Miranda Winters stopped to look at the Christmas display in a department store window on Main Street. The smiling elves helped the smiling Santa make wooden toys, wielding hammers and saws. A smiling Mrs. Santa held a tray of Christmas cookies and hot chocolate. Miranda’s neighbors back home always decorated for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. But here, where the stores competed for consumers’ Christmas money, the business district already glowed with Christmas cheer.
Miranda sighed as she walked around the corner to Greene’s Grocery Market. Families bustled in and came out of the store, their bags bulging with goodies for the next day’s festivities. Inside, shopping carts overflowed with turkeys or hams and all the fixings for family celebrations.
Absently she waited for a little boy to get a shopping cart for his mother. She opted for a small hand basket. She knew exactly where to find what she wanted–a bottle of cranberry juice, a small apple pie from the bakery, and a turkey TV dinner. She would be alone this Thanksgiving.
Miranda began to stroll up and down the aisles, avoiding dodging children, dreaming about what she would buy if she had a family of her own.
“Uff!” A small body charged into her. She backed away and bumped into a shopping cart. “Excuse me,” she said to the young mother with three children.
“Davey, get back here,” the mother called to her son. She turned to Miranda. “I’m sorry about that.” She smiled. “It’s like Grand Central Station in here today.”
Miranda smiled back. “Yes, it is.”
The bustle in the store shouted, “Family!” Her heart moaned, “Lonely!”
Last year her family had been together, celebrating Thanksgiving with Dad. As the only sibling without family and job responsibilities, Miranda had set aside her own dreams and plans for two years after college graduation to be her father’s caregiver. After Dad’s death, she had left Oak Ridge and moved to Center City. She had no one in Oak Ridge now. Her sisters were both married with families of their own. They had other plans for Thanksgiving this year.
“Excuse me, miss.” Miranda looked around and found the source of the voice. “Can you reach that sugar substitute on the top shelf for me?”
The man’s blue eyes twinkled as he smiled at her. His thin gray hair lay neatly combed over his head. She bit her lip when she noticed he sat in a power chair like the one her father had used.
She nodded and reached up on tippy-toes. “This one?” she asked as she touched the package.
“That’s the one. ” She handed it to him. “Thank you so much. Top shelves are one of my shopping challenges.” He chuckled.
“You’re welcome,” she said. “My father felt the same way.”
“Going home for Thanksgiving?” he asked as they continued down the baking aisle together.
“No, not this year. My sisters are going to their in-laws with their families.”
“Won’t your father miss you?”
She shook her head. “No, He’s gone.” Tears pooled in her eyes. “I miss him.”
He reached out and gently touched her arm. “I’m sorry. It was thoughtless of me.”
“No, that’s all right.” Alone in the city, Miranda didn’t tell anyone much about herself. Maybe her loneliness made her more trusting of this man than she should be. “I took care of my dad for two years. He had cancer. He fought a good fight, but the cancer finally won.” She sighed. “I know he’s in a better place, but….” She shook her head.
“If I were going to be home tomorrow, I’d invite you to dinner. I cook a mean turkey.”
Miranda giggled. “So you’ll be with family tomorrow?”
“Well, in a way. Not my family, but a family of sorts.”
He stopped to get a box of cereal off the shelf in the next aisle, leaving Miranda to puzzle over his words. They moved to a less congested spot near the bakery. He turned his chair to face her.
“Our family has a tradition of helping out at the local food mission, The Shepherd’s Kitchen, on Thanksgiving. It’s our way of thanking God for our many blessings, by helping the less fortunate. My wife and I used to go the day before and help prepare the food, but this body doesn’t cooperate as well as it used to. Now I go on Thanksgiving Day and help serve and clean up.”
Miranda nodded. “That’s nice.”
They got into a long check-out line. “They can always use more help at The Shepherd’s Kitchen if you want to help. We start serving at noon and go until the food gives out.”
‘Maybe I will.” Miranda quivered inside to think of meeting a lot of strangers. Her other option of spending the day alone seemed the less attractive o the two. “Can you give me directions?”
“Let’s get through this line first. If you have paper, I’ll write them out for you. It’s over on State Street, next to the big red brick church.”
Outside the store, Miranda found a small pad of paper and a pen in her purse. Her new friend wrote out the address and made a simple map.
She said, “Thank you,” and tried to take back the pen and paper. He didn’t release them.
“We’ve known each other for all of thirty minutes, but I don’t know your name, and you don’t know mine. Duncan Mac Allister.”
She hesitated. She didn’t really know this man. Although he seemed harmless, she didn’t know anyone in Center City that she could turn to for help. Except the police, of course.
He released the pad and pen, which she returned to her purse.
“I’m glad to meet you, Miranda Winters. Thanksgiving at The Shepherd’s Kitchen is one of the highlights of my year. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
She nodded. “Me, too.” If she decided to go.
With a small wave to each other, they said goodbye. She watched as he steered his power chair confidently through the crowd and up the sidewalk.
“Thank you, Duncan MacAllister,” she whispered.
She hummed “Over the River and Through the Woods” as she walked home with a lighter heart. What harm could come from helping to serve dinner at a food mission?
(Part 2 coming soon)