Wrinkled Potatoes and Old Tomatoes
A Brat Pack Thanksgiving
Disclaimer: I wasn’t going to keep them for myself…I’m sharing Twentieth Century’s original characters.
Author’s Note 1: This Brat story is especially for Jazzi, in appreciation for her kind comments and encouragement to all the other stories in the series. You said you wouldn’t pressure me for a Thanksgiving story so I decided to surprise you.
Author’s Note 2: I don’t know when the celebration of Thanksgiving became a standard occasion and I really don’t give a flip, this is after all fiction and that word tells you…it’s all made up!
Author’s Note 3: I know nothing about British royalty and titles. I have no idea if it’s possible for that an Earl of Cornwall to have visited American during the time frame of this story…so take it for what it is fiction!
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“How many Indians will be there, Papa?” Johnny inquired while bouncing with excess energy on Ha’s lap, as the Lancer surrey traveled to the Conway ranch for Thanksgiving dinner.
“Indians? Johnny, why would you think Indians were going to be at Henry and Aggie Conway’s Thanksgiving dinner?” questioned Papa.
“Cause Squat said so!” revealed Johnny with an indignant scowl towards his brother.
“I did not,” Scott protested as he rolled his eyes and shook his head in denial, and then whispered, “Babies can be so dumb.”
“Johnny not a baby! Squat, you’re being a bad carrot! Squat did telled Johnny there were Indians cause the Pill Grins was thanking them!” Johnny grunted as Ha, seized by a moment of unmitigated grandfatherly bliss, joyously squeezed and cuddled the toddler.
Scott clenched his jaw, pursing his lips tightly as he tried to rein in his temper before he got in trouble with his father. “I told you there were Indians at the very first Thanksgiving because the Pilgrims invited them to share their good bounty from their fall Harvest. It was their way of thanking them for showing them how to hunt and grow food in the new world.”
“Oh…will the Pill Grins be there?”
Groaning in exasperation and scrubbing his hands over his face, Scott replied, “I told you all the pilgrims are dead now. “
Johnny’s mouth dropped open and crossing his arms tightly over his chest, he huffed angrily, “Then why Johnny had to take a bath and wear his Sunday clothes if there’s no Indians and the Pill Grins is dead.”
Ha chuckled and drew both boys in for a hug as he explained. “We gather together for a feast of Thanksgiving to remember the hard work, sacrifice and perseverance that went into building this country. It’s a time to give thanks for all we have. By dressing in our finest clothes and sharing our food we are able to appreciate and see how blessed we are.”
“That’s not fun! Do Johnny get presents with Thanksgiving dinner?” inquired the dissatisfied child.
Ha snickered and nuzzled Johnny’s neck as he announced, “I have a feeling you will never like organized fun…you’re a spontaneous personality.”
Visions of his energetic youngest running amuck and causing chaos had Murdoch slowing the surrey and pulling to a stop at the side of the road, just before the turn into the Conway’s entrance. “No, you do not get presents with Thanksgiving dinner! However, I will be happy to give you an ultimatum with your Thanksgiving meal…You both better be on your best behavior. The same rules that apply at our house apply here, especially your table manners. If you break the rules…well Aggie has a barn just like we do and I will not hesitate to take you to the barn for a ‘talk’! Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Papa,” the Lancer brothers answered in unison. They both knew what a talk in the barn meant…and it was to be avoided at all costs to life, limb and tender backsides.
Worry shrouded Murdoch’s face as he glanced at his father-in-law. “I tried to tell Aggie this might not be the best idea, having a dinner that included the children at the same time, especially since I understand she is going to have some rather important visitors.”
“Relax, Murdoch, you know how organized Aggie is. She’s very good at keeping things under control.”
Picking up the reins and giving them a snap, Murdoch replied, “I’ll relax when we get through dinner without any drama or theatrics.”
As the surrey approached the house, the mouth watering scents of a sumptuous meal could be smelled wafting through the air. The kitchen window at the end of the house was raised open a few inches and vapors of white steam could be seen escaping and floating upward in the cooler outside air, testament to the fact the kitchen was warm due to all the preparations.
“Yummy!” Johnny exclaimed as he raised his head and sniffed the delicious aroma; his tummy growled, prompting the toddler to add, “Johnny hungry! But Johnny don’t want Papa’s tomatoes.”
Before anyone could question the tyke about his curious statement, the front door open and Henry Conway appeared to greet the family and escort them in the house. Happy salutations and handshakes were exchanged as the Lancers were ushered into the foyer. Scott, right by his father’s side, marched in ramrod straight, brushing his fine blond hair in place. Johnny was safely held on Ha’s hip, quietly sucking his thumb as he glanced about, his sharp eyes noting several things of interest. A maid stepped forward to assist the family with their coats. Ha started to hand Johnny off to Murdoch so he could remove his own jacket when Aggie appeared in the foyer from the parlor.
“Miss Aggie,” Johnny squealed in a high pitched little boy voice that could crack rocks, as he struggled to be set down. “Johnny comed even if there ain’t no Indians here and the Pill Grins are dead.”
Mrs. Conway intercepted the transfer of Johnny from Ha to his father. She clutched the little boy to her and hugged him heartily, chuckling when he giggled and kicked his feet, sending one of his little boots flying off his foot, as her warm lips nuzzled at his neck, just under his ear. Henry bent and retrieved the little shoe, and then lifted Johnny from Aggie’s arms so she could greet Scott with the same enthusiasm.
“Come on in the parlor and meet our other guests,” Aggie instructed as she herded the new arrivals in the ornate sitting room.
Henry strode to his brown leather chair and sat down with Johnny in his lap and began to work Johnny’s boot back onto his foot.
“I’d like you to meet Henry’s cousin, the Earl of Cornwall and his wife Lady Victoria,” Aggie indicated a rather austere looking couple seated in side by side wing backed chairs. “My Lord and My Lady, this is Murdoch Lancer and his father-in-law Harlan Garrett.” Turning to the two occupants of the sofa, “And of course you know Berry and Reba Todd,” she announced as she pointed to the wrinkled octogenarian couple from the community of Green River. The town’s oldest residents looked common and down trodden in their simple cotton clothes next to the silks and brocades of the Cornwalls.
Henry grunted as he finally managed to slide Johnny’s boot in place. Never having a pretentious bone in his body, Henry addressed his titled cousin with the same familiarity he had when they were children, causing the Lady Cornwall to sneer in disgust at such blatant disregard for etiquette. “Corny, the troops Murdoch brought with him are his sons.” Pointing to Scott, he stated, “The serious looking chap standing next to his father is General Nuisance and this little guy, in my lap, is Major Trouble,” Mr. Conway teased as he used the pet names he had given the boys. He had informed his cousin, in a letter, of the bedlam that ensued after he and Aggie had kept the boys one time and barely survived the pandemonium of Johnny with the added chaos of Scott trying to rectify his baby brother’s destructive accidents.
A disdainful sniff preceded the comment by the Lady Victoria. “I hardly think it appropriate to blame children for their social failings. One could hardly expect them to function in adult settings when they are quite obviously of the age to still be in their nursery attended by a qualified nanny to instruct them in the art of comporting themselves in a gentlemanly manner,” she stated, her contemptuous frown tightening the muscles of her face giving her a hard visage.
From his perch on Henry’s lap, Johnny, even though he was young, could detect the uneasy air the well-dressed woman’s words had caused. He studied her face for a moment, it looked pinched in pain and her eyes were narrowed into slits, kind of like Squat’s were on Sundays when Papa made him wear his dress shoes that he claimed hurt his toes when he tried to run and play after church. When Squat wore those shoes he wasn’t always nice, he decided that might be this lady’s problem and he knew just how to fix it.
Sliding off Henry’s lap the toddler approached the woman, snatched up the skirt of her dress, revealing the frilly lace of her pantaloons that reached down to her knees and asked, “Are the fancy lady acting so mean cause your shoes hurts your toes?”
Lady Victoria shrieked in horror at having her legs and unmentionables exposed to all. Her startled scream ended abruptly with a dramatic faint that caused her to tumble from her seat shrouding Johnny in the voluminous layers of silk as he was unable to move out of the way in time. The other occupants of the room were frozen in stunned disbelief except for Harlan who rushed to his baby grandson’s aid when he heard a muffled cry for help.
Lady Victoria regained consciousness in time to see Harlan Garrett lifting her dress with one hand and reaching under the cloth with the other. “Unhand me, you demoralized fiend,” she commanded as she dug her heels into the rug and scooted backwards to avoid further mishandling. Moving backwards, she wasn’t aware the small cherry wood drink cart sat behind her, she rammed into it and upset it. The cart crashed over with a stupendous cacophony of shattering glass and splashing liquid. Turning she braced her hands on the sturdy wooden cart to push herself up from the floor, once she gained her balance she fled the room, stumbling drunkenly as her pantaloons, which had been partially pulled down by the friction of her scooting, fell to her feet impeding her progress. She finally escaped the scene of her mortification, her humiliated sobs echoing down the staircase as she fled upward.
“Hey look,” Johnny exclaimed, pointing to the frilly white pantaloons lying on the floor, “The fancy lady left her underwears instead of her shoe like Cindyella.”
“Aggie, I am so sorry…I…I…Johnny didn’t mean to…” Murdoch stuttered, his eyes beseeching understanding.
“Oh…my,” Aggie managed to reply in between giggles. “I think this is a new record for Johnny, it took less than thirty minutes from his arrival for trouble to find Johnny.”
Nervous laughs sounded around the room as all eyes turned to Lord Cornwall to judge his reaction to the catastrophe. The English gentleman sat calmly sipping his drink. His eyes twinkled with merriment as he faced the others and stated, “I do believe this trip to the former colonies is turning out to be just what Victoria needed. I haven’t seen so much life and action in the old girl in years. I had no idea she could move so fast.”
Uproarious laughter erupted over the Cornwall’s remark. The tense situation was forgotten as mirth overtook everyone but the Todds. Johnny studied the others, and then approached the aged couple.
Crawling up onto the sofa and sitting in between the Todds, Johnny struck up a conversation with them while Ha spoke with the Earl and the Conways and Papa picked up the drink cart. “Hello, did you know there’s not gonna be Indians here and all the Pill Grins are dead?”
The Todds smiled at the beguiling toddler, but it was Reba that answered him. “Yes, dear we knew.”
“Why are all the Pill Grins dead but there are still Indians?” Johnny asked, cocking his head to the side and placing his thumb in his mouth, he studied the old lady with inquisitive but sparkling eyes.
“Well, sonny, there are still Indians because there are many different tribes and all the Pilgrims are dead because the first Thanksgiving was a long time ago and people don’t live that many years, they would be very very old if they were still alive.”
Pulling his thumb from his mouth with an audible pop and drying the wet appendage on his starched white Sunday shirt Johnny voiced his rude but true observation. “You very very old but you still alive. Johnny can tell you old cause you all wrinkled like the taters get when Mamacita says they too old to use anymore.”
“JOHNNY!” shouted Harlan and Murdoch upon overhearing the toddler’s statement.
With the mess from the overturned cart cleaned up attention turned back to Johnny. Murdoch strode forward and picked his youngest up and then faced the Conways. “Henry, Aggie, I am so sorry. It seems Johnny has managed to insult your other guests as well.”
“Nonsense, young man,” Reba Todd spoke up before Aggie could. “We aren’t offended. The child wasn’t being disrespectful. We are wrinkled like old potatoes and he’s right you don’t use wrinkled potatoes because they are too old. I enjoyed Johnny’s conversation. I’d be glad to talk with him anytime.”
Johnny smirked at his Papa, he liked this old lady; she listened to him. He decided to share some more of his knowledge with her. “Did you know you can’t use taters when they get old but you can use tomatoes. Papa said he was gonna give us old tomatoes for Thanksgiving.”
“What? I never said any such thing, young man!” Murdoch exclaimed, his face blushing crimson.
“Yes, Papa did, coming here. Papa stopped the buggy and said there was no presents for Thanksgiving so you was giving Johnny and Squat old tomatoes. Do Johnny and Squat have to eat them? Johnny not like his tomatoes wrinkled.”
Ha was the first to figure out what the toddler was referring to…which sent him into a fit of laughter, forcing him to retrieve his handkerchief to mop the tears of mirth from his face before he could explain. “Murdoch, old tomatoes is Johnny speak for ultimatum. You told the boys you were giving them an ultimatum with their meal about being on their best behavior.”
Scott huffed in disgust at all the adults laughing about Johnny and talking about how cute he was. His feet were beginning to hurt in these dumb Sunday shoes and it was about to put him in a bad mood. He shuffled over to the rocker and plopped down, he would have stomped to let everyone know he was tired of Johnny getting all the attention but stomping would make the shoes pinch his toes more. Just as he sat down, a young woman in a black dress with a white apron descended the staircase and entered the parlor.
“Excuse me, My Lord, the Lady Victoria send her regrets that a headache will prevent her attending the meal and she requests that a tray be sent to her room later, with your blessing.” After receiving Cornwall’s acknowledgement she turned and went back up the stairs.
Feeling Johnny trembling in his arms, Murdoch hugged him tight to his chest and asked, “What’s wrong, Johnny? Why are you shaking?”
“Cause Johnny’s hungry and Johnny don’t want to run, Johnny just wants to eat,” the toddler stated as he yawned and his tummy growled at the same time. It was obvious the little one’s early start to the day was catching up with him.
“Johnny, the food is being put on the table now. We’ll be eating in just a few minutes. You don’t have to run before you eat. Why would you think that?” questioned Aggie.
“Cause that lady in the black called him Lord so now Johnny have to run,” Johnny replied as he pointed to Lord Cornwall.
“Yes, she did call him Lord. That’s the proper way to address an Earl,” Murdoch added as he comforted his son.
“Squat’s song says the Lord hates us and chases us and he’s the Lord.”
Sitting in the rocker, Scott slapped his hand over his face and groaned. “John…nnny,” Scott drew out in exasperation, “Why are you so dumb? The song says he hastens and chastens not that he hates us and chases us.”
“Oh,” commented Johnny, though it was apparent he was still somewhat confused the way he was frowning and scrunching his eye brows down but his smile returned with Aggie’s announcment.
“Shall we gather together in the dining room now? Our meal is ready.”
The Conways and their guests moved into the dining room where an eye and mouth appealing meal of roast turkey, stuffing, cured ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, carrots, sweet potatoes, cranberry relish and yeast rolls awaited them. The earlier chaos was forgotten as they all chose a chair and Johnny was settled into a high chair next to Aggie. Mr. Todd spoke for the first time since the Lancers had arrived by being the one to say grace.
Henry began the serving process by standing to carve the turkey, putting the first slice on Johnny’s plate, as Aggie began passing the bowls. Johnny picked up his cup of milk and took a sip as he glanced around the table, it was then he realized he didn’t see someone he knew was supposed to be here.
“Where’s Tom?” Johnny asked, as he wiggled around in his seat looking for him, and then took a bite of the meat slice on his plate.
“Tom…Tom who?” inquired Murdoch.
“Mr. Henry showed Johnny and Squat a big turkey the ‘nother day. Mr. Henry said his name was Tom and he was coming to Thanksgiving dinner but Johnny don’t see him.”
“You’re eating him,” Scott announced in his abrupt logical way.
Johnny’s mouth fell open in horror, the chewed bits of turkey dropping back onto his plate. Standing with a large knife poised over the nicely browned breast of the succulent bird, Henry Conway winced when Johnny’s high pitched scream very nearly cracked the crystal glasses on the table as he shrieked, “Mr. Henry killed Tom!”
Johnny Lancer had a fit of Biblical proportions that ended with everyone assembling in the yard for a funeral for Tom Turkey, followed immediately by the burial of the roasted body. Their Thanksgiving meal would have been meatless if not for the cured ham; thank goodness Mr. Henry had not introduced Johnny to the pigs.