Thanksgiving was the same as always - turkey, dressing (dry and moist), mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, avocados stuffed with chutney, cranberry relish, apple pie - except that Margot was still in Florence, and Molly had stayed in Ann Arbor in order to be with Tejinder. Dan, Meg's husband, had taken the car to get gassed up for the trip back to Milwaukee. Meg had put the boys down for a nap and was helping him with the dishes. Rudy was washing and she was drying bowls and plastic containers and wooden spoons-all the stuff that didn't go in the dishwasher-and spreading them out on towels on the kitchen table.
She and Dan had just bought a house up in Milwaukee, and when she said, "Pop, uh, we've, uh, been kind of wondering," Rudy thought she was going to ask him for some money, which he didn't have enough of. But she said, "We've, uh, kind of been wondering about having Christmas in Milwaukee this year."
Rudy rinsed off his hands, dried them on a dish towel, and poured himself another cup of coffee from the pot on the stove. He wasn't sure who was included in the "we."
She started to talk a little faster. Now that Philip was in first grade and little Danny was starting nursery school, she said, she needed to get out of the house. She'd joined the newly formed National Organization for Women, she said, and she was going to start working for a firm of young lawyers in Shorewood-Berlin, Killion, and Wagner-and expected to be very busy getting her feet on the ground; she'd be lucky to get Christmas Day off. Molly was working hard too and would probably be staying in Ann Arbor anyway, Meg explained, so he knew they'd already talked it over. The train schedule was really impossible, and Molly had sold her car, and TJ had relatives in Detroit. But all he, Rudy, would have to do-and Margot, if she ever got back from Italy-was hop on a train in Union Station and he'd be in Milwaukee in about ninety minutes if he didn't feel like driving, or if the weather was bad.
Rudy's life - or maybe it was just Life - had always had a way of sneaking up on him, catching him by surprise. He'd think a chapter was about over, and then it would go on and on. Or he'd think he was in the middle of a chapter, and all of a sudden it would stop. It hadn't been so bad when he was young, because most of the chapters had been ahead of him; but at Rudy's age, six zero, there weren't so many chapters left. He hated to see a good one come to an end, which was what was happening.
"Well," he said, looking down into his empty coffee cup, "suit yourself, if that's what you really want." This was a phrase he'd used a lot when the girls were in their teens. One of them - usually Molly - would want to hitchhike out to California with her boyfriend, and he'd say: "Suit yourself, if that's what you really want."
And that's the way they left it, because just as Meg was about to say something that might have settled Christmas one way or another, Dan came in the back door, kicking snow off his boots, saying that the weather was looking bad and they ought to get going before it got dark.
After they'd gone Rudy sat down in the kitchen and started to work seriously on a bottle of pretty good Chianti that was still sitting on the table, imagining what Christmas would be like in Milwaukee, or here in Chicago with just him and the dogs, and maybe Margot, and by the time he got to the bottom of the bottle he'd pretty well convinced himself that he ought to sell the house and go down to Texas and buy Creaky Wilson's avocado grove. Creaky had died of a heart attack in September, just at the start of the season, and Maxine, Creaky's widow, had called to see if he was interested or knew anyone who might be interested. Rudy'd never raised avocados, but he'd raised peaches and apples with his dad, and he'd been handling Becker's avocado account for thirty years. Most avocados come from California - thick-skinned Fuertes and Hasses-but Rudy preferred the thin-skinned Texas Lula, pear-shaped with creamy sweet flesh. Well, he thought, swirling the last of the Chianti in the bottom of his glass, it would be a good way of making them-his three daughters-appreciate what it meant to come home for Christmas to the place you grew up in.
Copyright © 2006 by Robert Hellenga
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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