She gingerly sorted through the frozen turkey breasts, looking for the absolute smallest one. She wasn’t that crazy about turkey, Ella wasn’t, but she bowed in recognition of the day. She would have a slice or two; she would freeze the leftovers.
One day in cold December, she would bake a turkey pot pie.
She pushed her little cart down the vegetable aisle, and added two cans of green beans and a big container of French fried onions to the mix. Prowling, she found boxed stuffing and a bag of pecans, corn syrup, and a carton of heavy cream.
She backtracked and picked out two big potatoes.
Cat food and kitty treats and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. She was ready to check out.
Allen, her favorite stock boy, watched over the self-check-out, and he grinned large when he saw her. She knew, with her teacher’s eye, that Allen had some sort of developmental disability. He was as large as his smile, big-bellied and booming voiced, and he had adopted her as a favorite customer. She knew all about the miniature train tableau he kept in his mother’s basement, how each payday, he added a tree or a figure.
The train had been his grandpa’s; his grandpa, now, was dead. But Allen felt close to him when he ran the trains, when he added to the display.
She checked out her groceries, hefting the turkey into its own bag, and bundling up the rest of the stuff, and Allen loomed at her side.
“Special dinner!” he said, and she smiled and agreed.
He insisted on carrying her groceries to her car.
“Thank you, Allen,” she said. “You’re very good at what you do.”
He grinned, beet red, delighted.
The library was quiet, and Sallie at the desk waved to her.
“Miz Graham!” she said. “Your reserve is in!”
“Wonderful,” said Ella, and she reached for the hardcover mystery. It was the fifth in the series; she’d been waiting for it. This was a pivotal story: the detective would find a new lease on life, or he would not. This author didn’t give things away, and she wasn’t afraid to disappear major characters. This mystery really was a mystery.
Ella surfed through the new books, taking a few of the novels out to read the dust jackets. She selected a new memoir, a story of the autistic boy who found a friend in Siri. It was written by the boy’s mother. Ella’s grand-niece had autism; her parents, Ella’s nephew Tim and his wife Gayle, barely had time to do the dinner dishes. She wanted to read the story, and she wanted to ruminate on how that mom made time to write.
She checked out both books, looking forward to the time to read.
“Thank you, Sallie,” she said, smiling at the beaming clerk. “Have a happy Thanksgiving.”
“Thirteen people!” Sallie groaned, and she rolled her eyes. “Do you have special plans?”
“Oh, yes,” said Ella. “A very special dinner.”
She put the turkey breast in the refrigerator, packed the rest of the groceries away, and picked up her buzzing phone. It was her oldest, dearest friend; they’d met in Grade Five and never lost touch. She sat down and had a wonderful talk.
On Wednesday, she roasted the turkey breast, and that night she had a turkey sandwich, with mayo and salt and pepper and one crisp slice of lettuce. Afterward, she cleared the table and wrote a letter to her niece, a soldier in Afghanistan.
On Thanksgiving day, she slept in—slept all the way until eight o’clock!—and she was still in her robe when the neighbor, Ginny, knocked at the door. Ginny had a plate of turkey-shaped cookies, and she wanted to know if Ella had dinner plans.
“I do, indeed,” Ella said. “Very special ones. You’re very kind to ask!”
Ginny came in for a cup of coffee, and they lamented the tree that still had not dropped its load of leaves.
“We’ll be raking in January!” Ginny said. Ella shook her head and dunked a turkey cookie into her creamy coffee.
After Ginny left, she dressed in her maroon sweats and quilted vest; she put a Wonder Woman stamp on her niece’s letter, and she walked it down to the postbox. Her cheeks were crimson when she came back.
“Time to turn the oven on,” she thought. She rolled out crust and whipped eggs frothy; she constructed a pecan pie.
At two she made her dinner: a big pan of green bean casserole, made with white sauce instead of canned soup. She liked to add cheddar cheese, and she used every single French-fried onion. She ate it from her best china, with a side of Stove Top stuffing. She shared some with the cat, who much preferred his slice of turkey.
After the dishes were washed and put away, Ella turned on the gas insert in the fireplace, and she kicked off her sneakers. She got her favorite knitted blanket; she bundled up, and opened her book. She was asleep within minutes.
She woke at seven. The fire snapped, the sky was dark, and the cars were pulling away from Ginny’s house. Ella imagined stuffed daddies and cranky children and tired moms who’d spent hours cooking a meal that disappeared in minutes. She smiled, and pulled the heavy cream from the fridge and poured it into the bowl of her Mixmaster.
When it was whipped into high, snowy peaks, she cut herself a generous piece of pie. She took it to her chair by the fire, and this time, she read her mystery. She made the rich slab of pecan pie last for the better part of an hour.
The cat jumped on her lap when she put the empty plate on the side table, and Ella sighed and turned another page.
At nine o’clock, she shagged the cat off her lap and did up the last of the dishes. She turned off the fire and locked the doors.
The weekend loomed, with visits and meetings; she had promised to bake cookies for the social time at church, and her brother and his wife would be coming on Saturday. There would be busy days.
She thought back on the day just past and sighed. It had been a perfect day. It was, maybe, not everyone’s idea of a Thanksgiving celebration, but it had all the elements she needed. She had wonderful food, and a visit from a neighbor; she had touched base with people dear to her.
She had discovered, to her delight, that the detective survived and solved the perplexing mystery. She was rested and refreshed and ready for the whirlwind the weekend would bring.
She shut off the lights and turned down the thermostat and shooed the cat up the carpeted stairs, and she whispered a soft “Thank you” in the quiet dark.