Wish It Away
Copyright © 2015 Adam Hughes
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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“Now, Jebediah, you can sit there until Mammaw and Pappaw arrive, but then you’ll have to move over to the children’s table.” Margaret Foster did not look up from the pot of potato soup she was stirring as she reminded her son about their protocol for the day.
Jebediah hated Thanksgiving.
Oh, he loved his grandparents and was always eager to devour the wide variety of meats, soups, breads, and pies — especially the pies — that the holiday brought with it, but he despised being treated like a child.
Why, he was almost 11 years old and had become a strong helper for his father when it came time to plow the fields or gather up the cows each night. If he could work like a man, why couldn’t he eat like a man, and with other men?
In fact, for most of the year, he and sister Jane sat right there at the big table with their parents and their older brother, Tom, for every meal. But Thanksgiving marked the beginning of a month-long stretch that Margaret always just called “the Holidays,” and that meant family would be visiting from all over Iowa and as far away as Indiana.
Why anyone would want to come to Dubuque in the winter was a mystery to Jebediah, but come they did, beginning in later November and stretching through the New Year.
When he was older, Jebediah was going to be a cowboy, and he’d spend “the Holidays” in a canyon somewhere, cuddled up by a fire with his horse standing guard. He’d cook beans in a pot and roast his turkey on a spit, and maybe he’d even invite the local Indians to eat with him, just like the pilgrims did. And, if they brought their children with them, he would let them sit there on the same logs as the adults.
Outside the cabin, Jesse started barking, which meant that Mammaw and Pappaw were there. As Jebediah picked up his tin cup and trudged six feet to the children’s table, he wished that he would hurry up and grow up so that he could have Thanksgiving his own way.
“Jeb, can you please go out and fetch more some more wood?” Elsa asked her husband. “My parents will be here any moment, and the stove is not hot enough to cook these noodles. You know that Thanksgiving will be just ruined if my mother does not get her noodles and gravy.”
Jeb grumbled, “Alright, but this is the seventh trip I’ve made this morning, Elsa. At this rate, we won’t have enough wood to make it through the winter. Will your mother’s noodles keep us warm when that happens?”
Before Elsa could respond, Jeb had thrown on his coat and was out the door, plodding through the snow toward the shed at the rear of their property. He worked hard at the mill all week long — all YEAR long — to provide for Elsa and their children, and all he asked was for a little relaxation on the holidays.
Why, when he was a child, Jeb’s mother did ALL the work at Thanksgiving, and his father spent the morning playing with Jeb and his sister. The children always got to sit at a special table that was just for them, and they even had their own pie that none of the adults could touch.
Those were golden years, and Jeb had been truly happy.
Now, as Jeb moved within 20 feet of the shed, he heard light footsteps stomping through the snow behind him. His middle son, James, was running toward him and pulling on a pair of knitted gloves while he ran. “Mommy sent me to help you with the wood,” James said, excitement coloring his voice.
“OK, but you’ll have to let me do most of the work,” Jeb said. He was irritated because he wanted to get back inside quickly, and he didn’t have time to teach a 10-year-old how to load wood into a wheelbarrow.
“OK, Daddy,” James said.
Jeb sighed and pulled open the wooden door, resigned to the work ahead. He wished that the children were older so that he could get some peace and quiet on his days off.
“Jeb, honey,” Elsa creaked from the kitchen. “Have you finished loading the wagon? I’m taking the last pie out of the oven, and we need to leave soon if we’re going to make it to James’ house on time.”
Jeb looked up from his book in the next room, the flame in the fireplace reflecting off his glasses. “The weather is supposed to turn rough, Elsa. Are you sure you want to risk it?”
It was Wednesday afternoon, and Jeb and Elsa would be traveling to Davenport to spend Thanksgiving with James and Freda. The young couple had been married for 10 years but had just moved into their new house after their second child, Nellie, was born in the summer.
“Of course, dear,” Elsa said, dampening the stove to kill the fire. “We can’t miss James’ first time hosting Thanksgiving dinner! Besides, Alma Franks told me that her hip feels fine … Alma’s hip is the surest predictor of snow or sun that I know!”
“Alright, I’ll get the wagon loaded,” Jeb said after heaving a huge sigh. He stood and shuffled to the front door, then into the cold blue day outside.
As he tethered the team to the wagon and loaded the supplies they’d need for their trip, Jeb thought back to the joyous Thanksgivings that he and Elsa had enjoyed when the children were little. Back then, the whole family came to their house for the Holidays, and Jeb had always enjoyed keeping the cabin warm and the stove piping hot. He and James would usually play all morning on Thanksgiving and then pile inside with ravenous appetites.
Those were happy times.
Since he had finally retired from the mill, though, Jeb couldn’t get any kind of peace because Elsa always wanted him to do something or other. Why, he couldn’t even get through a book without her imposing on him to do yet another chore.
Jeb wished that he could have some solitude at Thanksgiving.
Jeb threw another handful of dried grass and tiny twigs onto the pile of burned rubble that the last travelers had left. Then he stacked a crisscross of small branches and one large log on top. He lit one of the kitchen matches he’d bought in Ault before heading out on the trail two days before and touched it to the kindling.
Little trails of smoke wafted through the air and into his nose as he poked at the weak flame and shifted his fuel to try and light the fire. Eventually, after a long time, one of the smaller logs began to burn, and, after several minutes more, the end of the larger log caught, too.
It was going to be another cold night in the canyon, and his diminutive donkey would not provide much in the way of warmth, companionship, OR protection.
Jeb pulled a stick of jerky from the canvas sack he had thrown over his shoulder and unwrapped the wax paper that surrounded a loaf of hard, dry bread he’d bought, also from the general store in Ault.
He chomped on a couple of scratchy bites of his dinner and washed it down with a swig of stale water from his raggedy canteen.
Thanksgiving wasn’t supposed to be like this, was it? Why, when Elsa had still been alive, they’d travel to James’ house, or to Sara’s, and be treated like royalty. They’d have their own room on Wednesday night, and then the children would fix dinner on Thursday, and Jeb and Elsa wouldn’t have to lift a finger.
But with James in New York and Sara in Indiana, Iowa was too far for either of them to travel with children at the Holidays, they said. And Jeb couldn’t afford the trip, either, not that he’d been invited, anyway.
And so, Jeb had decided it was finally time for him to become a real cowboy, just like he’d always planned. Only, it wasn’t like he’d always planned at all, and the canyon was cold and lonely.
So, as he shivered to sleep that night with the fire dying at his feet, Jeb wished more than anything that he could go back, just one more time.
Yessir, when Jeb was younger, Thanksgiving had been really special.
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