By noon, she felt ready. Almost. A few more tasks on her list, but everything was under control. She had cleaned the bathrooms, made up the guest beds, and swept off the porch, trimming some of the chrysanthemums that still bloomed. The day was cold and cloudy. At least I don’t have to sweep and wash the floors, she thought. She wiped down the front of the refrigerator and the stove and ran a dust cloth over the glass table top next to the couch. She looked forward to seeing the six grandkiddos all together. They hadn’t seen Greg’s twins since June. David, Becky and their two boys lived ten minutes away and they visited often. Jack and Kendra, with their two, Jessica and Ken, lived an hour away, not too far. Greg would be arriving tonight, the others in the morning. A houseful of noisy fun. She liked that.
Three o’clock. One last check of the lists. All crossed off. One trip out. She would stop at the florist to pick up the white osteospermum spoon daisies she ordered. And run into the grocery store to pick up the large white napkins she forgot to buy on Monday. With twine, she would tie them into a roll. Easy and simple.
Later, as she stepped in the door, out of the pouring rain, arms full of flowers and a grocery bag, the phone rang. She set the things down on the table. Dropped her wet coat on a chair.
“Hi Greg. I thought you would be on the road by now.”
“Mom. I am sorry. We are not coming.”
Silence. “You are kidding, right?”
“No, Mom, we are not coming.”
Silence. “Do I get an explanation?”
Greg answered in short, nervous, quick bursts. “Janet decided she wanted to have her own Thanksgiving. You know, in her own home, now that we have moved to this house, she changed her mind, said she wouldn’t come, wanted to stay home, keep the kids here, with her, on her time off from work, for the holiday.”
“Well, that is reasonable, except last minute. What can I say? Is this about not getting along with Kendra?”
“No, I don’t think so. Maybe, you know how they are together. She just said she wanted her own Thanksgiving. Mom, try to understand. I know you will understand. Please don’t be upset at me, or her.”
“I will really miss seeing the twins. I’m sure they have grown since we saw them last.” Sandy sighed. She tried to smile, at least with her words, but it was hard. Seemed these conflicts, lately, made family gatherings like walking on egg shells, afraid to offend, afraid to say the wrong thing, afraid, just afraid. She had wanted this to be different. And she thought it would be. Filled with laughter and fun, relaxed. Oh well, what could she do? Holidays could be messy. “Greg,” she said, “Say hello to the twins from me, and Janet, too, and have a wonderful holiday.” She didn’t mean it to sound sarcastic, but it came out that way, a little bit.
“You, too, Mom. Say hi to Dad for me.”
Sandy hung up the phone. She sat in the chair at the head of the table, looked down the length at the plates, already set, the golden gourds, the pile of flowers she had dumped at the other end. Four empty places. Should she rearrange? Wallow in disappointment? No, she thought, I’ll get the flowers in vases and water. No point in letting this ruin it for her, or for anyone else.
Outside, the rain pelted the windows and the wind whipped the tree limbs. Darkness fell early, the storm clouds wrapping a dark, thick blanket over the sky. Again, the phone rang. Sandy looked at it, not wanting to answer. She heard her own voice, the cheerful message on the machine. Then, Jim’s voice.
“Sandy. Guess you are out shopping or something last minute. Our flight has been delayed…”
She grabbed the phone, interrupting his message. “Jim, I am here, sorry.”
“Oh, good, glad you are home. This storm is interfering with flights. I hope Greg will be fine on the road.”
“They are not coming. I’ll tell you later. When do you think you will get in?”
“They said about a two hour delay. I will call you when we board.”
“Okay. I want to take you out to dinner, to the pizza restaurant. I will meet you there, after you land.”
“Sounds good. I’ll call you, soon, I hope.”
Someone knocked on the front door. Oh, now who could that be, thought Sandy. She opened the door and saw her neighbor, a older woman she rarely talked to. “Evelyn, come in.” She helped her take off her wet coat.
“I am so sorry to bother you. I know you are very busy.” Evelyn looked at the table. “That is, ah, interesting. Straw bales and peanuts? Rustic. But the table is pretty. I am so sorry to bother you,” she said again.
“That’s okay. My husband just called to say he would be late. Come sit down.”
“Well, we just had a big tree branch fall on the back of our house. Broke through the patio cover, broke two windows on the back side.”
“Oh, I am sorry. Where is Fred, is he okay?”
“Yes, we were in the living room. I wondered if you have some tarp or something we can put up over the windows. Not too much rain is coming in, but the wind is bad. And the cold.”
“I think so, I will go look in the garage.” She stood up. “Evelyn. I just had a great idea. Our son and his family called to say they are not coming. We have extra beds, all made up, and room at the table, ready. Will you and Fred stay here tonight, and join us for Thanksgiving tomorrow?”
“We couldn’t impose on you like that, don’t be silly.”
“It is not silly at all. Like I said, I have the beds all made, the places for you at the table. It will be much warmer here until you can get the windows fixed. Jim can help you, but with the holiday weekend, it may be a few days before they get fixed. Please, stay with us. That is, if you don’t mind a casual meal. And our kids and grandchildren. I thought the straw bales and peanuts would be fun, for a change. Comfortable.”
“I noticed. Wondered why you were doing that. Most people get all fancy.”
“I will get the tarp, then we’ll go over and ask Fred to come. Please, I want you to. I know Jim won’t mind. He will help you fix the tarp when he gets home. Oh,” said Sandy.
“What is it?” asked Evelyn.
“Well, we were going to go out to dinner. I was going to meet him after his plane landed.”
“I have a chili in the crock pot at home. Fred and I could still eat that, and come here after you and Jim get home. We would appreciate it, being able to stay here. It will be cold at our house with that wind and the damp. You are very kind.”
“Actually, it helps me not feel so disappointed that our son isn’t coming. I am glad you can stay with us. Very glad. You can see we have plenty of room for you.” Sandy pointed at the table.
“We will be honored. I wasn’t going to fix anything this year. Too much work for just us. Our kids are all busy, or too far away. We will enjoy being with you, being with your family. Much better than sitting by ourselves. Thank you.”
The scattered straw and peanut shells are evidence of my messy life, but even the messes are worth celebrating, and sharing, Sandy thought. I will accept this. An opportunity to help a neighbor, maybe gain a friend. I can enjoy what we have, use what we have, and share Thanksgiving, thankfully, with family and friends.