Cara Mia Delgatto and the Thanksgiving Gift
The first day of November
The Treasure Chest in Downtown Stuart, Florida
"Another beautiful fall day here in southeast Florida," said MJ Austin, my friend and full-time employee. She poured herself a fresh cup of coffee, the fragrances of vanilla and cinnamon mingled in the air. When I gestured with my empty cup, she poured me a warm-up.
While she had the pot in her hand, MJ cocked her head at Skye's cup. "Want some?"
"No, thanks. I'm drinking Yerba Mate," Skye said.
"Sorry I asked," said MJ. "That stuff is just plain nasty."
They are such a study in contrasts. While Skye's curls tumble down around her shoulders, MJ wears her hair pulled off of her face. They are both gorgeous women, both blonde, and very different from each other. I've been blessed to welcome them into my life. Doubly-blessed that they're my co-workers at the store.
"Granted, Yerba Mate isn't as tasty as coffee, but I like it," said Skye. "It gives me extra energy. I need it when I'm working an extra shift over at Pumpernickel's Deli."
"I hope you aren't racing over to the deli right away," I said. "We need to discuss the upcoming holiday. Specifically, how we can leverage Thanksgiving as a way to boost our sales."
The Treasure Chest is a décor and more shop, specializing in upcycled, recycled, and repurposed items. Most of our items have a sort of beach vibe to them.
There are two stumbling blocks on the road to our success.
One, we need to keep finding ways to turn trash into treasure. I don't have a lot of money to spend with vendors. I also don't have the time to wait for them to check my credit and process my order. That means we have to be come up with our own merchandise—and that takes a lot of creativity.
Two, we need to get people through the door. Once they see what we're offering, they're sure to make a purchase. That purchase will become one of many, if we do our job right.
"My shift doesn't start for another half an hour, so we're cool."
"I'm all ears," said MJ.
"Good. I made up an agenda." From the pocket of my Lilly Pulitzer skirt, I pulled out a list I'd printed neatly on a sheet from a legal pad of paper. "Item #1, thank you for coming."
That set my pals to snickering. We were sitting in the back room of my little store, The Treasure Chest, around a table that had become our natural gathering spot. Even though I'd officially called a meeting, the chances had been high Skye and MJ would have shown up anyway. Skye lives upstairs, on the second floor, in the apartment right next to mine. Effortlessly, our schedules have become synchronized. Most morning, we bump into each other on our way down the stairs.
MJ has a bungalow on the other side of town. I haven't seen it, but my fingers are crossed that one day she'll issue an invitation. She seems to have a sixth sense about when to show up at the store. Even on the days that she isn't scheduled, she often manages to pop in and see what's up.
"Please note that our response to Item #1 was we're happy to attend your meeting. We want this place to succeed almost as much as you do," said MJ.
"I couldn't have said it better." Skye gave MJ a high five.
"Then, let's move right along to Item #2. How are we going to keep this ship afloat over the holidays? Specifically, how are we going to fill our shelves—and what can we offer that's unique for Thanksgiving?"
The expectant faces now turned solemn.
"Unique for Thanksgiving?" Skye parroted my question. "You mean what can we offer that's just for the holiday? A one-time product?"
"Not exactly. I'm thinking we need merchandise that we can point to as being the perfect gift for a Thanksgiving hostess. Or something unique to put on the Thanksgiving table. Otherwise, we don't have anything new to promote. Seems to me that we have to keep changing up what we offer so we keep capturing the buying public's attention. We need to give them a reason to walk through our front door."
Right then, my rescue pup Jack started whining. I opened his crate and cuddled him under one arm. Jack and I met as a man threw the Chihuahua out of a moving truck. The dog has come a long way since then, growing in confidence even as his broken leg healed up. But once in a while, when he hears stress in my voice, he whimpers. I can't blame him.
"You're right," said MJ. "Back when XXX owned The Treasure Chest, she'd put a new display in the window and surround it with pumpkins and Indian corn. It wasn't much, but it always brought more foot traffic. The idea is to lure the customers in. They change the menu over at the deli, don't they?"
Skye nodded. "We're serving pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, cider, bratwursts, butternut squash casserole, and other seasonal dishes. Cara, you're right. Folks love the new selections at the deli. It's a change of pace, I guess. That's all. But it's enough to give us servers something to brag about. A talking point, is what our boss called it."
"So what do we have to offer?"
Everyone was stumped. MJ played with one of her fake diamond earrings, twirling it around and around in her ear. Skye stared off into space while she rubbed the fabric of her black pants between her thumb and forefinger.
"Don't everyone chime in at once," I said.
The silence went longer than I expected.
"Anyone? Anyone?" I tried channeling Ben Stein as the teacher in Ferris Buehler's Day Off, but I didn't get a response.
"Give us a day to think about it," said MJ. "Rome wasn't built in a day. You're springing this on us, and I need time to process."
She sounded a bit testy, but I knew why. MJ is supposed to be my retail guru, because she's worked in retail her whole life. But this slipped past her. Her lack of diligence disappointed me, and she knew it. In addition to twirling her earrings, she began tapping her toe on the floor impatiently. Like a fox that gets startled by an approaching dog, she wanted to run and hide in her burrow.
"Right," I said, as I folded the paper and put it back into my pocket. "That makes sense. Is twenty-four hours long enough?"
"Sure," said Skye.
"I guess," said MJ.
I needed to change the mood. No way did I want my friends going out and greeting the public with frowns on their faces. "Tell me everybody, what are you doing for Thanksgiving? Any special plans?"
My voice sounded light and cheery because I felt happy about the upcoming holiday. My son Tommy is down the highway, attending University of Miami. He'd promised to come to Stuart for the weekend break.
"I like it here, but it's not home," he'd complained. "I miss St. Louis. The leaves, Mom! Remember how cool they were? All the colors?"
When my friends didn't volunteer their plans, I told them about Tommy's upcoming visit and then I added what he'd said about the leaves.
"The drive to Kansas City had this dip, and you could see colors like a painter had mixed on his palette. Bittersweet, orange, fiery red, maroon, brown, gold. Tommy and I would make the drive just to get to that spot. It made our hearts sing. The maple in our front yard started turning first. He and I would rake up leaves and jump in them. When we were tired, we'd go inside and drink apple cider." I brushed a tear from my face. The memories cheered me and saddened me. That was my old life. Things had changed. Was it wrong of me to miss the sweet parts even as I enjoyed my new home?
"We do have trees that change here," said Skye. "Sugar maples, sweet gum, and live oak, to name a few, but most of those are north of here."
"But nothing changes here! You can't tell one season from another!" I said.
"That's not true, Cara." Skye's voice was gentle but firm. "There are a lot of seasonal changes. You just don't know what to look for. Not yet at least."
"What would you do back home?" asked MJ. "What would make your son feel less homesick for St. Louis?"
"I always decorated our front yard for the holidays. I'd buy a bale of hay and spread it around in the front yard. I'd add cornstalks. Maybe even a scarecrow. Tommy used to make fun of me for doing it, but maybe it mattered more than I realized."
"What did you do for Thanksgiving day proper?" asked Skye. "I know you had a restaurant. Did you have to work all day?"
"Not always. We had a lottery system. Employees and staff would toss their names in a hat. Dad would draw the slips of paper out in front of everyone so it was totally above board. A couple of holidays, we were able to eat together as a family."
MJ stared at me. Her emotions were unreadable. She's like that. I've never met a woman who can project so much sensuality and then turn so cold and inscrutable. "How did you celebrate when you were all together?"
"Well," I thought back, "our last Thanksgiving, I made dinner for my family. Turkey, stuffing, and all the trimmings. We kept the same menu every year. I've got it in my cell phone. We decided that if everyone couldn't come, we'd have the same meal the next day and pretend it was Thanksgiving as if it didn't happen the day before. Kind of silly, but we loved it."
"The same food every year," repeated Skye.
"Absolutely. The menu never changed. A couple of years, Poppy flew up to join us. He looked at the spread on the table and said how happy he was that we kept with tradition. So I couldn't change the menu, even if I wanted to. See, Dad was in charge of the menu at the restaurant, but at home, Mom used to—" My voice cracked. I choked back tears. I'd been so busy at the store that I'd forgotten that this would be my first Thanksgiving without my parents.
My eyes filled with tears, but through the blurry lens I could see MJ and Skye exchange glances. Skye hopped up from her chair and poured a glass of water. She slid it in front of me with the practiced movement of a woman who'd been waiting tables for years.
"So we'll finally get to meet your son?" MJ sounded pleased. "I bet he's gorgeous."
Skye's voice sparkled with delight as she said, "That will be so nice. I know you've missed him. He'll have tons to tell you about his roommate, his classes, and—"
"His love life," said MJ.
I frowned at her. "My son just turned eighteen. I'm hoping he hasn't had much experience in the love life department."
"And at eighteen, you were…?" MJ's eyes pinned me down.
"Pregnant with him. That's exactly why I hope he's being smarter than I was. Don't get me wrong. I love my kid to pieces, and I'm glad I had him, but eighteen is awfully young to be a parent." I wanted to change the subject, so I asked, "What are you doing for Thanksgiving, MJ?"
"Opening cans of turkey Fancy Feast for all my cats." Her expression was unreadable.
"You can't do that. Come eat with us. Tommy and Poppy and I would love to have you. You can't eat alone at Thanksgiving!"
Some days I worried about MJ. She'd come from a family that didn't believe in celebrating holidays. While she was honest, loyal, and in possession of a kind heart, she could be a bit prickly now and again. I attributed that to her being lonely. The very idea of her being all alone on Thanksgiving—except for the fur babies—made me sick.
"Kidding," she said, almost too quickly. "Just joking around with you, Cara. Actually an old boyfriend invited me to join him at the Biltmore in Coral Gables for their Thanksgiving buffet. It's to die for. Elegant tables with white damask clothes, silver serving dishes, a carving station, Champagne, and music, in a room with dark wood paneling, tropical palms, and Spanish mosaics. I can hardly wait."
Now that sounded more like it. I turned my attention to Skye. "What are your plans?"
Her smile flickered like a bad florescent bulb. On, off, on, off, and on. "I always work Thanksgiving Day at Pumpernickels. The tips are fantastic."
"But when do you eat your Thanksgiving meal? Surely they schedule servers in shifts," I said.
She hesitated. "I usually work a double. But don't worry. The boss sets out turkey and trimmings for the servers. Okay, one year I didn't get any because we were so busy, but usually I load up a plate. I've even been known to take home leftovers."
She rubbed her tummy appreciatively.
"What time do you get off?" I asked. "We can adjust the time of our meal so you can join us."
"That's very kind of you, but no, please don't," she said, shaking her head. "I actually prefer eating with the other servers. It's a sort of bonding experience. I wouldn't miss it for the world."
Right. My gut told me that both my friends were lying.
< > < > < >
Are Cara Mia's friends telling the truth about how they'll spend Thanksgiving? Will the holidays of Cara's remembrance over-shadow the present day? Or will Cara adjust to her new home and make this Thanksgiving a day of thanks?
Read more at http://tinyurl.com/CMDThanksGift
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This short story includes four recipes for Thanksgiving!