Short Story: Counting Potatoes

potatoes-738970_960_720Grace counted the potatoes again. Six. They definitely were not enough for dinner. Not enough for a big dinner as she had hoped or even a small one. The little boys would have to split again. What else could she put with them to make dinner just a little bigger? She still had a while yet to think about it.

The door to the front room slammed, and Riley came in with an armload of wood. She turned her face away from him so he wouldn’t see she had been crying. If at all possible, she wanted to avoid having to tell him the reason, and she knew he would ask.

“Graaace…” a little voice called from upstairs.

“Coming, Sam,” she called glad for the distraction and gathered up her skirts to hurry up the stairs.

“Grace, what is today?” Sam asked coming to the top of the stairs before she could reach them. He was still unsuccessfully trying to button his shirt, and his curls had not been combed even that late in the morning.

“Well, Thursday, I think,” his older sister replied setting to work on the bedraggled buttons.

“No, what holiday?” the little boy persisted.

“Oh, it’s Thanksgiving.”

“Whatever is that for?”

“Well, it’s to—to—to celebrate all your blessings and thank God for them.”

“Oh. I’m thanking that we had apples for breakfast this morning.”

Grace hugged the little boy tightly. She had been forgetting what the day was really about, and his wise words had reminded her. “Now, my Sweet Sam, keep thanking God today but also finish up your chores. There is work to do.”

Going down the stairs more slowly than she had gone up, Grace set to work scrubbing at the porridge pot again and trying not to mentally count potatoes anymore.

“Riley?” she said suddenly turning around to her younger brother who was adding wood to the kitchen stove.

“Hmm?” he grunted fitting the wood into the stove like the last piece in a puzzle.

“Were there any potatoes left in the barn that escaped the blight?”

“Why?” he asked looking at her curiously. “I don’t remember exactly, but I’ll check for you later, if you like.”

“Thank you, Righteous Riley,” she smiled, and the potatoes disappeared from her mind for the time being.

Mother came into the kitchen just then. She was still very thin and a little pale, but a small smile crowned her tired face. “Good morning, Grace,” she said putting her arm around her oldest daughter’s shoulders.

“Good morning, Mother. I’m surprised to see you up this early.”

“Oh, the baby didn’t fuss that much last night, and I thought it would do me good to remember what the rest of the house looks like. Besides, today is Thanksgiving. You’ve been crying, haven’t you?”

“Yes,” Grace said dropping her eyes. “But it is all right now.”

“Suppose you tell me what the trouble was.”

“Potatoes,” and she went on to tell her mother what exactly had been the problem.

“That’s very sweet of you to think of some way to make this day different from every other, and I’m grateful for your consideration. We’ll think of it together, but not worry our heads too much about it. Gratefulness is the celebration, not just the food.”

“Yes, Mother. Thank you.”

The day passed quickly with all the usual work allotted to it. Every once in a while, Sam would come up with something to declare he was grateful for and sometimes they couldn’t help but smile a little over the things he chose.

“I’m thanking that dinner is just far enough from lunch for me to be hungry.”

Grace almost bumped into him as she reached down to take the loaves of bread out of the oven. He had been hanging around the kitchen all day asking questions about how Thanksgiving had started and being thankful.

“That’s good,” Grace said absently. The bread wasn’t anything special—just brown bread, but she was pleased at how beautiful it had turned out. Could she come up with anything else for dinner?

“Sam,” she said quickly to catch the little boy before he disappeared out the door. “Take the others with you and rustle up some gourds. We want to make the table pretty before Father comes home.”

“All right,” the little boy said and went to look for his siblings. “I’m thanking that…” but unfortunately they missed the rest for he had disappeared out the door before he could finish.

“Pssst! Grace…” Riley said from the back door. He had something stuffed underneath his shirt and a mysterious look on his face.

“What is it?” she asked excitedly walking towards him.

Proudly, he pulled out two more potatoes and said, “I found them in the bin. Will this be enough?”

For one of the first times that day, Grace found a bright smile coming to her face. “Bless you, Riley! This will be a Thanksgiving feast for Father, after all.”

“Remember, Mother said that gratefulness is the celebration, not just the food,” Riley reminded but a very pleased smile had dawned in his eyes, and he went away whistling.

Grace tucked the potatoes into the ashes of the fire with the others and set about arranging the gourds the little boys had brought. Yes, with some autumn leaves they would be just perfect. Mother hummed a little tune while she stirred the softened apples in a little maple syrup.

“Father will be pleased with this dinner, you know,” she said looking up at her daughter. “Even though he knows that the celebration is being grateful, it will give him something extra to be thankful about that we are able to eat so well even in these hard times.”

Grace smiled. That was why she should do it. Not to make the holiday seem more like usual or satisfy her own longings, but to bless and to acknowledge God’s blessings on her life.

Why, there was Father now! Hannah hurried to open the door for him, and the little boys crowded to greet him.

“I’m thanking that—“

“Do you think we have enough for another plate or two?” he called over the children’s heads to his wife.

Mother stared at him astonished. “I’m sure we could,” she faltered.

Grace hurried to add more plates to the table while mentally counting potatoes again. Father ushered their guests in—a tired looking old man and a young boy with hollow cheeks.

The strangers gratefully sat down at the table and shared in the small feast with the family.

“I’m thanking that Grace and Riley found more food so we could feed you,” Sam spoke up during a break in conversation.

Grace choked.

“I’m thankful that the night is so cold that your house seems even warmer than cabins are known to be. I’m thankful that the night is so lonely that your house seems as welcoming as heaven itself. I’m also thankful that I have known such hunger that your generosity means even more to me,” the old man said smiling across the table at the little boy.

His words were strange—a lot like Sam’s had been all day—but Grace could tell that in his own way this man had found the secret to living. Riley rose from the table to add wood to the fire but soon discovered that he had forgotten to fill the wood box.

“It’s all right, we’ll do it,” the boy said speaking for the first time and rising from his place. The old man stood up as well and they stepped out the door into the night air.

“Wherever did you find them, Father?” Grace asked for they didn’t seem much like regular tramps.

“I don’t know exactly. Here I was worrying over blights and harvests, and they walked up asking if I would share dinner with them. I couldn’t do anything but say ‘yes’,” Father replied.

Mother laid a hand on his shoulder and answered, “I’m glad you asked them.”

Father looked around at the full table of children and said, “To see them in their need really helped me realize that, with blights and everything, I still have so much,”

Grace’s eyes began to fill with tears and she said, “I’m thankful that I’ve gotten to see what this holiday is really about. I’m sorry I was fussing so much today, and Riley—thank you for helping me with dinner.” They had so much to be grateful for and even enough to share!

“You’re welcome, Grateful Grace,” Riley smiled back. This time he didn’t need to ask her the reason she was crying because it was obvious to everyone that her tears were out of gratefulness.

“Where did they go anyway?” Sam asked looking up from the apples he had been stirring around and around in circles.

“I wonder. I’ll go look,” Father said rising. Putting on his coat, he stepped out into the cold night.

Mother and Grace began to clear the dishes while each urging Sam to finish his apples. They were all surprised a moment later when Father returned without their guests. He was holding a small white card in his hand and a strange look on his face caused Mother to ask “What is it?” in a little bit of a worried tone.

Father laid the card out on the table, and they all gathered around to see. “Read it, Sam.”

The little boy stumbled some over the words written there, but with help he read in his little voice, “So He said, ‘Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.’ (Luke 21:2)”

“Now flip it over,” Father said.

“And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:40)”

Grace felt a thrill run through her body. Riley had found two more potatoes. The bread had turned out just right. The boys had gathered gourds for decoration. She had thought these things were just to make the day more special. But then Father had invited the strangers. She had had to learn all over again that “gratefulness was the celebration, not just the food”. Those things had been given them so they could share. Wasn’t that something to be grateful for?

“I’m thanking that we got to serve Jesus,” Sam piped up.

They all hugged him. It was truly a happy Thanksgiving.

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