Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: PUZZLE (11/24/16)
TITLE: The Thanksgiving Day Stranger
By Leola Ogle
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Thanksgiving ten years ago was a little different. My mother had had a rough year. She had buried two husbands – my father and my stepfather – both good men. She had married a third time to a scoundrel who took her money and left her depressed and wounded.
I had an idea for something to cheer Mom up. I sent an email to a local news station, saying we would have five generations, all born in Phoenix, at our house on Thanksgiving. I immediately got a phone call informing me they’d be delighted to do a news segment on us. “It’s a great human interest story, and as long as there’s no breaking news, we’ll be there.”
The word spread. Family who didn’t normally show up called to ask if they could come over. Nieces, nephews. I began to get nervous. It wasn’t unusual for someone to bring extra people with them – “He/she/they had nowhere to spend Thanksgiving,” but now the list had grown to fifty people. My house wasn’t big enough.
“We’ll put tables and chairs outside. The weather will be nice,” my daughter, Stephanie, said. Good idea. One puzzle solved. Usually the children played outside, but some adults would have to be outside, too.
I admit I felt a bit stressed. We were going to be on television. But people arrived, and things were going smoothly. I was grateful for a loving, low-drama family. The only hitch was my ex-sister-in-law showed up. She and my brother had divorced ten years prior – an amiable divorce – but I had only seen her a few times in ten years. I loved her dearly, but wondered if my brother’s new wife was okay with the ex being there. I hugged my ex-sister-in-law in passing, and forgot about it.
The news reporter and cameraman arrived. I walked them around, pointing out people and things, while they filmed and talked. They fixed a plate of food. I was nervous because people were clamoring to be filmed, but the news people seemed used to it and just breezed along.
It was the third time a middle-aged man spoke to me before I wondered who he was. I was scooping more mashed potatoes into a bowl on the table while the news people were outside when the stranger complimented my cooking. I gave him a puzzled look, and said, “Thank you. Help yourself to more.” He refilled his plate and walked outside.
Tammy and Stephanie, my oldest daughters, were sitting nearby and looked at me with bewildered expressions. “Who is that, Mom?” Stephanie asked.
“I don’t know. I guess he didn’t come with either of you?”
Tammy looked at Stephanie and they both laughed. “Mom,” Tammy snorted. “What if he just came in off the street?”
“Then go find out who he is?” I waved a spoon at them.
I forgot the puzzle of who the stranger was when the reporter asked me to step outside so she could get a picture of the five generations, and a brief interview with me. Once this was finished, the reporter had everyone gather for a group photo. “You have such a large family,” she said to me.
I nodded, my eyes searching for the stranger. He gathered with everyone for the group picture, but didn’t appear to be with any one person. Maybe he had drifted in from the neighborhood.
The reporter announced they were finished. “It will be on the six and ten o’clock news tonight,” the reporter told me. I hugged her and the cameraman because I was nervous, hugging is what I do, and saying thanks seemed inadequate.
I breathed a sigh of relief that everything went smoothly. The stranger hadn’t entered my mind again until he walked up and said, “That was nice.” The puzzlement returned. My daughters shrugged when they saw me looking at them. One mouthed, “Who is he?” I returned the shrug.
People gathered their families, preparing to leave. I was busy hugging people and saying goodbye when my ex-sister-in-law walked up, stranger by her side. “Have you met my husband?”
Husband? She’d remarried? “Honestly, I was beginning to think you’d wandered in from off the street.” I said.
They looked at each other and laughed. “You’re funny,” she said.
Ten years and they’ve not been back to my house. But neither has a news crew.
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