Turkey and Blessings

© 2009 Ginger Manley
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings.

             Dec. 24, 1974 was bleak and cold in Elko, Nevada, where I was living with my two small children. My husband was living with friends 300 miles west in Reno, where he was driving a taxicab to try to make ends meet after we had experienced financial disaster in the recession of ’74. I had been working as a nurse in the local hospital until I had to have knee surgery, the first of several over the years, and, after that, I was unable to work. As Christmas Eve dawned, there was no money to buy presents or to put food on the table. To make matters worse, the power had been off for about twelve hours after a winter storm tore down the lines. 

            In the middle of the afternoon, a neighbor appeared at the door with a plate of Christmas cookies for the children. A few hours later a couple of nurse friends from the hospital came by to check on me. When they heard about our empty pantry, they excused themselves and went to the hospital where they emerged with a frozen turkey. Unnoticed by other hospital staffers, they returned to my house and presented me with a stolen turkey like those the other hospital employees received earlier in the week as holiday presents. Because I was on sick leave, I didn’t legally qualify for one. 

            Just as nightfall came, the front door opened and in came my husband, with a frozen pizza, bought with his recent cab fares. The pizza was cooked over the fireplace logs, and then about 9 P.M. the power came back on. The turkey was thawed, and the next day cooked and served, accompanied by Christmas cookies. By midafternoon on Dec. 25, we were a warm, full, and happy family. I cannot remember the menu for any other Christmas before or since, but I will never forget the one for 1974. 

            Early 1975 did not prove to be much better for us. By February of that year, my husband had moved out of the friends’ home and into a third floor room at the Rescue Mission in downtown Reno, where his window looked down on the soup kitchen. We had only one car between us, which he parked on the side of the street outside the Mission while he slept. Back in Elko, I had recovered enough from my knee surgery to again ride my bicycle to and from work, balancing my son on the seat behind me as I took him to day care. His sister joined him there later in the day after she got out of first grade. A teen-age babysitter took them both to our home at supper time and kept them until my 3-11 shift at the hospital was over and I had biked home. 

            At about 2:30 AM one morning in March the phone by the side of my bed rang. It’s never good news at that hour and when the voice announced that he was a police officer in a remote town in western Nevada, I expected to hear the worst possible news.  

            “Ma’am, I have a 1974 Ford registered to your name that has been abandoned outside a bar in Tonopah. Do you know anything about it?” 

            Yes, I told him, I knew it was our car but I had no idea why it was about 100 miles southeast of Reno nor did I know where my husband, who was supposed to be sleeping in his room at the Mission, could be. By the time I found someone awake at the Mission who could climb to the third floor and check on my husband, I was frantic.  

            John turned up in his bed and we both quickly realized that the car had been stolen and driven until it was empty. Fortunately we had paid our insurance premiums and USAA provided us a rental car until ours could be repaired from the damage done when the thief had jimmied the ignition.  

            Reno was a pretty good place to be in 1975 if you were down and out, because the casinos offered good cheap food and some free entertainment. The children and I took a train there for Easter, staying together as a family at our friends’ home while they visited family out of town. As the four of us sat in the dining room of the Nugget after enjoying the Easter buffet, I looked at John and we agreed that if our luck kept going in this direction we probably would be smarter to move back east where we could at least be within a day’s drive of family and home cooking.  

            Two months later we had sold almost all our furniture and defaulted on the property in the country on which we had  made a down payment three years earlier and where we had hoped to eventually build our dream home.  We loaded our things in a trailer and started driving to Tennessee, staying first in a Motel 6 in Las Vegas, and then in other budget motels as we rode Interstate 40 across the country. The children thought it was a great adventure to eat cereal out of plastic cups each morning and to roast hot dogs on fires in state parks for lunch. They said we were pioneers. 

            John and I didn’t feel much like pioneers. Rather we felt more like prisoners who had been let free and given a one-way bus ticket and a suit of clothes to get them started for the rest of their lives. We were homeless, unemployed, and depressed.  

            Then in a twenty-four-hour period, God intervened and we landed in Nashville where we found work, a furnished home to rent, opportunity to go back to school, and people who cared about us. We have thrived here for the last thirty-five years. Times have not always been easy. In fact they are not easy now in 2009 when we are in our late sixties and have lost more than thirty percent of our retirement savings in this most recent recession. But we are luckier than many. We have never spent elaborately and we don’t have major debt. We both have work that will probably continue for some time. We are healthier than many of our contemporaries. We have electric power most of the time. We have a roof over our head and a mortgage we can pay. We have the strengths that come out of facing adversity and these have buoyed us over the years. 

            A few days before Christmas this year a neighbor brought us a plate of cookies. We ate takeout pizza in a warm kitchen with our grandchildren on Christmas Eve and had a turkey on the table for Christmas dinner. This time it was a legal turkey because the hospital where I now work gave all employees a bird for the holiday and I was not on sick leave. As I walked on my two artificial knees to the tent where the gifts were being distributed, I gave thanks for turkey and blessings.

 

This story was originally published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count your Blessings in 2009. In 2012 Count your Blessings has been included in a boxed set of three Chicken Soup bestsellers, available during Christmas season at Walmart stores in the U.S.Boxed set of Chicken Soup bestsellers at Walmart 2012