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This page last viewed: 2017-08-15 and has been viewed 2062 times
TITLE: Be Ever So Thankful ©2000
AUTHOR: SherryGabs SherryGabs@aol.com
ARCHIVE: Yes/with comment card
DISCLAIMER: I don't own them, just play with them.
WARNINGS: Lots of angst. Mention of blood.
Be Ever So Thankful
SUMMARY: Thanksgiving brings reflections and enlightenment to our favorite orphan boy. Told in first person.
"Templeton, it's so nice of you to give up your time to help us out today. It seems there's so much extra work involved with holiday dinners. An extra pair of hands is always welcome." Sister Margaret dished up more mashed potatoes into the serving bowl.
"I'm happy to help out. There will be plenty of time for me to catch up with my friends later." Sister Margaret handed me the bowl and I carried it, along with another dish of gravy, out to the dining hall. The sixty or so children gathered around the tables were boisterous, excited about the holiday season.
The meal was in full swing. I glanced around the table I was in charge of making sure nothing else was needed before I sat down myself. Before the big meal, everyone had gathered in the sanctuary for the traditional Thanksgiving service. Father Maghill gave his annual message about what we should be thankful for. I'd heard it all before and had a hard time keeping my attention on the priest I'd known most of my life.
It made me think back to when I was………what? Ten? Father Maghill thought he'd try something different. He asked for volunteers to stand up and give their own reasons for being thankful. The sanctuary became so still. The Father was looking around, and I could tell he was a bit disturbed at all the blank faces staring back at him. Mine included. Finally, one of the sisters stood up and said she was thankful we had a Savior who showed us unconditional love. Another sister stood up and gave thanks for the power of prayer. This at least started a small ball rolling. Jimmy got up and said he was thankful for having food every day. Carrie said she was thankful for having a place to live. Carrie had told me she had a daddy, but he couldn't take care of her. He drank a lot and they had had to live in their car most of the time. Until her daddy got beat up and the car was stolen.
A few more children gave more of the same kinds of small thanks. But most of us just stared straight ahead, unsmiling, wishing we had something more to offer. Father Maghill decided to spare us the discomfort and went on with his usual message. For as long as I was living at the orphanage, he never tried doing that again.
The meal was winding down. A few of the kids at my table were talking about decorating for Christmas over the weekend and what ornaments they were going to make to hang on the tree. I smiled, remembering some of the awful looking ornaments I had made to contribute every year. The little boy who sat at the end of the table drew my attention. I'd noticed he'd mostly just picked at his food. He looked sad, sitting there with his arm propping his head up. He seemed to be deep in thought, unaware of what was going on around him. He didn't move when the sisters dismissed the children to go out for playtime.
His tousled brown hair and big brown eyes made me think of Murdock. He must have looked a lot like that as a child. I went over to the boy and sat down next to him.
"Don't you want to go outside to play?" I asked him quietly.
He lifted his head up, stared down at his plate and shook his head. His chin started quivering and his eyes filled with tears. Oh great! How do I handle this? I looked around for help. Or maybe an escape route. The sisters and other volunteers were all busy clearing tables, which left me to handle this situation. I'm hardly an expert at dealing with crying kids, but I couldn't just leave him like this.
"Um, uh, my name's Templeton. What's your's?"
The boy sniffled. "Ronny."
I thought back to how the sisters would comfort me when I was upset about something. What would they say? "What's the matter, Ronny?"
Ronny wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, then slid his nose across his sleeve. He looked up at me and bit his lip, appearing to be uncertain of me. Guess I couldn't blame him for that, since we'd just met.
"I grew up here, you know," I told him. "I came here when I was five. How old were you when you got here." I knew he couldn't have been here since infancy. Babies were always adopted quickly.
"Six," he said, sniffling again. "I'm nine now." He paused, and I could tell from his expression he wanted to ask something. I waited patiently until he got up the nerve. "You were never adopted?"
Oh boy, how do I answer this without making the kid feel hopeless. Think. Think! Unable to come up with some words of wisdom, I sighed and just spoke. "No. I was never adopted."
"Paulie was adopted a few days ago. He was my best friend, and now he's gone," Ronny said sadly, his tears starting again.
Now here was something I was very familiar with. How many friends had I lost as child as they were adopted out? Leaving me behind, wishing and hoping someone would take me. "Yeah, I know how that feels," was all I could say.
"It's not fair!" Ronny shouted angrily. "I have to lose my friends, and I'm still stuck here!" He got up and ran out of the hall.
Well, Temp, you certainly handled that well. Could this day get any worse? The depression I woke up with that morning came back full force. I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up. Father Maghill stood there, an understanding look on his face. Had he heard the whole thing?
"Don't worry about Ronny," he said. "I'll talk to him. I've had to do it so many times before, it's old hat."
"I guess I should have left him to an expert," I responded lamely.
Father Maghill chuckled and sat down next to me. "I seem to remember having the same talk with you." I smiled remembering some of the many talks we'd had. As busy as the Father's job was, he always found time for one-on-one time with the children.
"Templeton, why are you here and not with your friends? Not that I'm not happy to have you here, it's just a bit unusual for you to volunteer for kitchen duty."
The question shook me. How could he read me so well? I couldn’t tell him the truth. The reason didn't even make sense. It was kind of silly actually.
"I just thought it was about time I gave back to the people who took care of me for so long." That would work. I even surprised myself with how good it sounded.
He nodded, impressed with my answer. But did he buy it? I couldn't tell. He didn't push the issue, at least.
"Well, I better go find Ronny," he said, getting up. "It would be nice to see you at Christmas mass if you're free."
"Thanks," I told him, not promising one way or the other. Then a pang of guilty conscience stung me and I revised my answer. "I'll be there."
He squeezed my shoulder as he passed. "Goodbye, Templeton."
Staring after the aging man a moment I'm realizing how much I care for him. The man raised me from a child to a high school graduate, and I probably never let him know what he's meant to me. More depressed than ever, I gather up some of the dishes from the table and take them into the kitchen. Sister Margaret tells me I can go if I want. They had plenty of help for clean up. I get my jacket and head out to my vette. Looking at my watch, I figure by the time I get to Maggie's dinner will already be over and the guys would have a football game on the TV.
Hannibal hadn't been too pleased when I told him I wouldn't be there for Thanksgiving dinner. The Team usually spent holidays together. He even tried ordering me to be there. When that didn't work, he tried a guilt trip saying Maggie was going to a lot of trouble, BA's mother was coming from Chicago, Amy had come from New York at a special request from Murdock. It was going to be special this year. Why did I have to screw it up!?
It wasn't the fact that I'd offered to help at the orphanage. That was just an excuse not to be there for the Team's dinner. I'd only volunteered the night before. It wasn't that I'd be the only one without a family member or a date to accompany him, a date was easy enough to get. No, it's something harmless and silly that I just didn't want to go through this year.
It was Hannibal's tradition that each one of them tell the others what they're thankful for. He'd started it the Thanksgiving after they'd escaped from prison. I'd never known Hannibal to be very spiritual, but it seemed important to him to acknowledge the fact they'd all lived through the war and regained our freedom, such as it was. Murdock had missed the first one. We still hadn't known which veteran's hospital he'd been committed to. But every year since, he was eager to give his long ramble of everything he had reason to give thanks for. Even BA found new reasons every year. Me? I couldn't come up with much as a kid, and found it just as hard now.
Every year I'd mumble the perfunctory thank you's for surviving the war, not being in prison, having friends, etc., etc. But this year was different. I didn't want to have to say the same things over again, and it seemed hypocritical to make up new things without really meaning them. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. So the easiest thing to do was just avoid it altogether. I told him to go ahead and eat at the normal time and to expect me around three or four o'clock. I'll probably get a lecture from Hannibal when I get there, but what the hell?
I love my vette. Did I ever give thanks for it? No, too shallow. I love the way it handles on these curvy country roads. I know I'm going too fast, but it's so much fun. What the…….? A dog! I hit the brakes and try to swerve around the animal. What the hell's it doing on the road? The car's tires find the gravel at the side of the road and I can't control where the car's going now. Panic is grabbing me and I know I'm overcompensating. I feel the car slipping over the enbankment and tipping. I know the car's rolling by the fact that I'm being thrown around like a sock in a washing machine. My head hits something and I only see blackness.
Awareness slowly returns to me. Am I dead? It's still so dark. I can hear myself breathing. I'm not dead. I don't think death would hurt this much. Why is it dark? Open your eyes, idiot! Slowly opening my eyes in the bright sunlight, the first thing I see looking straight up is the tree I'm lying under and the blue sky around it. Looking down at the ground, I see a twisted bumper and glitter from broken glass. I know I need to look where the rest of me is. The part that's still in the car. I guess I should consider myself lucky the car didn't roll completely over on me. It's on its side. A good gust of wind could bring it down on me.
My upper half is on the ground. My left arm is twisted underneath me, but I can't move to free it. My lower half is in the car. The steering wheel and smashed up front end have my legs trapped from the thighs down. I'm splattered here and there with blood and from the warm stickiness on my face and head, I know I'm still bleeding. I'm also acutely aware of the tremendous pain I feel all over.
The car phone. I can see the cord, but it goes down underneath my legs. If I can just reach it, to try to pull it out. My shaking right hand reaches out, but not far enough. With a great effort, I try to push myself forward, only to hear myself scream in pain and fall into darkness again.
I must be dreaming. It's too cloudy to be real. I look around and see bamboo cages. I'm standing in the middle of them. I recognize the one I had shared with the Team. They're in it. No. We're in it. I'm there, too. Hannibal is holding me, telling me, "Everything will be all right, Son." He called me Son a lot during those times. Even a few times since. BA is trying to clean the cuts on my back with the small amount of water we were allowed. Murdock is there, handing BA what he asks for. He, along with Hannibal are whispering words of encouragement and comfort. It was almost a daily ritual. Whichever one of us had been chosen for questioning, the other three were always there to bring comfort.
We were one hell of a team in battle, too. We protected each other. Knew what we were supposed to do. Of course, not everything went perfect. I'm sitting up in a tree now, watching myself and BA carry the colonel through the jungle. I know Murdock's waiting with the chopper just a few clicks away. I know, because I was there.
My eyes open again. The sky isn't as bright. It's getting colder. Must be early evening. The pain is still there and I'm feeling much weaker now. It's getting harder and harder to breathe. I know I should stay awake, but it's so hard. Why hasn't anyone found me? I must be pretty well hidden from the road. I know the guys will eventually start looking when I don't show up at Maggie's. What can I do to stay alert? I know. I'll do what we did with BA when we accidentally gave him a concussion after hitting him in the head with a piece of wood. Why is he so afraid to fly? Of course, I can't walk, but I can sing. "You are my sunshine," Breathe. "My only sun-sun," Breathe. "shine. You m-m." Breathe Face, breathe. Okay, singing's out. My eyes are so heavy. Why doesn't anyone come?
I must have fallen asleep again, because I'm dreaming again. I'm sitting in the back of the van. The other me hands Hannibal a cigar and offers a light. Murdock is antagonizing BA, and BA is threatening violence. I love watching those two go at it. Murdock always makes me laugh and BA feels the need to protect me a lot. Looking at the three of us, I see us as what brothers should be like. Hannibal watches over us like a mother hen. No, not a mother hen. That's too clingy. More like a father watches over his sons. Giving them space, yet not letting them stray too far. From the perspective I'm at now, I wondered why I never noticed these small things before.
Maybe that's my whole problem. I don't pay enough attention to personal things. I have blinders on when it comes to relationships. Keeping them at a distance that I'm comfortable with. Not opening myself up to disappointment. Too afraid of being left behind.
The anguish I'm feeling is almost too much. I need to let them know. I have to live through this and let them know how much I appreciate them, and need them. Admit it, Face……….How THANKFUL you are to have them in your life! How could I have been so blind all these years? They've given me hundreds of reasons to be thankful. Not only them, but also Father Maghill and the sisters who'd guided me through my early years. All of them played crucial parts in getting me through my life. I have to let them know. I can't die until they know how important they are to me. I need to wake up. If I don't, I'll die.
"I think he's coming around," the voice said.
Who was that? I want to come fully awake, but it's so hard. Like climbing out of the grave. I hear movement and more voices. I can breathe easier now. Just a little farther to go.
"Face? Come on, sweetie. Wake up!"
I recognize the voice now. It's Maggie. My eyes finally open. She smiles down at me. "Welcome back." She takes the oxygen mask off my face, and puts a straw to my lips. Water never tasted so good. "How you feeling?" she asks.
How am I feeling? I remember the car wreck and the pain. I also remember the dreams. I know she's waiting for me to tell her where it hurts. But the only thing I can think of is "Grateful."
That throws her for a loop. She looks at someone on the other side of me. I turn my head and see Hannibal. Murdock and BA walk up beside him. Hannibal takes my hand. "You really had us worried, Kid. When you didn't show up, I called the orphanage. They said you'd left a few hours before. And when we couldn’t get through on your car phone we went out searching. It took a few more hours to find you. You were barely alive. I'm sorry we didn't get there sooner, Son."
Son. I feel tears stinging my eyes. "I knew you wouldn't give up," I tell him.
Murdock lays a tentative hand on my leg. I don't feel it. "You in a lot of pain, Face?"
Actually, I don't feel much pain at all. I do find, however, that I can't move my legs or left arm. They're heavy. I look at them and see they're in plaster casts. Looks like I won't be dancing for a while. "No. There's not much pain at all."
"You're a very lucky man, Face," Maggie tells me. "You had a pretty nasty concussion and lost a lot of blood. Your left arm had a compound fracture and your legs are broken in a few places and cut up pretty bad. You've been unconscious since you got here about eight hours ago. You're going to be out of commission for at least a couple of months."
I smile weakly at her. "It's okay. Thanks."
BA chuckled. "Half expected you to be whinin' bout that. You musta really hit your head hard."
I look into his eyes. "BA? Did I ever say thanks for keeping me from getting my head bashed in by a lot of the goons we put away? Or for the way you helped take care me in the camp? You always do your best to protect me. I'll never forget that. Thank you."
BA flustered, obviously embarrassed. "No problem, lil bro."
"Maggie, you sure you didn't put MY blood in him? You're acting pretty funny, Facey," Murdock's smile was warm if a bit lopsided.
"I'd be proud to have your blood in me. It's you who keeps the rest of us sane. Everyone should have your kind of craziness. The world would be a much better place." Murdock's eyes widened, he looked to Hannibal for help.
"Face, what's with all this talk?" Hannibal asks me. "You're going to be fine."
"I know." I can tell I'm making them uncomfortable. They're just not used to hearing me speak so openly. But I have to let them know.
"Did I ever tell you how much I like it when you call me Son? Sometimes, I think of you as the father I never had. I know I wasn't exactly the model soldier when you took me in. But you kept me in line and taught me what devotion means. You never let any of us down. I only hope I can live up to your example."
I've never seen Hannibal speechless. His eyes misted over and his jaw tightened. He took a sharp intake of breath and squeezed my hand.
There, I said what I needed to say. At least part of it. There was so much more, but I don't think they could've handled anymore. I'll tell them later. I think I have them a little concerned, but I feel a whole lot better. As soon as I'm able I'll call Father Maghill and have a long talk with him, too.
"Um," Maggie sniffles, and wipes her cheek. "I want to check you over again real quick and then I want you to get some rest." She looks at the others. "We could all use some sleep. Guys, you go on to bed."
They each say goodnight and touch my only unbroken limb before they turn to leave. Before they could walk out the door I have to say it. "Guys?" They turn back around. I give them the warmest smile I can muster. "Happy Thanksgiving."
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