“Are we there yet?” Jason grumbled from the back seat. He’d been in the car for hours.

“Why don’t you watch your movie?” Mom asked.

“Again?”

Dad sighed. They’d gotten off to a late start. When Dad realized he had to find a gas station that was open on Thanksgiving, it took them miles out of the way.

Bumper to bumper traffic on the highway brought them to a standstill. Dad glanced at the car clock. “Maybe we should call?”

Mom dug the cell phone out of her purse to call Grandma.

“My shirt itches!” Jason tugged at his collar.

“Shhh! I’m talking to Grandma.”

The traffic cleared and the car sped up. Jason looked out the window. Houses. Stores. Nothing interesting.

“Will Aunt Midge be there?” Jason asked.

“Of course.”

“Eww.”

“Jason!”

“She hugs too hard. Her perfume smells bad.”

“I’ll ask her not to hug you, OK?”

“And I don’t want to sit at the children’s table. I want to sit by Grandpa.”

“Isn’t it more fun to sit with your cousins?”

“Not when I have to watch Lizzie mush her food.”

“You did the same thing when you were little. Besides you’re the oldest and Grandma needs your help with the little ones.”

“I’d rather sit with Grandpa.”

Jason grew quiet. Of all the holidays, he liked Thanksgiving least. At Christmas he got presents. Easter was fun because the weather was warm and he could go outside. Halloween was spooky fun, walking though the neighborhood in a costume. Fourth of July had fireworks.

He loved seeing Grandma and Grandpa, but at Thanksgiving, Grandma’s house was full of relatives he rarely saw and neighbors he didn’t know. They always asked the same questions. “How old are you?” “What grade are you in?” “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He liked visiting Grandma and Grandpa in the summer when he could talk with them, walk the fields with Grandpa and listen to his stories, help him work in the barn.

Though he knew Grandma, Mom and his aunts spent a lot of time cooking, he’d just as soon have pizza and ice cream. Aunt Barb always made some dish with Brussels sprouts. Aunt Zennie always announced, “I made creamed onions.” Those dishes never made it to the children’s table. That was one good thing.

The house was crowded when they arrived. Mom bustled into the kitchen with pies she’d made and her string bean casserole. Dad joined the men watching football. Jason said a quick hi to his cousins. A few giggled over unicorns and ponies on the couch, others zoomed little cars around a plastic track. None of that looked like fun anymore.

He wandered into the living room. “Come to watch the game with us?” Uncle Ed asked.

“Nah.”

“Grab me another soda then, please?”

The kitchen was crowded. “What do you need Jason?” There was hardly room to move.

“Uncle Ed wants a soda.” The women passed a can across the room to him.

“Thanksgiving stinks,” Jason whispered under his breath. He hadn’t seen Grandpa coming down the hallway. “Sorry, Grandpa.”

“How about you and me check the barn?”

Jason gave his uncle the soda, grabbed his coat and walked to the barn with Grandpa. The barn was warm and hay scented. Grandpa’s old horse, Trig whinnied. Rosie, a black lab, wagged her tail.

“Too many people in the house, huh?” Grandpa asked.

“I don’t know most of them. And I don’t like dressing up and — can I just stay out here with Rosie and Trig?”

Grandpa smiled. “This is where I like to come when I want to get away from things. But, everyone would miss you. I sure would.”

They sat for a while, Jason petting Rosie.

“How about we sneak back out here after dessert?” Grandpa asked. “We can bring Rosie some treats and a fat carrot for Trig, talk a while.”

Jason nodded. “Thanks Grandpa.”

When it was his turn to say what he was thankful for before the meal, Jason shouted, “Grandpa” as Grandpa winked from across the room.

Valerie Egar writes children’s stories for the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier.

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