Aunt Susanna's Thanksgiving Dinner. by Lucy
"Here's Aunt Susanna, girls," said Laura who was sitting by the north
window—nothing but north light does for Laura who is the artist of
our talented family.
Each of us has a little pet new-fledged talent which we are faithfully
cultivating in the hope that it will amount to something and soar
highly some day. But it is difficult to cultivate four talents on our
tiny income. If Laura wasn't such a good manager we never could do it.
Laura's words were a signal for Kate to hang up her violin and for me
to push my pen and portfolio out of sight. Laura had hidden her
brushes and water colors as she spoke. Only Margaret continued to bend
serenely over her Latin grammar. Aunt Susanna frowns on musical and
literary and artistic ambitions but she accords a faint approval to
Margaret's desire for an education. A college course, with a tangible
diploma at the end, and a sensible pedagogic aspiration is something
Aunt Susanna can understand when she tries hard. But she cannot
understand messing with paints, fiddling, or scribbling, and she has
only unmeasured contempt for messers, fiddlers, and scribblers. Time
was when we had paid no attention to Aunt Susanna's views on these
points; but ever since she had, on one incautious day when she was in
high good humor, dropped a pale, anemic little hint that she might
send Margaret to college if she were a good girl we had been bending
all our energies towards securing Aunt Susanna's approval. It was not
enough that Aunt Susanna should approve of Margaret; she must approve
of the whole four of us or she would not help Margaret. That is Aunt
Susanna's way. Of late we had been growing a little discouraged. Aunt
Susanna had recently read a magazine article which stated that the
higher education of women was ruining our country and that a woman who
was a B.A. couldn't, in the very nature of things, ever be a
housewifely, cookly creature. Consequently, Margaret's chances looked
a little foggy; but we hadn't quite given up hope. A very little thing
might sway Aunt Susanna one way or the other, so that we walked very
softly and tried to mingle serpents' wisdom and doves' harmlessness in
When Aunt Susanna came in Laura was crocheting, Kate was sewing, and I
was poring over a recipe book. That was not deception at all, since we
did all these things frequently—much more frequently, in fact, than
we painted or fiddled or wrote. But Aunt Susanna would never believe
it. Nor did she believe it now.
She threw back her lovely new sealskin cape, looked around the
sitting-room and then smiled—a truly Aunt Susannian smile.
"What a pity you forgot to wipe that smudge of paint off your nose,
Laura," she said sarcastically. "You don't seem to get on very fast
with your lace. How long is it since you began it? Over three months,
"This is the third piece of the same pattern I've done in three
months, Aunt Susanna," said Laura presently. Laura is an old duck. She
never gets cross and snaps back. I do; and it's so hard not to with
Aunt Susanna sometimes. But I generally manage it for I'd do anything
for Margaret. Laura did not tell Aunt Susanna that she sold her lace
at the Women's Exchange in town and made enough to buy her new hats.
She makes enough out of her water colors to dress herself.
Aunt Susanna took a second breath and started in again.
"I notice your violin hasn't quite as much dust on it as the rest of
the things in this room, Kate. It's a pity you stopped playing just as
I came in. I don't enjoy fiddling much but I'd prefer it to seeing
anyone using a needle who isn't accustomed to it."
Kate is really a most dainty needlewoman and does all the fine sewing
in our family. She colored and said nothing—that being the highest
pitch of virtue to which our Katie, like myself, can attain.
"And there's Margaret ruining her eyes over books," went on Aunt
Susanna severely. "Will you kindly tell me, Margaret Thorne, what good
you ever expect Latin to do you?"
"Well, you see, Aunt Susanna," said Margaret gently—Magsie and Laura
are birds of a feather—"I want to be a teacher if I can manage to get
through, and I shall need Latin for that."
All the girls except me had now got their accustomed rap, but I knew
better than to hope I should escape.
"So you're reading a recipe book, Agnes? Well, that's better than
poring over a novel. I'm afraid you haven't been at it very long
though. People generally don't read recipes upside down—and besides,
you didn't quite cover up your portfolio. I see a corner of it
sticking out. Was genius burning before I came in? It's too bad if I
quenched the flame."
"A cookery book isn't such a novelty to me as you seem to think, Aunt
Susanna," I said, as meekly as it was possible for me. "Why I'm a real
good cook—'if I do say it as hadn't orter.'"
I am, too.
"Well, I'm glad to hear it," said Aunt Susanna skeptically, "because
that has to do with my errand her to-day. I'm in a peck of troubles.
Firstly, Miranda Mary's mother has had to go and get sick and Miranda
Mary must go home to wait on her. Secondly, I've just had a telegram
from my sister-in-law who has been ordered west for her health, and
I'll have to leave on to-night's train to see her before she goes. I
can't get back until the noon train Thursday, and that is
Thanksgiving, and I've invited Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert to dinner that
day. They'll come on the same train. I'm dreadfully worried. There
doesn't seem to be anything I can do except get on of you girls to go
up to the Pinery Thursday morning and cook the dinner for us. Do you
think you can manage it?"
We all felt rather dismayed, and nobody volunteered with a rush. But
as I had just boasted that I could cook it was plainly my duty to step
into the breach, and I did it with fear and trembling.
"I'll go, Aunt Susanna," I said.
"And I'll help you," said Kate.
"Well, I suppose I'll have to try you," said Aunt Susanna with the air
of a woman determined to make the best of a bad business. "Here is the
key of the kitchen door. You'll find everything in the pantry, turkey
and all. The mince pies are all ready made so you'll only have to warm
them up. I want dinner sharp at twelve for the train is due at 11:50.
Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert are very particular and I do hope you will have
things right. Oh, if I could only be home myself! Why will people get
sick at such inconvenient times?"
"Don't worry, Aunt Susanna," I said comfortingly. "Kate and I will
have your Thanksgiving dinner ready for you in tiptop style."
"Well I'm sure I hope so. Don't get to mooning over a story, Agnes.
I'll lock the library up and fortunately there are no fiddles at the
Pinery. Above all, don't let any of the McGinnises in. They'll be sure
to be prowling around when I'm not home. Don't give that dog of theirs
any scraps either. That is Miranda Mary's one fault. She will feed
that dog in spite of all I can do and I can't walk out of my own back
door without falling over him."
We promise to eschew the McGinnises and all their works, including
the dog, and when Aunt Susanna had gone we looked at each other with
mingled hope and fear.
"Girls, this is the chance of your lives," said Laura. "If you can
only please Aunt Susanna with this dinner it will convince her that
you are good cooks in spite of your nefarious bent for music and
literature. I consider the illness of Miranda Mary's mother a
Providential interposition—that is, if she isn't too sick."
"It's all very well for you to be pleased, Lolla," I said dolefully.
"But I don't feel jubilant over the prospect at all. Something will
probably go wrong. And then there's our own nice little Thanksgiving
celebration we've planned, and pinched and economized for weeks to
provide. That is half spoiled now."
"Oh, what is that compared to Margaret's chance of going to college?"
exclaimed Kate. "Cheer up, Aggie. You know we can cook. I feel that it
is now or never with Aunt Susanna."
I cheered up accordingly. We are not given to pessimism which is
fortunate. Ever since father died four years ago we have struggled on
here, content to give up a good deal just to keep our home and be
together. This little gray house—oh, how we do love it and its apple
trees—is ours and we have, as aforesaid, a tiny income and our
ambitions; not very big ambitions but big enough to give zest to our
lives and hope to the future. We've been very happy as a rule. Aunt
Susanna has a big house and lots of money but she isn't as happy as
we are. She nags us a good deal—just as she used to nag father—but
we don't mind it very much after all. Indeed, I sometimes suspect that
we really like Aunt Susanna tremendously if she'd only leave us alone
long enough to find it out.
Thursday morning was an ideal Thanksgiving morning—bright, crisp and
sparkling. There had been a white frost in the night, and the orchard
and the white birch wood behind it looked like fairyland. We were all
up early. None of us had slept well, and both Kate and I had had the
most fearful dreams of spoiling Aunt Susanna's Thanksgiving dinner.
"Never mind, dreams always go by contraries, you know," said Laura
cheerfully. "You'd better go up to the Pinery early and get the fires
on, for the house will be cold. Remember the McGinnises and the dog.
Weigh the turkey so that you'll know exactly how long to cook it. Put
the pies in the oven in time to get piping hot—lukewarm mince pies
are an abomination. Be sure—"
"Laura, don't confuse us with any more cautions," I groaned, "or we
shall get hopelessly fuddled. Come on, Kate, before she has time to."
It wasn't very far up to the Pinery—just ten minutes' walk, and such
a delightful walk on that delightful morning. We went through the
orchard and then through the white birch wood where the loveliness of
the frosted boughs awed us. Beyond that there was a lane between ranks
of young, balsamy, white-misted firs and then an open pasture field,
sere and crispy. Just across it was the Pinery, a lovely old house
with dormer windows in the roof, surrounded by pines that were dark
and glorious against the silvery morning sky.
The McGinnis dog was sitting on the back-door steps when we arrived.
He wagged his tail ingratiatingly, but we ruthlessly pushed him off,
went in and shut the door in his face. All the little McGinnises were
sitting in a row on their fence, and they whooped derisively. The
McGinnis manners are not those which appertain to the caste of Vere de
Vere; but we rather like the urchins—there are eight of them—and we
would probably have gone over to talk to them if we had not had the
fear of Aunt Susanna before our eyes.
We kindled the fires, weighed the turkey, put it in the oven and
prepared the vegetables. Then we set the dining-room table and
decorated it with Aunt Susanna's potted ferns and dishes of lovely red
apples. Everything went so smoothly that we soon forgot to be nervous.
When the turkey was done, we took it out, set it on the back of the
range to keep warm and put the mince pies in. The potatoes, cabbage
and turnips were bubbling away cheerfully, and everything was going as
merrily as a marriage bell. Then, all at once, things happened.
In an evil hour we went to the yard window and looked out. We saw a
quiet scene. The McGinnis dog was still sitting on his haunches by the
steps, just as he had been sitting all the morning. Down in the
McGinnis yard everything wore an unusually peaceful aspect. Only one
McGinnis was in sight—Tony, aged eight, who was perched up on the
edge of the well box, swinging his legs and singing at the top of his
melodious Irish voice. All at once, just as we were looking at him,
Tony went over backward and apparently tumbled head foremost down his
Kate and I screamed simultaneously. We tore across the kitchen, flung
open the door, plunged down over Aunt Susanna's yard, scrambled over
the fence and flew to the well. Just as we reached it, Tony's red head
appeared as he climbed serenely out over the box. I don't know whether
I felt more relieved or furious. He had merely fallen on the blank
guard inside the box: and there are times when I am tempted to think
he fell on purpose because he saw Kate and me looking out at the
window. At least he didn't seem at all frightened, and grinned most
impishly at us.
Kate and I turned on our heels and marched back in as dignified a
manner as was possible under the circumstances. Half way up Aunt
Susanna's yard we forgot dignity and broke into a run. We had left the
door open and the McGinnis dog had disappeared.
Never shall I forget the sight we saw or the smell we smelled when we
burst into that kitchen. There on the floor was the McGinnis dog and
what was left of Aunt Susanna's Thanksgiving turkey. As for the smell,
imagine a commingled odor of scorching turnips and burning mince pies,
and you have it.
The dog fled out with a guilty yelp. I groaned and snatched the
turnips off. Kate threw open the oven door and dragged out the pies.
Pies and turnips were ruined as irretrievably as the turkey.
"Oh, what shall we do?" I cried miserably. I knew Margaret's chance of
college was gone forever.
"Do!" Kate was superb. She didn't lose her wits for a second. "We'll
go home and borrow the girls' dinner. Quick—there's just ten minutes
before train time. Throw those pies and turnips into this basket—the
turkey too—we'll carry them with us to hide them."
I might not be able to evolve an idea like that on the spur of the
moment, but I can at least act up to it when it is presented. Without
a moment's delay we shut the door and ran. As we went I saw the
McGinnis dog licking his chops over in their yard. I have been ashamed
ever since of my feelings toward that dog. They were murderous.
Fortunately I had no time to indulge them.
It is ten minutes walk from the Pinery to our house, but you can run
it in five. Kate and I burst into the kitchen just as Laura and
Margaret were sitting down to dinner. We had neither time nor breath
for explanations. Without a word I grasped the turkey platter and the
turnip tureen. Kate caught one hot mince pie from the oven and whisked
a cold one out of the pantry.
"We've—got—to have—them," was all she said.
I've always said that Laura and Magsie would rise to any occasion.
They saw us carry their Thanksgiving dinner off under their very eyes
and they never interfered by word or motion. They didn't even worry us
with questions. They realized that something desperate had happened
and that the emergency called for deed not words.
"Aggie," gasped Kate behind me as we tore through the birch wood, "the
border—of these pies—is crimped—differently—from Aunt Susanna's."
"She—won't know—the difference," I panted. "Miranda—Mary—crimps
We got back to the Pinery just as the train whistle blew. We had ten
minutes to transfer turkey and turnips to Aunt Susanna's dishes, hide
our own, air the kitchen, and get back our breath. We accomplished it.
When Aunt Susanna and her guests came we were prepared for them: we
were calm—outwardly—and the second mince pie was getting hot in the
oven. It was ready by the time it was needed. Fortunately our turkey
was the same size as Aunt Susanna's, and Laura had cooked a double
supply of turnips, intending to warm them up the next day. Still, all
things considered, Kate and I didn't enjoy that dinner much. We kept
thinking of poor Laura and Magsie at home, dining off potatoes on
But at least Aunt Susanna was satisfied. When Kate and I were washing
the dishes she came out quite beamingly.
"Well, my dears, I must admit that you made a very good job of the
dinner, indeed. The turkey was done to perfection. As for the mince
pies—well, of course Miranda Mary made them, but she must have had
extra good luck with them, for they were excellent and heated to just
the right degree. You didn't give anything to the McGinnis dog, I
"No, we didn't give him anything," said Kate.
Aunt Susanna did not notice the emphasis.
When we had finished the dishes we smuggled our platter and tureen out
of the house and went home. Laura and Margaret were busy painting and
studying and were just as sweet-tempered as if we hadn't robbed them
of their dinner. But we had to tell them the whole story before we
even took off our hats.
"There is a special Providence for children and idiots," said Laura
gently. We didn't ask her whether she meant us or Tony McGinnis or
both. There are some things better left in obscurity. I'd have
probably said something much sharper than that if anybody had made off
with my Thanksgiving turkey so unceremoniously.
Aunt Susanna came down the next day and told Margaret that she would
send her to college. Also she commissioned Laura to paint her a
water-color for her dining-room and said she'd pay her five dollars
Kate and I were rather left out in the cold in this distribution of
favors, but when you come to reflect that Laura and Magsie had really
cooked that dinner, it was only just.
Anyway, Aunt Susanna has never since insinuated that we can't cook,
and that is as much as we deserve.