“Do you realize this is the first Thanksgiving in this house without people?”
“Hmm,” Gunda said, “First Thanksgiving without all that racket, you mean?”
Berthina laughed and bumped Gunda. “I was kidding just to lighten the mood.”
Astrid sighed, turned around and led the two back into the hole. Though the entrance was round the passageway became rectangular and small so only one villager could pass at a time. Berthina followed Astrid and Gunda brought up the rear.
“I remember the last time we had a big Thanksgiving, the year before the accident,” Astrid said. “And I remember the holidays afterward. Nothing was the same. They were either quiet or in hot turmoil because of the loss.”
“I remember the last few years,” Berthina said as they came to a spiral staircase and began to climb, while the other two groaned. “Seeing Christina all alone sitting at that big table, it took all of us to bring her spirits up. She kept saying ‘it’s all right’, and then went to her room to work.”
“You two are such sourpusses,” Gunda said, “Instead think about what’s happening now.”
Astrid stopped and looked at Gunda from the top of the spiral staircase.
Berthina almost ran into Astrid.
“Christina is dating Ian. She is going to a Thanksgiving celebration with his family. We should be happy for her. And let’s not forget about Holly.”
“But what if Christina doesn’t get along with his family?” Berthina said.
“She will,” Gunda said. “I have faith. Next year she will invite his family and we will celebrate together. That reminds me of one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories – remember the Thanksgiving of 1912?”
Gunda continued. “Henrick Gundmunnson married Anna Knutson and his brother Eric married her sister Sarah the year before.”
“Why would you remember that Thanksgiving as one of the best?” Berthina asked in dismay.
“Because, Knude and Marit invited the Knutson family over for Thanksgiving.”
“But it was a big and loud,” Berthina said.
“Yes,” Gunda interrupted. “Families unite and they get bigger and – yes – louder. And what a contrast that was to the Thanksgivings of the past few years here?”
Berthina couldn’t answer.
Gunda looked back at the silent dining room and thought back to that wonderful Thanksgiving. The sounds of the family filled the house. Laughter and greetings found their way up to the attic.
“Gunda!” Nils said, “We need these train cars painted. I hoped they would be done before the end of the night.”
Gunda snapped out of her trance when she heard eight-year-old Cora greet the in-laws, the Knutson’s to their festive home.
“I was just getting into the Thanksgiving spirit,” Gunda said.
“You know we always save the quieter tasks for when the in-laws visit so they won’t hear the tapping and pounding noises,” Nils said, “so let’s get going.”
“Oh Nils,” Gunda said in a huff, “you always kill the spirit – just like the sinking of the Titanic.” Gunda stopped abruptly and saw Nicholas and Astrid turn sharply to look at her after the unfeeling remark about the recent disaster. “I’m sorry, those poor dears.” Gunda said with her hands to her mouth. She turned back to Nils and put her hands on her hips “But you do, Nils, sometimes you do kill a joyous holiday like this.”
“Look, we are wasting time.”
“We could sometimes stop to enjoy moments like these.” Nicholas said to Nils. “It is the reason why we do what we do, to make people happy, to enjoy these happy moments.”
“I know,” Nils said, “but we also need these train cars painted to keep on schedule.”
“Oh, you and your schedule. You’re so…, Oh, I’m going for a walk,” Gunda said in exasperation.
“When I get back.”
“Need company?” Astrid asked.
“No,” Gunda said sharply and left the attic. Gunda soon found her way to the top of a tall bookcase in the girl’s room. She leaned over the edge to get a better glimpse of the crowd around the house. She was startled when one of the Knutson boys ran into the room.
“Where are you,” Cora’s voice called from the hallway. When she got no answer she ran off down the hall. The boy giggled. Gunda slipped to hide behind some books but one of them fell over with a loud snap.
“What was that?” The boy said. “It’s a mouse that came out of that hole up there.”
Gunda felt the book shelf shake and the boy grunted. When the boy started to climb up on the shelves, Gunda looked at the hole planning to make her dash to safety. When his hand grasped the top and his brown hair rose up, Gunda froze. Before his eyes reached the top of the bookcase, a stern voice came from the doorway.
“You’re not supposed to be in here, this is the girl’s room. And what are you doing on top of my bookshelf? You’re knocking over my National Geographics collection.
“Oh Cranky Cora, you’re such a busybody,” the boy said and climbed down.
“Out,” Cora said and pointed toward the door.
“What if I don’t want to?”
“I’ll tell your mother.”
When Gunda heard the boy leave she gave a loud sigh of relief. To her shock a hand rose over the bookshelf and grabbed her.
“Gunda, what are you doing out here,” Cora said and looked around.
“Oh my,” Gunda said, “you’ve given me such a fright.” She placed her hand on her heart. “I needed to take a walk from… Well, I…
“I never had the opportunity to be this close during the Thanksgiving celebration before, and I…”, Gunda said to change the subject.
“You wish to join us for supper?”
“I would love to, but…”
“You can be in my dress pocket here.” Cora put Gunda in her left side pocket. Gunda stood up to peek out of Cora’s pocket.
“This will do nicely, that is if you your mother doesn’t mind.”
“She may or may not mind, but then, what is life without a little adventure.”
“We must keep…” Gunda stopped herself when she heard Cora’s mother, Marit and her son Eric, walk into the hallway next to the door. Cora backed into the room, but could still hear their conversation.
“Is there anything we could do for her to cheer her up, Eric?”
“I’m not sure. I thought Sarah would be happy the baby will arrive soon. She was so happy when we learned we were expecting, she literally glowed. She was so excited preparing for the nursery, the arrival. But now I don’t know why she is so sad.”
Gunda smiled. She understood why his wife would be so gloomy. To say that Sarah was “great with child” would be a gross understatement. And as Eric pointed out recently that, “Sarah is so big it’s a surprise she can walk without falling forward” – and in front of Sarah.
“You need to remind her that, despite her, shall we say temporarily large frame, that she is a beautiful woman,” Marit said.
“Well, she knows that. I’ve told her that since I first met her.”
“Have you told her recently?”
“I didn’t think I needed to.” The long pause gave Gunda the image of one of his mother’s stern looks at her inept son.
“Well, I guess I better.”
“Oh, there you are my boy,” a firm jolly voice spoke from the hallway.
“Oh, Mr. Knutson.”
“When are you going to drop this Mr. Knutson business and call me dad?”
“Oh sorry, I’m…”
“So tell me about this automobile I heard you have recently acquired.”
“Well, I’m not too sure I’m interested in keeping it…”
Eric’s voice drifted into the living room. Gunda looked over the pocket. Marit, Erik and Charles Knutson drifted over to Henrick and Anna, the newlyweds. Anna’s face beamed from the attention. Sarah sat by herself, slumped back as her belly stuck up larger than her humongous father’s belly. Sarah’s face showed no delight towards the festivities around her.
“Cora, look over there,” Gunda said. “Let’s try to cheer Sarah up, shall we Cora?”
“She looks like she doesn’t want to be cheered up.”
“You know you always have the ability to cheer anyone up – let’s go.”
Cora smiled and walked towards Sarah. Gunda slip down and enjoyed the ride and sniffed the Thanksgiving turkey air. The living room Victrola played a scratchy version of “We Gather Together.” The Victrola horn could not keep up with the sounds of spirited conversations and younger children having trouble keeping themselves from shouting and being disciplined by older members of their families.
“Hello Sarah, I’m glad you are with us on this Thanksgiving Day.”
“Oh, hello, thank you.”
“You have much to be thankful for today.”
“Oh, like what?”
“Well, you’re very beautiful.”
Sarah gave a sarcastic chuckle and readjusted herself while giving a few grunts and groans.
“I know you worry people think you’re fat, but you’re not. It’s good that you will have a baby soon and that’s something to be thankful for.”
Sarah sighed. “Thanks kid, I know you’re trying to be helpful but…”
“You are always beautiful. You looked extra beautiful in your wedding dress last year, but the beauty you have will never go away, even if you’re – well – large right now. I know I’m not supposed to talk about women who are,” Cora lowered her voice, “expecting.” Cora regained her normal voice level. “Sarah, you are beautiful, you really are.”
“Thank you,” Sarah said, but her voice reflected no sincerity. “So, how’s your National Geographic, collection coming long?” Sarah said obviously trying to change the subject.
“Oh”, Cora said in delight, “this month’s issue is about a very interesting place…” Gunda interrupted Cora with a tug on her dress. “I mean, I have an issue about the wonders of Paris. One day I’m going there and you can come too. Paris is full of beautiful women and you would fit right in.”
“Oh, Cora, thank you. You’re very kind.” Cora moved closer to reach up and put her hands on Sarah’s face. “You really are very beautiful. You are as beautiful as my Great, Great, Grandmother, whose name was also Sarah. I guess all Sarahs are beautiful.” When Cora lowered her hands, Sarah reached and pulled Cora in a firm hug so that Gunda was pressed hard against the baby bump.
“Oh, Cora, you are so sweet. You are something. And I’m very thankful for you and…” The baby kicked back at Gunda. “Whoops.” Sarah pushed Cora away and rubbed the huge belly. “Something in your pocket is – oh.”
Gunda stood up and her eyes met Sarah’s.
“Hello – I’m not sure which one you are.” Sarah said with a confused expression.
“This is Gunda.”
“Oh – hello Gunda.”
“You remember, Nil’s wife,” Cora said to help Sarah remember.
“You mean crabby Nils,” Sarah said, then trailed off as she saw the expression on Gunda’s face glaring at Cora.
“Which I am sure is greatly exaggerated,” Sarah said in a quick attempt to correct herself
“Well, not today,” Gunda said. Sarah looked around to see that no one from her family observed their conversation.
“Gunda’s going to join us for Thanksgiving.”
“How? If my family finds out they’ll…
“Oh, I remember what happened to you when you first saw Nicholas and you…” Again Cora’s was interrupted with a sharp poke from Gunda.
Sarah laughed. “It was unfortunate that no one had one of those new fangled Kodak cameras. I would have liked to have seen the spectacle from another angle and…”
“Cora,” Eric said as he approached, “you’re not getting Sarah overly exhausted are you? She needs her…”
“If you are here to say how beautiful Sarah is, it’s too late, we have already discussed the matter, a matter that you should have discussed earlier.”
“Now see here.” Eric said, “I’ve always known that Sarah is… What’s this?” Eric interrupted himself when his eyes met Gunda’s. “Does mother know that…”
“Oh Eric,” Sarah said and softly touched the back of Eric’s hand, “Gunda will be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner. I hope you not going to make a spectacle of yourself, and certainly not at Cora’s expense.”
“I, well, keep her hidden so…”
“Please, save your breath Eric, I’m not that stupid,” Cora said.
“Cora,” her mother called with her head out from the kitchen door.
“What?” Cora said with a jump.
“Help me bring some of these dishes out to the table.”
“Yes mother.” Cora rose from her chair.
“Maybe you could let Gunda help you with the dishes.” Eric said sarcastically.
“She certainly can do a better job of that then you can, dear brother.” Cora walked away. Gunda heard Sarah say, “She has become quite a young lady.”
“Yeah,” Eric said, “she seems to be getting too big for her britches.”
Before Gunda moved completely out of earshot, she heard a smacking sound and Eric said, “Ouch.”
The table was set. The family and guests did not wait for a second invitation as they all gathered around the table and sat down. Cora found herself at a smaller table filled with younger Knutson children.
“Before I say a prayer,” Knude said who stood up at the end of the table, “I would like to share my thoughts about family as we gather together on this joyous Thanksgiving Day. As children we all remember that special feeling of togetherness around the table and share with each other what we have to be thankful for. I’m so glad that the Knutson family decided to accept our invitation and join us here today.” The Gudmundson family applauded. “And as our names show that we have the same forefathers who no doubt believed in the love and togetherness that binds our families together.”
“I firmly believe, as my dear friend Charles here,” Knude said and gestured towards Sarah’s father, “that family is important. Families bind us together and keep us happy and healthy. And even though last year we welcomed new people into our family, and give many thanks for this, I also want to give thanks for new members who will join us next year,” Knude gestured towards Sarah. Everyone turned to look at Sarah and she smiled back as Eric reached to put his arm around her shoulder.
“So as we all gather here, I hope that we can enjoy this day in hopes it will bring out the best in us, despite the intense hunger we are now facing. Let us pray.”
Gunda looked over Cora’s pocket to see the large gathering in the dining room. They all closed their eyes and lowered their heads when Knude gave the Thanksgiving Day prayer. Gunda knew she had plenty to be thankful for – to be a part of the humans Thanksgiving Day gathering. Though Nils and possibly others in the attic would not thoroughly appreciate the scene Gunda gazed upon. She smiled, knowing there would be many more Thanksgiving gatherings in this house.
The prayer ended, the guests talked, and passed the many dishes to each other. Gunda scooted down to make sure she would not be seen, the sounds of family was enough for her.
“But having so many people, it was big and loud,” Berthina said, bringing Gunda out of her reminiscence.
“Yes,” Gunda sputtered. “Families unite and they get bigger and – yes – louder. And what a contrast that was to the Thanksgivings of the past few years here with Christian alone – her mother and father gone, her only brother far way. Which Thanksgiving Day would you prefer?”
Berthina couldn’t answer.
“Hmm,” Astrid said, “We will invite the Thoen family next year. Good idea, Gunda.” They continued up to the attic.
Gunda no longer felt depressed from the quiet darkened dining room. If the Thoen family was like Holly and Jake, Christina would have a happy Thanksgiving Day. And as Astrid said that will have to do for now.
“Astrid!” The villagers called as she came into view.
Astrid turned and looked down at Gunda. “Happy Thanksgiving.
“Happy Thanksgiving to you too Astrid, and to you, Berthina.”
Gunda smiled as Astrid walked into the attic and was surrounded by her family and friends. It truly was a happy Thanksgiving Day after all.