and third time.”
They were finishing the last of their pie at the Crowley house. Daniel was very quiet. Gretchen began helping clear the table and he followed her into the kitchen carrying a couple of plates himself. “Miss Trudy, I can help with the dishes, I've done it many times at the pub.”
“I won't hear of it son, now you and Gretchen go have a little talk. I think you young people have a thing or two to say to each other,” Trudy said with a knowing smile.
“Gretchen, I wanted to marry you this summer. I don't know if I can bear to wait another three or four years until you graduate from nursing school. I planned to start my own mechanic shop here in Camden Corners. People are beginning to buy automobiles and they will be needing repairs. I'm sure I will be able to make enough money to support you and you will not have to work.”
“Daniel, you don't understand. This is something I want to do. Besides, my mother never had a job or any money to call her own. Look how she ended up. I don't want to risk being like my mother.”
“Gretchen, I am nothing like your father and you know it.”
“I know Daniel. I wasn't implying that you were. This is something I want to do for my own sake. I know you will be able to support me and our children but I want to become a nurse so I can help people like my mother. I wish you would try to understand.”
“Gretchen, the only thing I understand is that you do not wish to marry me. Now, if you will excuse me, I'll thank the Crowleys for their hospitality and be on my way. I won't bother you again.”
“Daniel, if you walk away from me now, you may just keep walking.”
Daniel did just that.
Gretchen's heart was broken but she didn't back down. She graduated the following spring and began nursing courses at the college. She did just as she said she would. She graduated and began working in the home where her mother was residing. As much as everyone hoped, her mother never was able to return to normalcy. Gretchen was with her and held her hand as she passed away that fall.
Shane Howard Memorial Hospital was already expanding by then. Gretchen's sister Polly knew her sister had never stopped loving Daniel Mackenzie and Daniel never stopped loving her. They hadn't seen each other in nearly five years.
Polly who was now a teacher and mother of three, asked Gretchen to come to Camden Corners for a visit. Gretchen hadn't been to the town since that fateful Thanksgiving Day.
“Gretchen, it's foolish of you to stay away because you are afraid to see Daniel Mackenzie. You don't even have to see him. We will stay clear of his mechanic shop and the pub where he sometimes pitches in.”
“I'm not afraid to see Daniel. It was only a school girl crush. I'm sure he has been involved with many girls since those days. It's ancient history.”
“I've never seen him with anyone. He was always a good looking young man but you should see him now Gretchen. He is so very handsome. I know of a dozen girls who would love to snag him.”
Gretchen felt a tinge of jealousy hearing those words.
Gretchen agreed to a visit. She was taking a tour of the hospital after being offered a nursing position. She rounded a corner and bumped into Daniel Mackenzie.
“Hello Daniel. I hope no one in your family is ill.”
“No, not ill, my sister just had another baby. You know the Mackenzies, they like to keep adding to the family. How are you? You are looking well.”
“I'm fine. It's nice to see you again.” Gretchen turned away. It was painful to see Daniel again. She had never gotten over her feelings for him.
“Would you like to have a cup of coffee?”
Her first instinct was to say no. She didn't think she could sit across the table from Daniel and not show her true feelings. She found herself saying “Yes, that would be very nice.”
They sat down at a table in the hospital cafeteria.
“Gretchen, I acted like a fool five years ago. I don't know why I objected to you becoming a nurse. Polly told me about your mother. I'm sorry to hear that.”
“Thank you Daniel. My mother was a very unhappy person. I guess I was afraid of ending up like her and wanted to be sure I would never be dependent on someone as she was dependent on my father. I now know it was her mental illness that made her the way she was”
“Back then I never considered you would want anything but marriage to me. I think I was just anxious to start our lives together. You were right though. We were too young. Tell me, are you seeing anyone special?”
“No Daniel. I think I'm a one man woman.”
Daniel couldn't hide his feelings any longer. “Gretchen, I love you, I never stopped loving you. I will move to Greensboro if that is what you want. I want to marry you if you will have me and I hope you will.”
“I want to marry you too. I have wanted that since the first time we met. You don't have to move anywhere. I have accepted a job here in Camden Corners.
They were married within the week and celebrated every Thanksgiving together for the rest of their lives.”