Julia — Her Thanksgiving

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

From Harper's Bazar Vol. XLIII No. 11 (November, 1909)

“Yes, Annie, I know I have always promised to tell you about Julia Benham's Thanksgiving, and I will tell you now. It can do no harm, for she has been dead and gone these ten years, and Elsie White too. Elsie only lived six months after Julia died. I suppose you would rather I said ‘passed away,’ but I always did think it was putting on airs. I was brought up to say people died when they died, and as for ‘passing away,’ I'd like to know how sure we are that they have passed? I do hope that Julia Benham has passed far enough not to hear me tell her story, for she was an awful high-spirited woman, and she wouldn't like it.

“Elsie told me about it. She was the only one who ever did any telling. Julia never told a thing in her life except to Elsie, and that was just like telling it to herself. Julia and Elsie were a queer pair. You see, they went to school together, and Julia always headed the procession, and Elsie always tagged after, never once losing sight of Julia. I don't believe Elsie White ever set her feet outside Julia Benham's tracks in her life. When Elsie's folks died she was about twenty-four; she went to live with Julia and her folks, and when Julia's folks died, they kept on living together. Julia always moved first, and Elsie after her; Julia always spoke first, and Elsie after her. It used to seem to me as if Elsie was nothing more than Julia's echo with a body as well as voice. They looked alike too, only Julia was more so in everything. She was bigger and taller, and her hair was darker, and her eyes were sharper. They dressed alike in one way too. Julia wore clothes that were real bright-colored, and Elsie wore things that were faint-colored. Julia would never give up wearing real bright things even after she was an old woman. She would wear deep pink roses in her bonnet, and Elsie would wear pale pink ones. She would wear bright purple dresses, and Elsie would wear lavender.

“Well, after Julia's folks died it turned out that she didn't have any property except the house she lived in and just enough money in the bank to pay the taxes. Julia's father had always been a spender. It was Elsie who had the money. She had quite a little property, and she had it well invested, and it paid her a good interest, and she paid board to Julia, and they got along real well until they were both old women — considerable over seventy. Then Julia, she took it into her head that Elsie's property wasn't paying enough interest and she could do better with it. So she up and put it into a railroad stock that paid an awful lot a year. It paid the first year, and Elsie had a new coat, and she paid a little more for her board, and Julia had a new coat, too, only longer, but the next year that railroad stock passed dividends. The first of October the check from that railroad company didn't come, and then there was a trouble. Elsie came over and told me, and cried like a baby.

“‘Julia and I haven't got one cent to live on except the interest of five thousand dollars I've got in the savings-bank,’ said she. ‘Julia she wanted to put that into the stock; she said four per cent. wasn't enough. Then she thought maybe she'd better not, because we couldn't get hold of ready money for the doctor and funeral expenses in case we got sick and died. And now we've only got two hundred dollars a year to live on, and I don't see how we are going to manage. Things are so dear. We have got four hens and a rooster, and the eggs don't amount to much and we don't need any new clothes, but it's got to be a real hard scratch.’

“After that stock passed dividends, Julia she was so rebellious that she wouldn't go to meeting, and of course Elsie didn't, either. The minister went and prayed with them, but it didn't make any difference. Elsie would have gone to meeting, but she didn't dream of such a thing as going without Julia. Well, Thanksgiving came, and it was a week afterward, just a week, when Elsie came over, and she was all smiling and happy, and she told me the story of how they had spent the day.

“‘You know,’ said she, ‘that poor Julia has been feeling dreadfully because my railroad stock didn't pay anything the first of October, and she blamed herself, and she said to me right after it happened, “Elsie,” says she, “let's forget Thanksgiving.” I was so surprised I didn't say anything; I just stared at her. “I mean it,” says she; “let's forget Thanksgiving.”

“‘“How?” says I.

“‘“We must begin now,” says she. “We must lose track of the days of the week.” So we did, and that was easy enough for me, anyway. I never knew what day it was. You see, we washed any day it happened to strike us, and we swept any day, and we baked any day. I was forgetting real nice; and we didn't go to meeting and didn't hear the Proclamation, and I know I wouldn't have suspected it was Thanksgiving day, but Julia she did. I do believe Julia never lost track of one day of the week. Thanksgiving morning she says to me, “It's no use, Elsie, we've got to keep Thanksgiving.”

“‘“Is it Thanksgiving?” says I.

“‘“Yes,” says she, “I wouldn't have remembered, I dare say, but all of a sudden I thought of something left to be thankful for, if that railroad has cheated us.”

“‘“What?” says I.

“‘“That I've got enough spirit left to be mad,” says she. “We'll keep it, Elsie. I realize that I might have been just ground down by such work, but I am running, if the railroad ain't.”

“‘“How shall we keep it?” says I.

“‘“We'll kill one of the hens,” says she.

“‘“Then there won't be any more eggs,” says I.

“‘“I don't care,” says she. “We'll have one of those hens for dinner, and I'll make a pudding. We've got some raisins left over. They are awful dry, but I'll soak 'em.”

“‘But when we went down-stairs, and Julia opened the back door, there was a big basket, and we just stood and stared at it. I had never heard of anything except a baby being left in a basket at a door.

“‘“Oh, Julia,” says I, “do you suppose it's a baby?”

“‘“Don't be silly,” says she, and she lifted the basket and brought it in. There wasn't any sound coming from it, so I knew it wasn't a baby. Well, she opened it, and there was a splendid turkey all stuffed and dressed, and all the fixings, and plum pudding, and a pound-cake, and a mince pie, and an apple pie.

“‘Well, I never saw Julia so mad. It was awful. “So it has come to this!” says she. “We are objects of charity!” She just crammed the things back into the basket, but I had seen a card sticking out, and I took it without her noticing, and “From a friend” was written on it, and I knew the writing.’

“When Elsie White told me that she blushed as pink as a girl. I knew well enough who sent it, by the way she acted. Everybody round here knew that Henry Atherton wanted to marry her when she was a girl, and never got married because she wouldn't have him. I knew that she knew his handwriting as soon as she saw it, and was sure that he sent the basket. Julia broke off the match.

“‘Well,’ Elsie went on to say, ‘Julia she declared that we wouldn't touch that nice dinner; but she didn't go out to kill the hen. After a while she says to me, “I suppose it would be a pity to kill the hen, we have so few eggs now,” and I said I thought it would be.

“‘“Well,” says Julia, “we'll have picked-up codfish for dinner.” And she got out the codfish and began picking it up. I didn't say anything, but it did seem to me that it was a pity not to have that nice dinner that was sent us, and my mouth was just watering for turkey. So I tell you I was glad when Julia she just took her hand away from the codfish and stood up and went to the basket.

“‘“Well,” says Julia, “we may as well cook this turkey and things, and have the dinner, for I have thought of something to be thankful about taking charity.”

“‘“What?” says I.

“‘“I am thankful for the humbleness of spirit that makes me able to take it,” says Julia.

“‘So,’ says Elsie, ‘we had that dinner, and it was nice. I never tasted a better turkey; and that isn't all.’

“‘What more?’ says I.

“Elsie took a cutting from a newspaper out of her pocket, and I put on my glasses, and read that it was probable that her railroad would pay dividends the first of January, and make up for the ones they had skipped. ‘If we hadn't eaten that dinner, we should have been awful wicked,’ says Elsie; ‘and that isn't all.’

“‘What else?’ says I.

“‘Henry Atherton and I are going to be married New-year's Day,’ says Elsie. ‘I know it is very late in life, but Julia says she feels as if she hadn't done just right by keeping us asunder, and she says she thinks the time has come when we two women ought to have a man around the house in case we were taken sick and died, and she says she's quite willing if Henry will promise never to come in the front door without wiping his feet. She says he can promise me whatever he wants to, she wants him to promise her that.’ Then Elsie she broke down and cried, she was so happy. ‘Oh,’ says she, ‘I know you think I am an old fool; but only think, I can clean the spots off his coats, and sit at the same table Thanksgivings with him all the rest of my life!’”

“How many Thanksgivings did they have?” inquired the woman to whom the story had been told.

The other woman reflected and counted on her fingers. “Let me see. They had the Thanksgiving the year I had my marten tippet, that's one; then the one I had my bonnet with the pansies on it, that's two; then the one when my son Frank got married, that's three; then one the year I had a new set of china, that's four. They had four Thanksgiving dinners together. Then Julia died, when she was eighty-two; and six months after Elsie; and Henry only lived a year after that; and I suppose now they are playing their Thanksgiving harps and singing Thanksgiving songs in heaven instead of eating turkey on earth, if we believe what we should.”