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A THANKSGIVING STORY

Something just isn't right. He could feel it stirring in the air, currents churned by the wing beats of a thousand honeybees flying in formation. And the sound, or rather, lack of it, was not the usual pleasant hum of the valley. Yes, Churchill thought, sitting in his Adirondack chair on the tower platform, something isn't right. On this beautiful Indian Summer afternoon, with Thanksgiving just six weeks away, something definitely isn't right.

It had probably started in the Spring, when Leon, the Badger's nephew, got back from his travels abroad and decided to run for a Valley council seat at the last minute. Because everyone in the Valley greatly respected and loved his Uncle Horatio, who had been everyone's family lawyer for time out of mind, the muttering about last-minute relaxation of the rules was muted. Leon was allowed to run. The election would be held in September, and as it was June, the campaigning was afoot.

Slowly signs began to emerge, outside burrows, pasted on hives, hanging from birdhouses and stuck into hedges. Leon Badger had his supporters, but Henderson 's daughter, a natural redhead, was getting a lot of support from the yacht club. They had a big river regatta every August, and many boats flew a pennant with her picture on it. The field mice were supporting one of their own, Dickey, who was a particularly bright articulate fellow with an infectious laugh. Edgar the Raven watched all of this activity with some amusement, as he had led the Valley council by unanimous acclaim for as long as anyone could remember. He was pleased to see so many youngsters involved.

It was well into the fourth week in August when the unthinkable happened. Leon Badger took out a series of attack ads in the "Paw & Claw", charging his opponents with everything from noisy eating to nude sunbathing. What this had to do with a candidate's qualifications to be on the Valley council no one could figure out, and many Valley residents were offended. But because the Valley, like the wider world, is full of diverse folks and opinions, some took to the stories with relish (and even mustard), and repeated them, frequently embellishing the stories until they bore little resemblance to the original.

The Valley was awash in whispers and nods, and longtime friends started avoiding each other. Horatio Badger found his diner invitations drying up, for fear he would bring Leon . Edgar was not pleased, but managed to keep most of his irritation to himself.

The election in September was, after the appalling behavior all summer, almost anti-climactic. Dickey the Field Mouse won in a landslide, but the field mice population was by valley standards enormous, so the old-timers were not surprised. Edgar was quite pleased to have a fellow of such good cheer on the council. So the election bru-ha-ha finally died down, everyone shook hands and smiled, and for all appearances the matter was ended. Leon , suddenly finding the valley too boring, went abroad again, and Horatio quietly sighed with relief.

So Churchill sat there in his chair on the tower, six weeks after the election and six weeks before Thanksgiving, sensing the stuttered rhythm of the Valley below him, and suddenly

shook his head and slapped his paw on the arm of the chair. At that instant he decided to throw a huge Thanksgiving dinner for the Valley residents. Since he had the largest house in the Valley (except for the Old Woman's house on the hill), he knew he could handle the crowd. The Valley needed mending.

The next morning, shortly after a brief chat with Edgar, Churchill announced his plans to the residents in the town square within the topiary garden. The field mice immediately volunteered their time and energy to help (they were still celebrating Dickey's win, and were exceptionally cheerful). Churchill, Edgar and some closer friends jointly created the immense shopping lists, and delicacies were ordered in from far and wide. Over the next few weeks the larders began to fill, the wine cellar was bursting at the seams, and the auto park had crates stacked in all directions (but since the auto park was also under the hedge, the beauty of the Valley was not disturbed).

A week before Thanksgiving the grand ballroom was scrubbed and polished. House spiders in the rafters were temporarily relocated to another floor, and an acre of tables were delivered by Bogwyn Beaver, whose dam made a lovely swimming hole for the youngsters (and the young at heart) during the summer. The front door, usually a hunter green to blend with the hedge, was temporarily painted Chinese red to welcome the guests. House wrens gathered Fall leaves, stringing them together to create striking garlands above the tables. Linen and napkins were stacked and ready. The Dandelion wine for the youngsters would be ready in two days, and the nectar had been delivered for the Monarch butterflies who would be leaving the following day for their flight to South America . Various dishes, shaped like wildflowers, were prepared consisting of assorted seeds, or nuts and fruit, or vegetables of all descriptions.

Churchill walked through the house, paws clasped behind his back, quietly overseeing the final touches, smiling gently. He, Edgar, and Henderson, had decided that during dinner various groups in the Valley should entertain, beginning with an acapella set by Churchill's house mice, who were really quite talented. The entertainment would last all afternoon, and end at Sunset, with Anushka Mongoose playing her sitar.

Thanksgiving day arrived, and the Valley was filled with the aroma of food, and the sounds of anticipation. Households everywhere were brimming with energy, children were dressed, fur was brushed and feathers were fluffed. The party was to start at noon . Edgar periodically sailed over the valley, just in case folks got lost. At exactly noon the guests began to arrive.

Churchill had devised a plan while sitting on the tower that afternoon six weeks ago. He had taken all the R.S.V.P.'s (no one would be allowed in who had not been polite enough to send one back) and created a seating chart, placing folks who had quarreled during the elections next to each other. Each name was clearly displayed on a card, and Henderson had provided a small force of ground squirrels with armbands to ensure no cards were switched. Folks began to fill the ballroom and soon discovered the name cards; they went to the ground squirrels to find the general location of their seats. Between twelve and one groups formed, broke apart, and re-formed all over the grand ballroom. When it was clear that folks were reluctant to take certain seats Edgar stood up (he was at the head table with Churchill, Henderson, Horatio and other Valley leaders) and told the folks to be seated so that dinner and the entertainment could begin. From all over the ballroom they could hear "I'm not sitting next to him", "Why can't I sit where I want to", "After last summer I will never speak to her again".

Churchill put his paws on the table, and slowly rose to his feet. Edgar and Henderson exchanged glances. Horatio put his paw to his forehead, resting his elbow on the table, and looked down. As folks looked up and saw Churchill standing they fell silent, and the silence was like a tidal wave beginning at the front and then rolling through the ballroom, until the silence was so complete you could have heard the wing beats of a gnat.

"Please sit down by your place card" he said quietly, and his voice echoed off the rafters. Everyone quickly moved to their assigned seats.

"This has been a difficult Summer and Fall for many in the valley. What should have been an interesting and informative election cycle turned into a gross, crass spectacle eliciting behavior from many that should have made you blush and hang your heads (he looked out over the room, slowly and methodically allowing his eyes to wash over every table).

"You know who you are". Many looked down.

"The old woman in the big house has told me about elections among humans, about their propensity toward lies, big and small, in blatant attempts to grab power to serve their greed. Leon, the nephew of our beloved Horatio, in his youth brought a taste of this disgraceful behavior to our Valley from the outside. And some of you (his voice rose) lapped it up like honey". There was a general shifting of discomfort throughout the hall. Chairs scraped. Edgar caught Henderson's eye and winked. Henderson's eyes smiled. The room was again silent.

"Many of you came to this Thanksgiving dinner today still carrying petty anger, and the arrogance it requires to maintain that anger weeks and months after the offensive behavior has ended. Why? You know that everything you heard was either a lie, an exaggeration, or just plain silly". Folks were nodding all over the ballroom.

"You know that we have always looked out for each other, watched over all the children, made sure that the sick had soup and blankets" (a faint powder blue dust floated almost transparently around Churchill).

"You know that you are living in a beautiful Valley, in a safe country, on an exquisite blue planet floating in a galaxy in a huge universe, and that your lives have music, and laughter, and the joys and sorrows of days lived fully." (The faint powder blue dust now covered most of the head table).

"How can you have allowed this petty behavior to eclipse the bonds of your mutual respect and friendships?" By now many in the great ballroom had tears in their eyes. Folks were leaning over, head-to-head in whispered apologies. Hugs were visible, and "I'm so sorry" could be heard throughout the hall.

After several minutes Churchill, who was now standing straight, said it was now time to start the party. Everyone applauded.

"But first", he said, "we are going to take two minutes to be thankful for our beautiful Valley, our friends, our health, and mostly, our community". All over the ballroom folks reached out, paw to claw, feather to feather, until everyone was linked. For two long minutes a sense of peace and well-being enveloped the hall, until the field mice started sweetly singing in their high piping voices about hearth and harvest, and the food rolled in. Churchill sat, smiling broadly.

It was reported some days later, by a gaggle of Canadian Geese heading South for the winter, that they had flown over this pretty valley with a snow-capped mountain, and saw what looked like powder blue dust swirling lazily in the air, but they had no idea what it meant.

 

-The End-
January 2004


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