Happy Thanksgiving Story

Happy Thanksgiving

I proudly mentioned to a few friends that I’d joined a gym here in Baton Rouge. Each morning around nine o’clock, I stroll about a mile and a half to where I exercise. Today was different. I must tell you first, that in order to get to this particular gym, I have to find my way across a couple of roads. First, I cross a little-used service road. Just beyond lies a grassy area about ten feet wide. It, in turn, touches the heavily-traveled Eastbound lanes of a one-way highway.

I pace myself as I walk through the grass as I near the highway, keeping an eye out for a break in the traffic. I can see the stop light about a quarter mile West. I take advantage of the lull and cross over into the wide median between the East and Westbound lanes. The swale is a beautiful area, dipping down into a semi-valley before it, too, leads up toward the opposing lanes.

Here, are massive oak trees, planted far enough apart for each to enjoy its own space. The median is kept clean and well-manicured, as is so much of Louisiana. At least, along with its highways.

Today was no different than any other. I had just finished a great workout, pushing myself though sore muscles after over-doing it yesterday. For a long time, I’ve wanted to get back into a regular fitness routine.

On my way home, I passed a Tai Kwon Do school, based in a warehouse across from the gym. Then I  wander between the car wash and a trailer park, before once again coming upon the service road. Crossing it and the grassy area, I’m back to the West-bound traffic on Airline Blvd.

I timed it just right. In about ten seconds, I was able to jaywalk over to the median. This area could easily serve as a roadside picnic spot if a parking zone were cut into it. There’s plenty of room for kids to play under those big oaks. There’s a tiny drainage ditch running through the lowest point, which I must jump across. It’s only about a foot wide at most, but the water saturates the banks. This widens the ditch considerably, making it a pretty big leap to prevent soaking-wet feet.

For over forty years, my life had been devoted to raising kids and grandkids. I was pondering my good fortune of being free to do whatever I wanted. Lost in thought, I walked as if I’d been programmed. I was surrounded by peace, in spite of the traffic noise.

Suddenly, my daydream was interrupted by a still, small voice which was incredibly soft, almost inaudible. Somehow, it overtook the noisy scrapping of rubber against concrete, on each side of me. I stopped to look around.

“Down here,” came the voice again.

“What? Where?” I asked, searching vainly, but not finding another soul.

“I’m right here, behind you on the ground.”

I must be hallucinating. The only thing I could see in the grass was a dandelion. There was nothing else. No person anywhere, who could have drawn my attention. Okay, you’re now going to think I’m nuts, but I’m telling it just as it was. Just the facts.

I looked around to see if anyone was watching, playing a joke on me. Finding no one, I bent down to see what was up. This has to be a joke, right? The thought instantly crossed my mind, “Okay, God, you’re playing a trick on me. What have I done to deserve this? But, to tell the truth, I pride myself on having an open mind, so I decided to play along.

“So, now you have my attention,” I found myself muttering with tongue in cheek. I must admit I felt a little bit awkward, and a whole lot stupid.

“I watched as you walked by for the past week. You look like a nice enough guy. I thought long and hard about asking you a serious question.”

“Oh, and what might that be,” I played along.

“Are you acutely aware of all the things you have to be thankful for, during this time of year,” the dandelion asked, as I bent closer.

I was so entranced, watching her little petals move as she spoke that I almost didn’t hear the question. It looked as if she were smiling. Each of her little yellow petals lit up as she spoke. I noticed a few drops of dew still clinging to the tips of her leaves. As she spoke, the vibrations of her Southern accent caused one of those diamonds to fall onto a waiting blade of grass. She seemed proud of the fact that she was a solitary dandelion. Just one flower. No friends. Not even a neighbor to keep her company.

Reading my thoughts, she quickly disclosed, “Oh, I don’t really need any company.  The other dandelions don’t like living here. The man from the highway department comes by too often to mow the grass. I survive because I’m short and I always see him coming, so I duck way down.

“But other friends do visit. One stops by almost daily. She calls herself Buzzy. She swings by to drink of my nectar. And, about once a week, a few ants scurry up and down my stem to see what they can find. They laugh themselves silly because they know how much their little feet tickle me.”

“Why are you telling me this,” I queried, still feeling silly about talking to a weed.

“Well, kind sir, you see there are not many people who care about dandelions. We’re despised by many home-owners. It’s really not our fault, though. We don’t have any idea where our little white fluffy seeds will be blown. Mother Nature seems to know what she’s doing, but you humans always seem to mess up her efforts. Come closer, sir. Take a really good look at me,” she implored.

Bending down on my knees and elbows, I took in all her radiance. Focusing only on her, it was easy to see that she really was a beautiful flower. Her green stem was the greenest ever. And she was distinctly separated from the color of the grass surrounding her. I could even see the shadows between her petals, giving rise to ever richer yellows, almost golden in color. She was very symmetrical, in that each long petal was separated by an equally bright, yet shorter petal. She was only almost six inches tall, but there was an air of confidence about her that made her seem much taller.

“I am pretty, am I not?” she asked, sensing a touch of empathy in my eyes.

“Oh, yes, you are that.  And, more,” I confessed.

“I’ve been around many places,” she continued, “but I like it here best of all. A tiny part of me leaves now and then, drifting in the wind but I always know where my seeds land. My soul goes with each fluff and I send my beauty goes everywhere that I am not.

“Rare is the human who hears me and takes the time to stop, just as you have done. There are those who are so deep in their own world that they have no time for others; especially a weed. That’s all the worse for them, for they have no idea what they’ve missed.”

“What have they missed,” I asked.

“Well, did you know that every dandelion, while it may seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, feels exactly like a gorgeous rose? Have you ever seen a field of dandelions? It’s an awesome sight, you know. Have you ever looked at a neighbor’s lawn and thought about all those ‘free’ yellow flowers? All things considered, I love being a dandelion most of all.”

“Gee, I’ve never thought of it that way before,” I played along.

“You’re still skeptical, aren’t you?” She detected the smirk on my lips.

“Okay, you caught me,” I said. “But, come on, you are a flower and I’m human, in case I need to remind you.”

“Oh, that may be. But, stop and think for a moment. Have you ever felt like a dandelion? I mean, in the wrong place, at the wrong time? Has anyone ever despised you, wished you hadn’t been born or wanted to tear you out by the roots? To throw you away?”

“Well, yes,” I confessed. “I was abused as a child. Been married a couple of times and made to feel like so much trash in the end. In school, I usually felt that I didn’t fit in with the right crowd. Sometimes, I’d say and do the wrong things and wish I could pull myself out by the roots,  to wither and die.”

“But, it’s getting better all the time, isn’t it?” she asked. “I mean, with age?”

“Oh yes. Sometimes, I think man is born backward. We should be born with intelligence and skill, with morals and temperament. And, one definite plus—to be able to afford to enjoy ourselves before our body gets old and feeble. Then, as time goes by, we’d revert back to become a slobbering idiot in diapers. Well, we sort of do that in the end anyway, but you know what I mean.”

“Stay with me,” she urged. “Don’t go drifting off to dreamland on me. I’m most interested in what you are thankful for, now that your so-called Thanksgiving Day is close at hand.”

“Oh, that’s easy. I’m grateful for my kids, my friends, my health, and that I live in a free country,” I answered quickly.

“Gibberish! A pat answer! But, then you’re only human,” she chided. “Let me tell you that for which I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the sunshine and the rain. For butterflies and wind. I’m thankful for the sounds of frogs at eventide, and the music of distant church bells on a Sunday morning. I’m grateful that I can look up at the night sky and see the twinkling stars and moon’s reflection.

“I watch as days and nights pass quickly by, wondering if anyone ever sees what I see, what I hear, what I feel? I’m grateful that I can be just a single flower, radiating my love in all directions. That everyone who passes by will know that something wonderful just happened, even with those who don’t stop.

“I’m truly thankful that I can make humans think, even if they don’t want to at times. That, unlike humans, I can live anywhere I want, without fear of political or social unrest. I’m really thankful I don’t have your problems,” she stated, definitively.

“Yeah, I know what you’re saying,” I acquiesced. “There is sure a lot of hate and distrust around, isn’t there? Yes, I have wondered why people talk about celebrating Thanksgiving. Will they stop and say a small prayer that day? Do they honestly know what Thanksgiving is all about? Will they remember the outcasts who fled from tyranny, who survived the grueling voyage, disease and freezing weather? Will we remember all the brave men and women who have, since those days of the Revolution, paid the ultimate price fighting for our freedoms?”

“Now, don’t get philosophical on me,” she interrupted. “You know as well as I do, that you’re only fantasizing. Chances are that only one in twenty will do anything close to what you mentioned. All I ask is that you take time to smell the dandelions. Watch little butterflies as they chase each other from flower to flower along your daily paths. If you don’t see any, look for them. Go outside this evening, look up at the sky and find the Big Dipper and the Evening Star. And, when you breathe in the fresh night air, be thankful you don’t smell gunpowder in it.”

“Is that what you’re grateful for?” I asked.

“Yes, pretty much so. Well, maybe one more thing. I’m really grateful that I live in a place where no one steps on me.”

“Thanks for the words of wisdom,” I said, rising to my feet and brushing the grass off my knees.

I began to walk away. I stopped, turned and walked back to the little flower and stepped on her.

Pulling herself together, she gasped, “Now, why did you do that?”

“That’s so you always remember to be grateful for so many other things that haven’t happened to you,” I cautioned. “Keep your eyes open and don’t trust anyone, especially humans. See you in a few days.”

“Yeah, right,” she said, preening herself.

She mumbled a few other words but not loud enough to hear.

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