The following blog post is Chapter 15 from Andy’s classic collection of short stories Return to Sawyerton Springs.
Everyone around the dinner table smiled as Pat Ward put the last dish in front of them. “I know it’s not much…”
The whole family laughed out loud. That statement had been made by Pat every Thanksgiving of their lives. Actually, there was enough food to feed an infantry division, but she always worried that there would be some poor soul who didn’t get at least five helpings of everything.
This year, she had prepared the dressing a day earlier than usual to give her more time with the grandchildren, but she only used that time to expand the menu. Besides the turkey and dressing, Pat had baked a ham, three pumpkin pies, and a sweet potato casserole. She made fried corn, cranberry salad, squash, rolls, butter beans, and three kinds of peas.
There was a time when family members would jokingly mention a favorite dish during the days before Thanksgiving. This was only a game—a challenge to see if their suggestion would end up on the table. It always did. They felt guilty about that last year when Pat cooked six different entrees and eleven desserts, so this year they kept quiet.
“Wade, please say grace,” Pat directed as everyone bowed their heads.
“Certainly, dear. Let us pray.” And as they all closed their eyes, he began. “Dear Heavenly Father, we come to you on this day of Thanksgiving with gratefulness in our hearts…”
Wade paused. This is ridiculous, he thought. How can I even say that? I don’t feel grateful at all. I shouldn’t even finish this prayer.
But he did.
Pat’s husband, Wade, is more commonly known around Sawyerton Springs as Pastor Ward. He has led the flock at Beauman’s Pond United Methodist Church for well over two decades now, but lately it has all been seeming a bit much. It’s not that he is old—he isn’t. “I’m just tired,” he told Pat this morning, “and frustrated. I’ve had it.
“It’s not necessarily the church,” he tried to explain, “or Rotary Club, or my city council duties, or the grandkids. It’s just, well…it’s just everything. I’ve had it.” Pat understood. Lately, she had kind of “had it” too.
There at the dinner table, Wade sliced the ham and looked at Pat’s Uncle Frank. Uncle Frank was 74 years old and sort of a know-it-all. Uncle Frank also knew a million jokes, and as Wade finished the ham and started on the turkey, he told another one. Another stupid joke, Wade thought.
“So there’s these cowboys,” Uncle Frank was saying, “and as they rode into town whoopin’ and shootin’, there was this dog right in the middle of the street. One of them cowboys shot him right in the foot. A couple of days later, the cowboys was in a saloon. They was drinkin’ and cussin’ and playin’ cards, when all of a sudden…” Uncle Frank’s eyes got big. “All of a sudden a shadow fell over the saloon. As the cowboys looked up, they saw the dog walking through the swinging doors. He had on a gun belt and a hat pulled down low over his eyes. A cowboy said, ‘What do you want?’ and the dog says ‘I’ve come to get the man that shot my paw!’”
Everyone screamed with laughter. “I’ve come to get the man that shot my paw,” Uncle Frank said again, banging his hand on the table. “You get it, son?” he asked Wade. “You get it, don’t you? I’ve come to get the man that shot my paw!”
Wade forced a smile. “I get it, Uncle Frank,” he said. “Would you like some turkey?”
Wade had driven all the way to Foley to pick up Uncle Frank earlier that afternoon. He had missed the first quarter of the Dallas-Detroit game because Uncle Frank insisted on leaving the house at 2:00 sharp. No reason and no way to talk him out of it. Before he even said hello, Uncle Frank had asked, “Son? If Patty Duke married Gomer Pyle, what would her name be?”
“Patty Duke Pyle! Get it? Duke Pyle? Patty Duke Pyle!”
On the way to the house, sandwiched between the jokes, Uncle Frank had asked Wade why he was driving a 12-year-old car. “It was a piece of junk when you bought it,” he said.
“It’s what we can afford, Uncle Frank,” Wade had answered, but inside he had been seething.
As the family ate and talked, Wade thought about the car. Uncle Frank had been right. It was a piece of junk when he bought it. The salesman had told him as much when he sold it to him. “It will need repairs now and again” were the man’s very words.
I’m 53 years old, Wade thought. I should not be driving a 12-year-old car. Pat is 48, and she’s never had a car of her own.
For the third year in a row, the church elders had voted down a $1,500 raise in their pastor’s salary. Last Monday, Roger Luker had come to tell him in person. “We just felt that the money would be of better use to foreign missions,” Roger said. “After all, there are a lot of poor people overseas. And besides, it’s not like you have to make a house payment—the church owns the parsonage.”
Wade drifted back into the conversation on the giggles of another joke. “…so there was the fat lady, stuck in the window of the church. When the guy in the devil costume walked around to ask directions, she said, ‘Mr. Devil, don’t hurt me. I been going to this church for 40 years, but you know I been on your side all along!’ ”
As everyone howled, Wade thought, There’s probably some truth in there somewhere. Through dessert, Wade wondered if his church members cared more about poor people they didn’t know than they did about his family.
That’s right, Wade said to himself, you do own the parsonage. Where are we supposed to live when I retire? Or am I just supposed to preach ‘til I’m a hundred and keel over on the pulpit? Why can’t I buy my wife new dresses? Or a diamond ring? Or a new car? And about the car we’re driving now—one more year and the engine will die. Then the floor will fall out, and I’ll be driving around town like Fred Flintstone!
After dinner, the family helped clean up while Wade tried to herd Uncle Frank into the car. “If I can get him out of here,” Wade said to Pat, “then I’ll have something to be thankful for!”
Uncle Frank’s jokes were becoming a blur, and Wade easily tuned them out as he drove. The kids were on his mind. They were always after him to do something. “Daddy, fix this. Daddy, can you and Mama keep the children? Daddy, we’re a little short this month.”
The city council thing was bugging him, too. He hadn’t even wanted the position, but everyone begged him to take it. They said, “You will be a moral voice for the community, Wade, please help us!” Now they were all mad because he had voted no to having liquor at their Christmas party. What did they expect?
After Wade walked Uncle Frank to the door and listened to four more jokes, he got back in his car and drove. Had he gone straight home, this story might have ended here (and in not too happy a fashion).
But Wade didn’t go home. It wasn’t until two the next morning that he rolled into his driveway. Pat had been frantic, but she knew her husband too well to push him for answers. She was relieved he was safe and glad to see that he was smiling. It was the first time she’d seen him really smile in days.
Wade apologized for worrying her. He said he hadn’t meant to be so distant or to snap at her as he had done lately. He kissed her, looked at her, and kissed her again. Then he went to bed.
Pat might never have known what happened that night that caused such a change in Wade had she not found the letter. It was in a bottle, floating near the bank in Beauman’s Pond. Pat was raking leaves behind the church when she saw it. Reaching the bottle with the rake, she unscrewed the cap, fished out the letter, and read:
It doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving. At least I don’t feel very thankful. In fact, I am fairly ticked off. If you asked me about what—I’d say “everything.” I am so preoccupied with the things that are going wrong in my life that I am having a hard time seeing the bigger picture.
Lord, I’m going to sit here by this pond until you remind me of ten things I have to be thankful for. And please do it fast. Pat is going to kill me for being late.
1). I have Pat. She loves me even when I’m being a jerk to her relatives like I was today.
2). I have a home in which to live. Remind me occasionally of the people on the street.
3). My family has enough to eat. I know there are fathers who put their children to bed hungry.
4). I have people who care about me. There are many who don’t.
5). I was born in America. With all our problems, this is still the greatest country in the world.
6). I can see and hear and walk and talk. These are things I rarely consider, but they are a priceless gift.
7). I have the opportunity to help people who are hurting. It is amazing how much good an encouraging word can do.
8). I have the seasons. They are a constant reminder of change. After the winter in my life, there is always springtime.
9). I have my children and grandchildren who depend on me. That is an honor, and I have learned to be dependable.
10). I have music, trees, a good bed, a pond to fish in, my health, a car that does in fact run, clothes to wear, time with my family, and in Uncle Frank, I have an unlimited source of jokes for my sermons. Thank you, Lord, even for him.
What are the 10 things YOU are most thankful for? Take a few moments to write them down. Then come back together and discuss them with your family! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!