“There isn’t even a thing to be thankful for anyway!” she muttered under her breath.
A hand touched her sleeve. Merry looked up into the twinkling eyes of the little old man everyone called “Funny Fred”. He asked, as if continuing a conversation, “Really?”
Merry blinked twice and swallowed, “Excuse me?!”
“Really?” he repeated, “There is nothing to be thankful for?”
She shrugged and lowered her eyes. “Well,” she took a breath. “My mother is sick and can’t take care of us because she is in bed all the time. Dad is at work all day so he can pay all the doctor bills, and Billy bumped my arm while I was measuring the turkey stuffing! Nothing,” Merry said.
Fred nodded wisely, and led Merry and her Dad (who was with her) through the swinging doors to the back room. It was only half lit, and Merry could hardly see the cardboard boxes that lay in sporadic piles around the crowded room.
Fred hurried over to what looked like an upright refrigerator box and stood proudly beside it, his lips parted into a giddy smile. “Would you like to find out?”
“What?” she said, rather too bewildered to remember good manners.
Funny Fred gave his head a quick shake and began, “Please forgive me. Let me introduce you to Little Debby. She is a time traveling machine. Let me give you a little history lesson before you go on your journey.”
Merry rubbed her eyes and stared at it.
“Go along,” Mr. Martin gave her a gentle shove.
She sat gingerly on the foot stool inside the tiny compartment. Fred cleared his throat and began. “The Pilgrims (as we know them) were a Puritan group of folks that set off from England in two ships to a new land called America where they could start new lives and most important of all, serve the Lord (free religion) however they saw fit. Not far away from England one boat sprang a major leak. Many crowded onto the other, called the Mayflower, totally overloading it. After a long and hard trip with hardly enough provisions, fierce storms, and many severely seasick and disheartened- they landed. That first winter was the hardest. Only 52 people of the many voyagers survived and over half of them were children. Yet they were still thankful after all they had gone through.” Funny Fred shut the door tight and everything went dark.
In a wide clearing of trees a large cluster of rough log cabins stood huddled in the morning light. A dozen men moved about, a few hauling water from the spring, and others putting their axes to use preparing large campfires for the women to cook a huge meal over. A girl pushed aside the deer hide that served as a door and stepped into the sunshine, pushing back the damp hair that had escaped from her headscarf. Her loose green blouse was belted in around her waist and a long skirt was partially hidden by a crisp apron. Altogether the thirteen year old girl made a pretty picture but the unhappy and tired look that veiled her face dampened it more than slightly.
“Merry!” an irritable voice called from within the building, “Merry, you haven’t even completed that fifth pie! Set your mind to work child, we’ve no time for wasting today.”
Merry sighed long and loud. After surviving a cruel winter they had brought in a bountiful harvest and the men of the community had called a celebration of thankfulness. She was a Pilgrim girl, and all the villagers were working together to prepare a huge feast. Her shoulders ached, and her hands were tired from the vigorous chopping she had been at for over an hour now.
A dark haired girl quietly moved to the doorway and laid a hand gently on her shoulder. She was dressed in the same simple, English style as Merry but stood a full foot taller, being nearly a grown lady. “Come along now, you can work beside me so we can talk to pass the time,” she offered kindly.
Merry smiled and glanced longingly at the sunny fields before turning back indoors. Taking up the jack knife, she went to work.
The other girl glanced at it, questioning doubtfully, “Isn’t that Eager Elisha’s knife?”
“Aye, it ‘tis. And what of it? We needed if for the work,” said a mother, stirring some thick dough with strong strokes.
Merry looked up at her new friend with questions in her blue eyes.
“He’s protective with the few things dear to him that used to belong to his parents,” the girl told her in a low voice.
Merry stared at the apparently precious article in her hands. Was Friendly Faithful implying he didn’t have any parents? She wondered, "I had better not to ask too much I should already know.”
“You’re quiet,” stated Faithful.
“Good, we are done with those,” Faithful said, passing the pies off to another woman.
Merry slipped the knife into her apron pocket. Faithful noticed and grinned at her. Merry put a finger to her lips, and she knew Faithful would keep her secret. The two girls were sent out to the recently kindled fires to shuttle things to and from them for the older women.
Everything was a hub-bub of excitement. The village had come alive with small children returned from berry picking and digging clams, and men coming in to help with extensive preparations. Merry almost ran into Faithful as she rushed back to the cooks’ cabin on an errand.
“Come see,” said Faithful, “The older men just came back from hunting.”
She followed her friend around the corner and what a sight met their eyes! Halve a dozen deer hung above the fires from two poles each, driven into the soft dirt.
“Why so much!” exclaimed Merry to no one in particular.
“Have no fear; we’ll need every bit of it. Some say there’s more than twenty Injuns plan on coming,” speculated a burly man nearby.
“Merry! Merry!” The girl cringed at the call. Rushing back to the cabin she met a woman who was just wiping her hands on her apron and ready to summon for her again. “Ach! There you are! Run to the woods and fetch the boys. It is high time we get the feast set up,” she instructed.
Holding her skirt just above her toe, Merry walked to the edge of the woods. The cool air felt good on her hot face and her back began to ache less from the hours over the fire. Merry heard the ring of axes, and she followed the sound until she saw a young man hard at his work.
“Elisha!” she called over the noise.
He paused and wearily let his axe drop to the soft forest floor. He looked for the sun through the trees and nodded, “I’ll have Peter tell the men to come in to prepare the tables. I’ll walk back to town with you. I should warn Mrs. Pine about sending children out here alone; these woods are teaming with bears,” he added as an after note. Elisha walked beside her with his axe on his shoulder, whistling a merry tune.
“How can you be so cheerful after losing both your parents in the terrible winter?” Merry asked presently.
“This is not our home,” he said quietly, “One day everything will be right. No more dying, no more sickness, pain, nor separation.”
“Elisha,” Merry paused and turned to look up at him.
Elisha replied, “Yes?” Silently, she pulled the jack knife from her pocket and held it out to him. A grin broke out on his face, and he gratefully stuffed it into its sheath.
A long silence followed, and they could hear the birds’ pleasant chattering far above. Suddenly she felt homesick; it was a new thing to her. She missed the friendly pestering of Baby Bill and her Dad’s warm hug. The two came out of the woods and into the warm sunlight.
“Look, they’re here,” Elisha pointed to a long line of Indians entering the village.
There were so many of them! Merry laughed to herself- she had despaired at the number of pies she had made, but now she wasn’t even sure they would go around! Elisha hurried to help finish the long tables, and Merry to set out the huge feast. Men swarmed everywhere and children weaved in and out through the crowd. Indians squatted by the fires, cutting off hunks of venison, and Merry giggled as a group of boys tried despairingly to communicate with an Indian boy.
Mrs. Pine assured the girls everything was ready and shooed them away into a cabin. There, they helped each other wash up and dress for the party. Faithful found a full dress for Merry and helped her into all the cumbersome layers. Merry smoothed her hair and fastened it into two braids and did Faithful’s the same.
Once they had inspected each other Merry led the way to the happy crowd of Pilgrims. The two girls stood up against a log house and watched.
Presently, Merry realized Faithful was crying very softly. “Ma was planning to prepare the corn with me but…” she broke off and hid her face in her hands.
Merry squeezed her arm comfortingly and felt a pang of guilt and her throat tightened. When I get home I’ll always be thankful I can have Mom, even if she has to be in bed all the time, she thought. Merry looked about the joyful scene and thought of Elisha’s contented words, “This is not our home. One day everything will be right. No more dying, no more sickness, pain, nor separation.”
She closed her eyes and breathed deeply of the spicy smelling smoke. I wish I could be with Mom so I can tell her how much I love her, she thought wistfully. Merry opened her eyes and looked down at her clothes and then around the tiny room she was in. Turning the closet door knob, she burst into her Mom’s room. Dad looked up from a newspaper in his hands and said casually, “There you are. Funny Fred said you would show up here.”
Merry ran over to her bed and threw her arms around Mrs. Martin’s neck. “I am thankful I get to take care of you,” she whispered into her ear, “And I really mean it.”