Berthina led Gunda and Astrid underneath the living room bookcase and climbed the miniature staircase to top. Holly and Christina’s plan to bring Astrid home and prevent Ian from noticing the wood spirits succeeded. Half way up Astrid stopped. She stared into the dark, lifeless living room and dining room then sighed.
Berthina put her hand on Astrid’s shoulder. “What’s the matter?”
“Do you realize this is the first Thanksgiving in this house without the smell of turkey, without people?”
Gunda chuckled. “First Thanksgiving without the loud racket, you mean?”
Berthina bumped Gunda.
“I was kidding, just to lighten the mood.”
They continued their trek up the small stair case, each not saying a word.
Astrid broke the silence. “I remember the last time we had a big Thanksgiving, the year before the accident years ago. The house was lit up with the first signs of Christmas decorations throughout all the rooms. Everyone laughed and had a great time. And I remember the holidays after the accident. Nothing was the same. Sometimes they sat in silence. Sometimes they were in hot turmoil because of the loss.”
Berthina sighed. “I remember the last few years. Seeing Christina alone sitting at that big table. It took the entire village to bring her spirits up. She kept saying ‘it’s all right,’ and then went to her room to work.”
The other two groaned.
Gunda tsked. “You two are such sourpusses. Instead, think about what’s happening now.”
Astrid stopped at the top of the spiral staircase and gazed at Gunda.
Berthina ran into Astrid.
Gunda answered Astrid’s silent question. “Christina is dating Ian. She’s going to a Thanksgiving celebration with his family. We should be happy for her. And let’s not forget about Ian’s daughter Holly.”
Berthina’s eyebrows raised in fear. “But what if Christina doesn’t get along with his family?”
Gunda grunted. “She will. I have faith. Next year she will invite his family and we will celebrate together. That reminds me of one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories – remember the Thanksgiving of 1912?”
Gunda continued. “Henrik Gudmundson married Anna Knutson and his brother Erik married her sister Sarah the year before.”
Berthina lowered her eyebrows. “Why would you remember that Thanksgiving as one of the best?”
“Because Knude and Marit invited the Knutson family over for Thanksgiving.”
“But it was so big and so loud.”
Gunda interrupted Berthina. “Of course. As families unite and they get bigger and – yes – louder. But what a contrast those Thanksgiving days were to those of the past few years here.”
Berthina couldn’t respond.
As they reached to top of the book case, Gunda scanned the silent dining room and thought back to that wonderful Thanksgiving. The sounds of the family filled the house. Laughter and greetings filled Gunda’s mind.
“Gunda!” Nils said.
Gunda snapped out of her trance as she listened to ten-year-old Cora greet the in-laws, the Knutson’s to their festive home.
“We need these train cars painted. We need them done before the end of the night.”
The sounds of laughter and greetings seem to amplify through the villager’s walk-way to the attic. “I was just getting into the Thanksgiving spirit.”
“You know that we always save these quieter tasks for when the in-laws visit so they won’t hear the tapping and pounding noises. So, let’s get going.”
“Oh Nils. You always have to sink the spirit – just like the Titanic.”
Nicholas and Astrid spun around to glower at Gunda after the unfeeling remark about the recent disaster.
Gunda slapped her hands to her mouth. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way, those poor dears.” She turned back to Nils and put her hands on her hips “But you do, Nils. You seem to kill every joyous holiday like this.”
“Look, we are wasting time.”
Nicholas tapped his hand on Nils’ shoulders. “Sometimes we could stop to enjoy moments like these. Remember, this is the reason why we do what we do, to make people happy, to enjoy these happy moments.”
“Yes, yes, I know. But we need these train cars painted to keep on schedule.”
Gunda shook her head in exasperation. “Oh, you and your schedule. You’re so -, oh, I’m going for a walk.”
“But these -.”
“When I get back.”
“Need company?” Astrid asked.
“No,” Gunda said with a sharp voice and left the attic.
Gunda soon found her way to the top of a tall bookcase in Cora’s room and leaned over the edge to get a better glimpse of the crowd around the house. One of the Knutson boy’s ran into the room. She leapt back when she heard a girl’s voice call.
“Where are you?” Cora’s said with a snap. When she got no answer, she ran away from the room and throughout the hall.
A boy, below the book case giggled.
Gunda slipped to hide behind some books, but one of them fell over with a loud snap.
“What was that?” The boy said. “It’s a mouse that came out of that hole up there.”
Gunda felt the book shelf shake while the boy grunted. When the boy climbed up on the shelves, Gunda looked at the hole for her escape. She planned to make her dash to safety. When his hand grasped the top and his brown hair rose up, she froze. Before his eyes reached the top of the bookcase, a stern voice came from the doorway.
“You’re not supposed to be in here. This is the girl’s room. This is my room. And what are you doing on top of my bookshelf? You’re knocking over my National Geographic’s collection.”
“Oh ‘Cranky Cora’, you’re such a busybody.” The boy climbed down as the bookcase shook.
“What if I don’t want to?”
“I’ll tell your mother.”
When Gunda heard the boy leave she gave a loud sigh of relief. To her shock a hand rose over the bookshelf and grabbed her.
Cora eyes widened at the villager in her hand. “Gunda, what are you doing out here?” Cora looked around to make sure no one saw her.
“Oh my, Cora. You’ve given me such a fright.” She placed her hand on her heart. “I needed to take a walk from – well, I -.”
Gunda changed the subject. “I never came close and watched your Thanksgiving celebration before.”
“You want to join us for supper?”
“I would love to, but -.”
“You can be in my dress pocket here.” Cora put Gunda in her left side pocket.
Gunda stood up to peek out of Cora’s pocket. “This will do nicely and – oh my, this is a lovely pink and white dress. And your curls, you look like quite lovely today.”
“Thank you. Mother said the same thing. But an explorer like me would never dress like this, I mean, not every day.”
“I hope your mother doesn’t mind me to be here with you.”
“She may or may not mind. But then, what’s life without a little adventure.”
“We must keep -.” Gunda stopped herself when she heard Cora’s mother, Marit with her son Erik, walk into the hallway next to the door. Cora backed into the room. Both listened in on their conversation.
“Erik, is there anything we could do for her to cheer her up?”
“I’m not sure. I thought Sarah would be happy now that the baby will arrive soon. She was so happy when we learned we were expecting, she literally glowed. She was so excited while preparing for the nursery, the arrival. But now I don’t know why she is so sad.”
Gunda smiled. She understood why his wife became gloomy. To say that Sarah was “great with child” would be a gross understatement. And as Erik had pointed that fact out to everyone, ‘Sarah is so big it’s a surprise she can walk without falling forward.’ And he had said that in front of Sarah.
“You need to remind her that, despite her, shall we say temporary large frame, that she is a beautiful woman.”
“Well, she knows that. I’ve told her that since I first met her.”
“Have you told her recently?”
“I didn’t think I needed to.”
The long pause gave Gunda the image of one of Erik’s mother’s stern looks at her inept son.
Erik cleared his throat. “Well, I guess I better.”
The hallway conversation cut off with the sound a firm jolly voice spoke. “Oh, there you are my boy.”
“Oh, Mr. Knutson,” Erik’s voice rose.
“When are you going to drop this Mr. Knutson business and call me dad?”
“Oh sorry, I’m –.”
“So tell me about this automobile I heard you have recently acquired.”
“Well, I’m not too sure I’m interested in keeping it.”
Erik, mother and Mr. Knutson’s conversation drifted into the living room. Gunda peeked over the edge of the pocket. The adults drifted over to Henrik and Anna, the newlyweds. Anna’s face beamed from the attention. Sarah sat alone, slumped back as her belly stuck up larger than her humongous father’s large frame. Sarah’s face showed no delight towards the surrounding festivities.
Gunda peeked over the dress pocket. “Cora, look over there. Let’s try to cheer Sarah up, shall we?”
“She looks like she doesn’t want to be cheered up.”
“You know you always have the gift to cheer anyone up. Let’s go.”
Cora nodded and made her way towards Sarah. Gunda slipped down and enjoyed the ride and sniffed the Thanksgiving turkey. The living room Victrola played a scratchy version of “We Gather Together.” The Victrola horn could not keep up with the sounds of spirited conversations and younger children having trouble keeping themselves from shouting and being disciplined by older members of their families.
Cora approached her sister-in-law with a bright smile. “Hello Sarah, I’m glad you are with us on this Thanksgiving Day.”
“Oh, hello, thank you.” Sarah gave a sigh.
“You have much to be thankful for today.”
“Oh, like what?”
“Well, you’re very beautiful.”
Sarah gave a sarcastic chuckle and readjusted herself while giving a few grunts and groans.
“I know you worry that people think you’re fat, but you’re not. It’s good that you will have a baby soon. That’s something to be thankful for.”
Sarah sighed. “Thanks kid, I know you’re trying to be helpful but -.”
“You are always beautiful. You looked extra beautiful in your wedding dress last year, but the beauty you have will never go away, even if you’re – well – large right now. I know I’m not supposed to talk about women who are,” she lowered her voice, ‘expecting.’ But Sarah, you are beautiful, you really are.”
“Thank you.” Sarah’s voice reflected no sincerity. “So, how’s your National Geographic collection coming long?” She was obviously trying to change the subject.
“Oh, this month’s issue is about a very interesting place in the -.”
Gunda interrupted Cora with a tug on her dress. “I mean, I have an issue about the wonders of Paris. One day I’m going there and you can come too. Paris is full of beautiful women and you would fit right in.”
“Oh, Cora, thank you. You’re very kind.” Sarah again readjusted herself with more grunts.
Cora moved closer to reach up and put her hands on Sarah’s face. “You really are very beautiful. You are as beautiful as my Grandmother, whose name was also Sarah. I guess all Sarah’s are beautiful.” When Cora lowered her hands, Sarah reached and pulled Cora into a firm hug so that Gunda was pressed hard against the baby bump.
“Oh, Cora, you are so sweet. You are something. And I’m very thankful for you and –, oh.”
The baby kicked back at Gunda. “Whoops.”
Sarah pushed Cora away and rubbed the huge belly. “Something in your pocket is –, oh.”
Gunda stood up and her eyes met Sarah’s.
“Oh, hello – I’m not sure which one you are,” Sarah said with a confused expression.
“This is Gunda,” Cora said with a broad smile.
“Oh – hello Gunda.”
“You remember, Nil’s wife.”
“You mean crabby Nils who –.” Sarah trailed off as she saw the expression on Gunda’s face glaring at Cora, “which I am sure is greatly exaggerated.”
“Well, not today!” Gunda peeked over Cora’s pocket to make sure no one heard her exclaim.
Sarah looked around to see that no one from her family observed their conversation.
Cora gave Sarah a bright smile. “Gunda will join us for Thanksgiving.”
“How? If my family finds out, they’ll –.”
Cora chuckled. “Oh, I remember what happened to you when you first saw Nicholas and you –.”
Gunda interrupted Cora with a sharp poke.
Sarah laughed. “It was unfortunate that no one had one of those new-fangled Kodak cameras ready. I would have liked to have seen the spectacle from another angle and –.”
“Cora,” Erik said as he approached, “you’re not getting Sarah overly exhausted, are you?”
“If you are here to say how beautiful Sarah is, it’s too late. We have already discussed the matter, a matter you should have discussed earlier – and several times.”
“Now see here. I’ve always thought Sarah is beautiful. And what’s this?” Erik’s eyes met Gunda’s. “Does mother know you have her out here?”
“Oh Erik,” Sarah said and softly touched the back of his hand. Her voice changed to command the situation. “Gunda will join us for Thanksgiving dinner. I hope you’ll not make a spectacle of yourself, and certainly not at Cora’s expense.”
“I, well, keep her hidden so mother doesn’t find out. By the way, does Nils know that she’s here?”
His little sister lowered her eyebrows. “Please, save your breath Erik, I’m not that stupid.”
“Cora,” her mother called from the kitchen door.
Cora jumped. “What?”
“Help me bring some of these dishes out to the table.”
“Yes mother.” Cora rose from her chair.
“Maybe you could let Gunda help you with the dishes,” Erik said in a sarcastic tone.
“Maybe she’ll do a better job of that then you can, dear brother.” Cora walked away. Gunda heard Sarah say. “She has become quite a young lady.”
“Yeah,” Erik said, “she seems to be getting a bit too big for her britches.”
Before Gunda moved out of earshot, she heard a smacking sound and Erik said, “Ouch.”
With the table set, the family and guests did not wait for a second invitation as they all gathered around the table and sat down. Cora found herself at a smaller table filled with younger Knutson children.
Knude stood at the end of the table, “Before I say a prayer, I would like to share my thoughts about family as we gather on this joyous Thanksgiving Day. As children we all remember that special feeling of togetherness around the table and share with each other what we have to be thankful for. I’m so glad that the Knutson family accepted our invitation and join us here today.” The Gudmundson family applauded. “And as our names show we have the same forefathers who no doubt believed in the love and togetherness that binds our families together.
“I firmly believe, as my dear friend Charles here,” Knude said and gestured towards Sarah’s father, “that family is important. Families bind us together and keep us happy and healthy. And even though last year we welcomed new people into our family, and gave many thanks for this, I also want to give thanks for new members who will join us next year,” Knude gestured towards Sarah. Everyone turned to look at Sarah and she smiled back as Erik reached to put his arm around her shoulder.
“So, as we all gather here, I hope we can enjoy this day in hopes it will bring out the best in us, despite the intense hunger we are now facing. Let us pray.”
Gunda looked over Cora’s pocket to see the large gathering in the dining room. They all closed their eyes and lowered their heads when Knude gave the Thanksgiving Day prayer. Gunda knew she had plenty to be thankful for – to be a part of the family Thanksgiving Day gathering. Though Nils, as well as the others in the attic would not appreciate the scene Gunda gazed upon. She smiled, knowing there would be many more Thanksgiving gatherings in this house.
The prayer ended, the guests talked, and passed the many dishes to each other. Gunda scooted down to make sure no one saw her, the sounds of family, was enough for her.
Berthina brought Gunda out of her reminiscence. “But having so many people, it was big and loud,”
“Yes, families unite and they get bigger and – yes – louder. And what a contrast that was to the Thanksgivings of the past few years here with Christina alone – her mother and father gone, her only brother far way. Which Thanksgiving Day would you prefer?”
Berthina said nothing.
Astrid snapped her fingers. “We will invite the Thoen family next year. Good idea, Gunda.”
They entered the rectangular passageway to that village in the attic. The passage was so small that only one villager could pass at a time. Berthina followed Astrid and Gunda brought up the rear. Gunda no longer felt depressed from the quiet, darkened dining room. If the Thoen family was like Holly and Jake, Christina would have a happy Thanksgiving Day. And as Astrid said that would have to do for now.
“Astrid!” The villagers called as she came into view from the passageway.
Astrid embraced Gunda. “Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Happy Thanksgiving to you too Astrid, and to you Berthina.”
Gunda smiled as Astrid walked into the attic, surrounded by her family and friends. It truly was a happy Thanksgiving Day after all.