It was 1957 and Thanksgiving on our South Dakota farm was going to be a feast beyond any we’d had for several years, featuring fruits and vegetables we had harvested ourselves and a goose my dad had shot just a week before. We’d come through difficult times both on the farm and in our personal lives, but we’d turned a corner and were ready to celebrate.
The chores were done and it was lightly snowing when we gathered in the kitchen to help get the table ready. My 4 brothers and I were driving mom half crazy as we bounced around the table and in-and-out of the living room and from outside, hoping to “will” my dad’s arrival with his Uncle George, a bachelor farmer mom had sent him to fetch so he wouldn’t be alone. Adding to the festive scene were a young couple who had recently moved into a neighboring farm and also would have been alone – not going to happen once mom found out.
Just as mom announced that the goose was ready to come out of the oven and we all rushed inside to see, we heard the car pull up and then my dad and Uncle George came in, brushing off the light snow. “Everybody’s here!” mom smiled and then looking past my dad to the door, she got a confused look on her face.
“Oh, this is Andy,” my dad announced, stepping back and half pulling a middle-aged man past the threshold and into the kitchen. “Found him walking down the road about half-mile from here.” He smiled. “Looked like he could use a little warming up, and something to eat.” Everybody grew quiet as if unsure what to say, and then my mom hurried forward and held out her hand in welcome.
“You’re in luck,” she said. “More than enough food to go around this year, so the more eaters the merrier.” She grabbed my dad’s hand, too. “Dean, you didn’t get cleaned up before you went to pick up George. Why don’t you wash up.” She nodded to the homeless man, who in those days we all called “bums” and said, “and maybe Andy wants to get washed up too while we finish getting the meal on the table?”
The man smiled gratefully as my dad led the way to the nearby washbasin, removing his coat and hat at my dad’s urging and letting us boys take it back out to the entryway.
I don’t remember all the details of how long Andy was there that day, but I do remember how – like the rest of us – he ate and ate (it was Thanksgiving after all) and there was lots of laughter during that meal and after. And aside from the surprise of seeing him when he first arrived, I remember also being surprised to see a grown man with tears in his eyes when he finished and got ready to leave and my dad offered to give him a ride all the way into town.
“Does Andy have a family?” I asked mom as she watched them drive away. “Yes,” she answered. “At least he does today.” Nearly six decades later the memory still lingers as one of the warmest in my growing up years, and especially at Thanksgiving.
Published today in the Sioux Falls, S.D., Argus-Leader, the Gannett Newspaper at which I started my writing career nearly 50 years ago. Thought it would be appropriate to share it in today’s Writer’s Moment as well.
Happy Thanksgiving! – Dan Jorgensen
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