A THANKSGIVING AFTERNOON
by Maureen Mullis
Her mother always told her that God never gave you more than you could handle. Ivy wasn’t so sure that was true. She didn’t have anything cataclysmic in her life, but sometimes the loneliness was so heavy she couldn’t breathe. Looking down at her Thanksgiving dinner it was unbearable.
“Dinner for two,” she’d told the woman at the restaurant just so they wouldn’t think she was spending the holiday alone. But truthfully, who would buy a take-out dinner on Thanksgiving if they weren’t alone?
She leaned back in her chair and stared out the window. It was late afternoon. Families would be gathering around their tables enjoying each other’s company and the fragrance of a meal prepared with love and companionship.
Her mother’s death had hit Ivy hard, and she was ill prepared for a life spent in so much of her own company. At 57 most of her friends were settled with families. Oh sure, they’d make room for her if she’d asked, but she felt uncomfortable in the role of the friend with “nowhere else to go.”
If only her marriage hadn’t failed. That was a long time ago, Ivy thought and shook her head. No use crying over spilt milk.
Gauging the amount of daylight left Ivy decided to take a walk. Riding down to the lobby of her building in the elevator, the doors opened to find a large group of men and women laughing and talking as they waited for her to exit so they could go up to their own celebrations. Working her way through them Ivy was aware that they took no notice of her. Invisible, she thought as she left the building.
The lights in the homes and apartment windows were beginning to turn on as Ivy made her way down the city blocks. She could smell roasting turkey and hear the sounds of football games and cheering as she walked. As isolated as she felt, it was somewhat comforting to know that life went on as normal around her.
She stopped in front of an older building that had been renovated a couple of years earlier. The stonework was dark and worn looking, and the buyer had left as much of the original as possible. Large stone steps led up to double doors with etched glass that glowed behind them. It was a lovely building.
Standing and admiring it she could see the front window was slightly open allowing some of the cold air into the house, but also letting the sounds of some lively music to drift out to where she stood. It sounded Celtic, it’s melody bright and full of joy. A smile spread across her face as she listened and wondered about who lived there.
As she turned to start on her walk again a van pulled up and a large group of people began spilling out. Ivy stopped to wait for them. Four children ranging in age from about six to fourteen piled out of the back and two women and a man followed barking orders as they began unloading. Several people came through the double doors offering assistance.
Tucking her hands into her pockets Ivy watched in amusement. Never having been part of a large family it fascinated her. She envied big extended families and had always hoped to have one of her own someday. Making her way through them one of the women thrust a basket in her arms without looking at her.
“That one goes in the kitchen,” she said. “And be careful, it’s breakable.”
“But ... “ Ivy stammered.
The woman looked up. “Did my lazy sister send you out to help instead of coming herself?”
“No.” Ivy shook her head. “I’ll take it.”
The woman called over the youngest boy and gave him a bottle of soda to carry in.
“Take care not to drop it, Aidan,” she said.
The boy, with red hair and freckles, looked up at Ivy with a sweet smile and took her hand. Pulling on her he lead her up the steps.
It was more crowded inside than out, if that was possible, dozens of conversations ebbing and flowing around her. No one would notice a stranger carrying in a basket of goodies. She relaxed a little at the thought.
A young man came along and took her coat while someone else pushed a glass of punch in her hand. She wandered around a bit dazed at the number of people crowded into the apartment which, although large and airy, still felt as if it’s walls were bursting.
Ivy made her way to the front room whose lights and music had first caught her attention. A tall pine was situated in the corner bare and ready to be trimmed. She wondered if it was part of their Thanksgiving tradition to decorate it after the meal. The music was still on and the sound made her feel somewhat expectant.
Standing at the window Ivy looked out. The streetlights were beginning to come on as darkness settled deeper on the city.
“Not much of a view, is it?”
A deep male voice broke her reverie and she turned around. He looked to be about the same age as Ivy, his hair and goatee turning a soft grey. His face was kind, the eyes sympathetic, but there was a questioning look to his countenance.
He jerked his head back over his shoulder. “A couple of my children and grandkids told me about the beautiful stranger in our midst,” he said. “Most of them think you are a friend of mine.”
Hot with embarrassment Ivy stood speechless for a moment before setting her glass down on the table beside the tree.
“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice thick with shame. “It was a mistake. I was walking past and someone gave me a basket to bring in and ... “
She shrugged helplessly. “I’m so sorry. I never meant to intrude.”
“You’re not.” He smiled at her. “We’re a pretty big group and it’s easy to get swept away with all the activity around here.”
He walked over to stand beside her. Looking down at her she felt as if he could see inside her before he turned his attention outside the window.
“Like I said, it’s not much of a view. But then when I bought this place I wasn’t interested in that. I only wanted somewhere my entire family could gather together. What’s your name?”
“Ivy.” She liked the way he said it. “I’m Sean; pleased to meet you.”
He cocked his head and regarded her for a moment. “Would you like to join us for Thanksgiving dinner?”
“I couldn’t!” she cried, embarrassed again at how she came to be standing there.
“You don’t like turkey?”
“It’s not that,” she shook her head.
“You have nothing to be thankful for?”
Breaking eye contact with him she looked down.
“No matter what our circumstances we all have much to be grateful for this holiday. If we are lonely, or afraid or sick or hurting, we all have one thing in common,” he said touching her lightly on the shoulder.
Looking back up at him she asked, “We do?”
Sean nodded and smiled again. “Someone loved us enough to give us the ultimate gift. He understands everything we feel and is always there for us. He gave us life. He gave us hope.”
Placing his arm around her shoulders he steered her to where the family was gathered and waiting.
“Listen, we all have things we’re not happy with. But this Thanksgiving let’s be thankful for new friends that enter our lives, shall we?”
Ivy smiled back at him as he brought her where two large tables had been set up; children at one, adults at the other.
He stood at the head of the adult’s table as the patriarch of the family, an empty place setting next to his. Looking at all the faces turned to her Ivy felt nervous until she felt Sean’s comforting arm give her a reassuring squeeze.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” he said to his family.
He turned to her his eyes warm. “Please welcome my friend, Ivy.”