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November 1890, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving
I hadn’t planned on breaking the news to Mother that our small Thanksgiving celebration of just her, Riley, me, and the children had ballooned to three times the size. I figured it was time for me to “buck up” and plan a menu, and the sooner the better. However, it didn’t work out that way.
Mother rode Misty over on Tuesday morning. Chad, Ellie, and the kids had left for Goldtown that morning and she felt out of sorts with having no major Thanksgiving preparations on her hands. At least, that’s what she said. She slipped off her tobiano mare as easily as if she were still a young girl and wrapped the reins around the hitching railing.
A minute later, she had a baby girl in each arm. “Now, which is Lilly and which is Lottie?” She lifted Lilly’s wrist, saw her name, and brightened. “Our Luisa is clever, is she not?”
To be honest, Riley and I can still not tell the babies apart, so Luisa came up with a grand idea. She created the sweetest little beaded bracelets for the girls’ tiny wrists. Blue for Lilly and pink for Lottie. And she says it’s no trouble to add beads as the twins grow.
“Oh, goodness, Luisa,” I protested when she told me that. “Surely by the time they outgrow these bracelets, I’ll be able to tell them apart.” But so far, Lillian and Charlotte are identical in every way: same wispy of black hair, same bright-blue eyes. Same watery smiles. For being born three weeks early, they are racing to catch up with big brother Jared and can already sit up (if something is propped up behind them). I bet they will be crawling in another month or two. Oh, dear!
Mother set Lilly and then Lottie down on a large quilt in the middle of the sitting room. Then she sat down on the settee. “So, sweetheart, what shall I bring for Thanksgiving on Thursday?” She cocked an ear toward the window, which hung wide open (with a screen) to let the warm November breeze air out the house. “I hear your flock out there, gobbling away. I assume one of them will be the main attraction this Thursday?”
“Riley is going to butcher Goliath tomorrow.” I paused. Now or never. “His father wants to help, and I heard rumors that Sarah and Ellen want to–“
“Excuse me?” Mother looked up from watching the twins gurgle and roll around on the quilt. “Do you mean to say that Riley’s family will be joining us for Thanksgiving, along with Sid and his daughter?” She beamed. “Why, that’s marvelous. I haven’t had a chance to visit with Carrie for . . . oh my goodness! For years.” Then her blue eyes turned worried. “My dear daughter, that is”–she paused and counted in her head–“a dozen people if we include the twins, who are just as much work as if they were seated around the table with us.”
I did like hearing the “us.” It meant Mother was ready to pitch in so I didn’t have all of those guests on my hands by myself. “What am I going to do?” I finally blurted. “I didn’t want to ask you to take over and host Thanksgiving at the Circle C. I just learned about the extra arrivals yesterday. And they will be here this evening.”
“Don’t worry,” Mother said, nodding. “The weather has been so warm that I believe two or three smoked turkeys would be delicious. Let’s get those cowhands of yours to start digging the pits. Hmmm, maybe four turkeys. That way there is plenty to keep you through the weekend, until your houseguests return home.” She wrinkled her forehead. “I assume the Prescotts are staying with you?”
“Yes,” Andi said. “Riley’s folks will have our room, and Riley and I will bed down on a straw tick in the children’s room.”
Mother nodded her approval. Guests always got the best in any situation. “If Sid needs a place for Ellen, and if Riley’s Uncle Joseph needs lodging with his Sarah, I insist they stay on the Circle C.” She smiled. “No arguments, Andrea.”
The tight knot in my belly began to unravel. Now, if only Mother would suggest a simple Thanksgiving menu, nothing near as outrageous as the dinner Melinda planned and executed for our family last year.
Mother came to my rescue once again. She must be a mind reader! “Your house is much too small to accommodate nearly a dozen people. You don’t even have enough chairs, and your table is too small. I believe if we host the meal outdoors, we can use sawhorses to support a long table, six or seven to a side. Riley and the hands can hammer a couple of long benches together. A long white sheet will serve as a tablecloth, and I’ll have Sid haul plenty of table settings and silverware from the Circle C to serve plenty of guests. Carlos, Matt, and Joey are surely invited, are they not?”
I nodded. In the crush of adding up kinfolk, I had forgotten to include our three ranch hands. “What’s three more, right?” I tried to smile, but the overwhelming number of Thanksgiving guests was beginning to pull me under again.
Mother clearly had no qualms. “Your task, young lady, is to bake a dozen pies. Apple, dried peach, pecan, and of course pumpkin.” She winked at me. “You can do that today and tomorrow, correct?”
A warm glow spread from my fingers clear to my toes. Mother was organizing everything. “Yes, of course. Pie baking was easy and fun.”
Mother was still planning. “None of those highfalutin’ foods that nobody can even pronounce,” she said, chuckling. “If all we have should be turkey and pie, why, I do believe everyone will go away stuffed and happy.”
“But, Mother!” I cried, aghast. “Only turkey and pie?”
“Our forefathers, the Pilgrims, had much less that first November. The second year, they had a bounty, but nothing fancy, and no pates or lobsters or any such nonsense. We will plan a Thanksgiving in the spirit of the Pilgrims.”
Oh, I liked this idea. “I’ve plenty of potatoes, squash, and carrots in the root cellar. We might as well use them up. I don’t know how long they will store in this warm weather.”
Mother nodded. “Excellent. Mounds and mounds of fluffy whipped potatoes, squash, and I’ll see if I can get my hands on any late corn. Plus sweet rolls with plenty of butter and berry preserves. Pickles and olives–right from our olive trees–and nuts by the bushel basket–almonds and pistachios.”
My mouth began watering when Mother listed this bounty, and except for the rolls, which took time and effort, nothing was any trouble at all. I rose and hurried over to Riley’s rolltop desk. Snatching a tablet and the stub of a pencil, I sat down and began writing. “Let’s put it all down on a list, Mother. and figure out who will do what.”
- 4 smoked turkeys. Riley butchers them. Sarah, Ellen, and I pluck and dress the turkeys. They go into the pit Thursday morning at the crack of dawn. (No fighting the Black Beast and getting a scorched bird! Hurrah!)
- 12 pies. I bake 6 today and 6 tomorrow (Wednesday). 4 pumpkin, 4 apple, 2 dried peach, 1 pecan, and 1 lemon (Riley’s favorite). The Black Beast and I have come to an understanding regarding pies.
- whipped potatoes. I will boil and smash these on Thursday. Mother will make the gravy because I want it smooth and tasting like turkey, not lumpy and tasting like flour. *shudder*
- baked squash with chopped nuts and maple syrup. I have lots of acorn squash. Riley will chop them in half. I will wrap them in foil and put them in the pit with the turkeys when the time comes.
- fluffy white rolls. Mother will make these and bring them over on Thanksgiving.
- pickles, olives, pistachios, almonds, and any other snacks. Mother will bring.
My eyes teared up when I finished the list. This was the simplest of simple Thanksgiving dinners and I nearly cried with joy. What had begun as a frightening task had turned upside down into something I could do with gladness and not wear myself out. Plus the fact that I’m not the valley’s (or foothills’) best cook, and I dreaded trying to think of a menu to honor the citified Joseph, Sarah, and Ellen.
But now? With Mother’s enthusiastic help and guidance, this might turn out to be my favorite Thanksgiving of all.
Mother broke into my happy thoughts. “Do not forget to feed your family today and tomorrow. A dozen pies is quite a bit of work.”
I was so happy about the rest of the menu that I threw my arms around Mother and laughed. “Jared likes to roll out his own little pieces of crust dough, and you can see for yourself that unless they’re hungry, the twins entertain themselves. The girls were so difficult the first three months, but now? They roll around and coo at each other. They’re best friends. And Jared watches over them very well. I will get the pies finished in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”
Mother smiled back. “Who invented such a silly saying, anyway? I’m not a sheepherder, and even I know most sheepherders dock their lambs’ tails down to a stub.”
We both laughed. Then Mother gathered her riding gloves, kissed her grandchildren, and rode away on Misty to begin her Thanksgiving Day tasks. I headed to the kitchen to start rolling out crusts for two pies before I had to feed Jared and the twins their lunch.
Even the thought of plucking and dressing four giant turkeys did not quench the song of thanksgiving that rose in my heart. And why should it? I would have the help of two other girls and maybe even Riley’s mother tomorrow. Oh, happy day!
How hard could it be?