Temptation turns to triumph
It would be the first Thanksgiving she’d ever spent alone. As much as she prayed and hoped, it seemed her son, deployed overseas, would not be able to be here. Her daughter had a family of her own now and lived halfway across the country.
For several days, Marian had felt the sting of temptation to self-pity and depression. She considered the possibility of not bothering to cook. What was the point just for her? But she decided instead to make the best of it and prepare a meal for herself. She’d gone a little overboard.
With her turkey in the oven and some time on her hands, she decided to take a walk around her neighborhood. The cul-de-sac she lived in had been quiet most of the day; she figured most of her neighbors were either celebrating quietly or gone to be with family.
As she rounded the final turn that led back to her house, she noticed an elderly couple sitting on a bench beside the retention pond there. For a moment she hesitated. Should she speak? She didn’t know them but then she decided that since she was spending the day alone, perhaps a little interaction would be good for her. As she approached, she greeted. “Happy Thanksgiving?”
The gentleman smiled and nodded.
“Hello, and Happy Thanksgiving to you, young lady.” The woman replied warmly. “Walking off your dinner?”
“Oh, no. I haven’t had dinner yet. How about you?”
“I usually have some dinner at the cafeteria.” The man said. “A couple days before. My wife did all the cooking. God rest her soul.”
“You’re not a couple?” Marian asked, surprised.
“Oh, no!” The woman replied sheepishly. “Just good neighbors for many years.”
“You’re not cooking?”
“I haven’t cooked for Thanksgiving in years.” She shook her head for emphasis.
“You don’t have family to spend it with?’
“Not since my wife passed.”
“I don’t have family left either, except my sister. But she doesn’t get around much anymore.”
“Well,” Marian began, with a sudden inspiration. “I have a turkey in the oven and no one to share it with. Why don’t you both come and have dinner with me?’
They both just looked at her.
“I just live two houses down from here.” She pointed. “The brick one there.”
“Why would you do that?” The man asked.
“Honestly, this would be the first Thanksgiving I’ve ever spent alone. I’d be grateful for the company, and I have food enough for an army.” She smiled, feeling better about it by the moment. “Will you come? Dinner’s in a couple of hours.”
“Can I bring my sister?” The woman asked.
“Of course. The more, the merrier.”
“All right.” She agreed. “I’ll get cleaned up and we’ll be there in about an hour. Clive?”
He nodded. “Okay. You’ll need some help managing Elsie.”
“Wonderful.” Marian affirmed, starting for the house. “See you in an hour. Bring your appetite!”
The house already smelled fragrant when she walked in. As she checked the turkey and saw it was coming along nicely, she had another idea.
When it became apparent that her son wouldn’t make it stateside, let alone home, by the holiday, she hadn’t bothered to decorate at all. Quickly, she busied herself with the table linens, place settings and candles on the table, a few decorative touches here and there in the entry and living room. The more decorating she did, the better she felt. She had just washed up and changed when the doorbell rang.
“Hello!” She greeted as she opened the door.
Clive stood there with the woman she’d met and another, older woman in a wheelchair.
“This is my sister, Elsie. I’m Dot.” The woman said. “And you are…?”
“Marian. Nice to meet you, Elsie.” She replied and as Clive went for the wheelchair, she rushed forward. “Here, let me help you.”
“I can walk, dear.” Elsie declared. “Just not the distance from our house to yours.”
Marian nodded. “Okay. Come in, please.”
“It smells delicious in here.” Clive said as they moved along the foyer.
The kitchen was to their left, a passthrough from there to the dining room and the living room on the right.
“You have a lovely home. So festive!” Dot observed.
It made her feel even better that she’d decided to decorate. Besides, who knew when she’d have the chance to use them again. She led them into the living room, pointed to the coffee table where the TV remotes were and said. “Make yourselves at home. I’m going to get the rest of dinner started.”
“Oh, let me help you.” Dot offered.
“Don’t be silly. You’re my guest.”
“Dot was a world-class chef in her day.” Elsie declared. “You should let her help.”
Marian eyed her curiously. She only thought for a moment. “That would be great. Frankly, since my daughter’s been old enough to cook, I let her handle it. She’s much better at it than I am.”
“Really? Is she…?”
“Halfway across the country with her family and not able to get here because of their work.” With a teasing voice, she said. “Maybe I should let you take over.”
Dot chuckled. “My arthritis won’t let me peel and chop, but if you can handle that, I can help with the rest.”
“You’ve got yourself a deal.” Marian chuckled.
“Who is this handsome young man?” Clive asked, lifting a picture of her son in uniform.
“That’s my son. He’s deployed overseas. We were hoping he’d get back in time for today but…”
Clive’s face turned somber.
It made her curious. “What is it, Clive?”
“It brings me back.” He set the picture back in its place and turned to her, eyes watery. “You know, I was just a kid. Stationed in Hawaii, right before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. A bunch of us there; it was our first holiday away from home, so we decided to celebrate together. Me, a couple guys from my unit, one guy’s girl who was a nurse and a some of her friends.”
“That sounds nice.”
“A couple of weeks later, all but one of them were killed in the attack. My buddy’s girl passed a few years ago.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry. I always get a little melancholy around this time, especially since my wife went on.”
“I understand, Clive.” She put a hand on her shoulder. “But we’re all here for each other today, okay?”
He nodded. “Would you mind if I said a little prayer for your son?”
“Of course not. I’d be honored.”
They each bowed their heads.
“Lord,” he began. “Your Word says our service people are ministers on Your behalf. We thank you for their willingness to put themselves in harm’s way, and for the sacrifice of their families. Please keep that boy safe and bring him home to his family. In Jesus’ Name.”
Together they murmured ‘amens.’
“Thank you, Clive.” Marian said earnestly, and then her countenance lightened. “Okay, Dot. Let’s go make some food.”
Dot was a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen.
Marian quickly backed off and watched in awe as her companion seasoned and sauteed, concocted and combined. She stepped in only when she needed to open or retrieve something. When she checked on Clive and Elsie, under the guise of offering them a cold drink, it thrilled her to see they’d made themselves at home enough to find an old black and white movie streaming.
“I haven’t seen this film in years.” Clive announced. “I’d forgotten how much I liked it.”
“Oh, good.” Marian replied. “And you were right about Dot. She’s a wonder in the kitchen. Why doesn’t she cook anymore?”
“Her hands.” Elsie answered. “She gets frustrated because she can’t do what she used to do so she just doesn’t.”
Marian couldn’t remember when she’d spent a more pleasant afternoon or a better meal.
As they gushed praise over Dot’s culinary talent, she regaled them with comical tales of the celebrities and wealthy patrons she’d encountered during her years as a chef in top restaurants. The others shared memories of their holidays past, what they loved and some of the funny mishaps they’d experienced. They laughed and talked as if they’d known each other for years.
“Anyone for pie and coffee?” Marian offered finally.
“That sounds good.” Clive admitted.
“Do any of you play cards?” She called from the kitchen as she put a pot of coffee on and prepared each a plate. “Maybe we could have a game.”
“Don’t play Clive in gin rummy.” Elsie piped up. “He’s a beast.”
Marian laughed out loud at the colloquialism that sounded so odd coming from a woman her age. “Good to know.”
After they’d played several games, Marian got up to take their dishes to the sink. She noticed that her guests appeared to be tiring. It had been such a wonderful day, she hated to see it end but didn’t want to keep them if they were staying because they felt obligated.
Clive spoke up bravely. “I think I should see the ladies home before it gets too late.”
“I could drive you if you’d like.” Marian offered.
“No.” Dot declined, shaking her head. “The fresh air and walk will do us all good.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, dear. Thank you. You’ve been so kind already.”
Marian came around and into the dining room. “I’m so glad you came. It would have been so lonely and quiet if you hadn’t.”
Clive set up Elsie’s wheelchair and settled her in it as Dot opened the door.
Marian leaned in to hug each of them. “Be safe on the way home.”
They each thanked her in turn and then they were gone.
She busied herself with cleaning up, took a hot bath and curled up on the couch to decide whether to watch a movie or read. It occurred to her then that God had known exactly what He was doing when He’d prompted her to resist self-pity and decide to cook a meal far more than she would have needed for herself and there were still leftovers. She murmured. “Thank you, Lord.”
Tired from the days’ festivities, she decided to make a warm beverage, spend some time reading and turn in. In the kitchen, she stirred her drink, startled when she heard what sounded like someone trying to get in the front door. For a moment, she froze.
The door opened and she heard scuffling followed by a thud, as if something heavy had been dropped. Her heart skipped a beat, and she nearly dropped her cup when a figure came into view in the doorway.
Disheveled and worn, his voice was boyish and tired. “Happy Thanksgiving, Mama.”
Marian’s eyes filled as she rushed to hug him. “Cole, oh thank God.”
“I’m sorry I missed dinner.” He offered, backing out of her hug.
“Don’t be silly. There’s plenty of food. I can make you a plate.” She started toward the cupboard.
“Not now. I’m beat and I need a shower.”
“What happened, baby. How…?”
“I can’t share much. It’s pretty bad for Americans over there.” He shook his head. “I was approached by someone — I didn’t want to tell him I was an American — but he assured me he was on our side and offered to get me out. It was crazy how it all happened. I really wasn’t sure I would make it and even this afternoon, there was a delay that just suddenly… I don’t know, wasn’t.”
Marian’s eyes widened, her stomach in a knot. “When…?”
“A few days ago. Middle of the night. It was the craziest thing. Almost like the guy appeared out of nowhere and found us where we were hiding.”
At that moment, her eyes filled. That was when she’d decided to make a meal anyway and prayed that he would make it home.
“It had to be God, Mama.” He declared. “There’s no way it happened by accident.”
“You’re right, baby. It was.”
He hugged her. “I’m gonna get a shower. Tomorrow, I’ll go cut you a Christmas tree and we’ll celebrate, okay?”
Marian watched as he walked down the hall, amazed at how God works: ordering our steps, answering our prayers, and honoring our obedience, even when we don’t know it. It wouldn’t be the last meal she shared with her new friends. She’d been overwhelmingly blessed today, and her heart truly overflowed with thanksgiving.