How Obadiah Brought About a Thanksgiving

by Emily Hewitt Leland

The Waddle family had very bad luck on their farm in the West. And they certainly were homesick! But Obadiah and his uncle, between them, found means to mend matters.
THAT an innocent and helpless baby should be named Obadiah Waddle was an outrage which the infant unceasingly resented from the time he got old enough to realize the awful gulf that lay between his name and those of his more fortunate mates. The experiences of his first day at school were branded into his soul; and although he made friends by his bright face and kind and honest nature, scarcely a day passed during his six years of village schooling without his absurd name flying out at him from some unsuspected ambush and making him wince.

It was bad enough when the guying came from a boy, but when a girl took to punning, jeering, or giggling at him it seemed as if his burden was greater than he could bear. Then he would go home through the woods and fields to avoid human beings, so hurt and unhappy that nothing but his mother's greeting and the smell of a good supper could cheer him.

At home he had no trouble. His mother and his baby sister called him Obie, and sweet was his name on their lips. His father, who had objected to "Obadiah" from the first, called him Bub or Bubby; but one can bear almost any name when it comes with a loving smile or a pat on the shoulder, which was Mr. Waddle's way of addressing his only son.

Very early in life it had been explained to Obadiah that he was named for his mother's favourite brother, who went to California to live, after hanging a silver dollar on a black silk cord round the neck of his little namesake.

Obadiah often looked at this dollar, which was kept in a little box with a broken earring, a hair chain, a glass breastpin, and an ancient "copper"; and sometimes on circus days or on the Fourth of July he wished there was no hole in it that he might expend it on sideshows and lemonade or on monstrous firecrackers.

But he knew that his mother valued it highly because Uncle Obie gave it to him and because there were little dents in it made by his vigorous first teeth; so he always returned it to the box with a sigh of resignation, and made the most of the twenty-five cents given him by his father on the great days of the year.

When he was eleven years old the Waddle family moved West, and the last thing Obadiah heard as the train pulled away from the little station of his native town was this verse, lustily shouted from a group of schoolmates assembled to bid him good-bye:

"Oh, Obadiah, you're going West,
Where the prairie winds don't have no rest,
You'll have to waddle your level best.
Good-bye, my lover, good-bye!"

Ill-fortune attended the Waddles in their western home. To be sure, they had their rich, broad acres, with never a stone or a stump to hinder the smooth cutting plow, but a frightful midsummer storm in the second year literally wiped out crops and cattle, and left them with their bare lives in their lowly sod house.

"Drought first year, tornado second. If next year's a failure, we'll go back—if we can raise money enough to go with. Three times and then out!" said Mr. Waddle.

Mrs. Waddle broke down and wept. It scared the children to learn that their mother could cry—their mother, who was always so bright and cheerful and who always laughed away their griefs!

Mr. Waddle was scared, too. He bent down and patted her shoulder—his favourite way of soothing beast or human being.

"Now, Mary, Mary! Don't you go back on us. We can stand everything as long as you are all right. Don't feel bad! We'll pick up again. There's time enough yet to grow turnips and fodder corn."

"But what will we fodder it to?" wailed Mrs. Waddle.

Mr. Waddle could not answer, thinking of his splendid horses, and of his pure Jersey cows that would never answer to his call again.

"Well, I am ashamed of myself!" said Mrs. Waddle, after a few moments, bravely drying her eyes. "And I'm wicked, too! I've just wished that something would happen so we'd have to go back East, and it's happened; and we might have all been killed. And I'm going to stop just where I am. I don't care where we live—or how we live—so long as we are all together—and well—and there's a crust in the house and water to drink."

Rising, she seized the broom and began vigorously to sweep together the leaves and grass which the cyclone had cast in through the open door.

"I declare, Mary!" said Mr. Waddle. "Do you mean to say you've been homesick all this time?"

"I'd give more for the north side of one of those old Vermont hills than I would for the whole prairie!" was the emphatic reply. "But I'm not going to say another single word."

Mr. Waddle felt a thrill of comfort in knowing he was not alone in his yearning for the old home. It was singular that these two, who loved each other so truly, could so hide their inmost feelings. Each had feared to appear weak to the other.

Mr. Waddle looked at his wife with almost a radiant smile. "Well, Mary, we'll go back in the fall—if we can sell. I guess we can hire the Deacon Elbridge place I see by last week's paper it's still for sale or rent, and carpenter work in old Hartbridge is about as profitable for me as farming out West."

"I'm glad you wouldn't mind going back, Homer," said Mrs. Waddle, and they looked at each other as in the days of their courtship.

But selling the farm was not easy, and October found the Waddles in painful straits.

"What will we have for Thanksgiving, Ma?" asked Obadiah.

"Oh, a pair of nice prairie chickens, mashed turnips, hot biscuits, and melted sugar," cheerfully replied Mrs. Waddle.

"That sounds pretty good," said Obadiah; but when he got out of doors he said to himself that you could not shoot prairie chickens without ammunition, and that he had no bait even if he tried to use his quail traps. He also reflected that his mother looked thin and pale, that sister Ellie needed shoes, and that plum pudding and mince pie used to be on Thanksgiving tables. But this was the day for his story paper—post-office day—which seemed to cheer things up somehow.

When he went to town for the mail he would see if his father, who was at work carpentering on a barn, could not spare a dime for a little powder and shot. So the boy trudged away on his long walk, with his empty gun on his shoulder and the hope of youth in his heart.

His father, busy at work, greeted him cheerily, but had no dime for powder and shot. Pay for the work was not to be had until the first of December, and meanwhile every penny must be saved—for coal and for Ellie's shoes.

"It leaves Thanksgiving out in the cold, doesn't it, Bub? But we'll make it up at Christmas, maybe," said Mr. Waddle, as Obadiah turned to go. "Here's three cents for a bite of candy for Sis, and take good care of mother. I'll be home day after to-morrow, likely."

Obadiah jingled the three pennies in his pocket as he walked to the combined store and post-office. Three cents! They would buy a charge or two of powder and shot, and he still had a few caps. And candy was not good for people anyhow! He wished he had asked his father if he might buy ammunition instead.

"But I'll not bother him again," he decided, "and Sis will be glad enough of the candy."

He would not buy rashly. He looked over the jars of striped sticks, peppermint drops, chocolate mice, and mixed varieties. Then he sat down on a nail keg to await the distribution of the mail. He watched the people standing by for the opening of the delivery window. It was a rare thing for his family to get a letter, but then they seldom sent one.

Once in a while a newspaper came from Uncle Obadiah, but only one letter in two years. Perhaps if he knew what hard luck they were having he would write oftener. The boy had heard his mother say only the week before that she wanted to write to Brother Obie, but was no hand at letters, especially when there was no good news to write.

A thought now came to young Obadiah. He would write to his Uncle to-morrow, and his brain began fairly to hum with what he would say. When his time came he invested one cent in a clean white stick of candy and the remaining two in a postage stamp. "I'll pay two cents back to pa as soon as I get the answer," he said confidently to his questioning conscience.

His walk home abounded in exasperations. Never had game appeared so plentiful. Three separate flocks of prairie chickens flew directly over his head, a rabbit scurried across his path, and in the stubble of the ruined grainfields rose and fell little clouds of quail.

"They just know it ain't loaded!" grumbled Obadiah, trudging with his empty gun.

That night, after Sis had gone to sleep, and his mother had lain down beside her, cheerfully remarking that bed was cheaper than fire, and that she was glad there was a good wood lot on the Elbridge place, Obadiah, behind the sheltering canvas partition that separated the kitchen from the bedrooms, wrote the following letter:

Dear Uncle:—Last year our crops were burned up by the drought and this year they were swept away by a cyclone and all the stock was killed, and father will not get his pay for carpenter work until December. If there was no hole in the dollar you gave me when I was a baby I would take it and buy something for Thanksgiving. I wish you would send me a dollar without a hole in it as soon as you can and I will send you the one with a hole in it. I would send it now but I have not got stamps enough. I hope you are well. We are all well, only ma is homesick. Your sincere nephew,
Obadiah Waddle.

P. S.—Please send your answer right to me, because I want to surprise ma with some things for Thanksgiving.

The next morning he set off to look at his most distant quail traps, found them empty, and circled round to the village, where he posted his letter.

The days crept slowly by, and times grew more and more uncomfortable in the little sod house. Often when Obadiah was doing his "sums" his pencil would shy off to a corner of his slate and scribble a list of items something like this:

2 cents to Pa $.02 
Stamps and paper (to send the D) .06 
Powder and shot .10 
Tea and sugar for Ma .30 
1 lb. raisens .15 
6 eggs .08 
1 lb. butter    .20 
  .91 
More powder    .09 
  $1.00 

Sometimes he would set down half a pound of "raisens" and add "candy for Sis, .05," but this was in his reckless moments. Sober second thought always convinced him that "raisens" would bring the greatest good to the greatest number about Thanksgiving time.

He casually asked his mother how long it took people to go to California.

"Well, Uncle Obie's newspapers always get here about four or five days after they are printed. Dear me! I must write to your Uncle Obie just as soon as we can spare the money for paper and stamps. He'll be glad to know we are all alive and well, and that's about all I can tell him."

Obadiah smiled broadly behind his geography and began reckoning the days. The answer might arrive about the 18th, but he heroically waited until the 21st before going to ask for it. He reached the village long before mail time, but saw so many things to consider in the grocery and provision line that he was almost surprised when the rattle of the "mail rig" and an ingathering of people told that the important time had arrived.

The Waddles had given up their box, so he could not expect to see his letter until it should be handed out to him from the general "W" pile. He waited patiently. The fortunate owners of lock boxes took out their letters with a proud air while the distributing was still going on. Others, who had mere open boxes, drew close and tried to read inverted superscriptions with poor success. Others who never had either letters or papers, but who came in at this hour from force of habit, stood near the stove or leaned on the counters and spoke of the weather and swapped feeble jokes. Finally the small wooden window was flung open. The little group got its papers and letters and gradually retired.

"Any letter for me?" cried Obadiah, his heart jumping.

"Nope; your pa got your papers last Saturday."

"But—ain't there a letter—for me?"

The man hastily ran over the half-dozen "W" missives. "Nope."

Obadiah's heart was heavy as lead now. He went out into the sleety weather and faced the long walk home. His eyes were so blurred with tears he could hardly see and his feet came near slipping.

A derisive shout came from across the street: "Hallo! Pretty bad 'waddling' this weather!"

Obadiah pulled his hat over his eyes and tramped on in scornful silence.

And now another voice called out to him, a voice from the rear: "Oh, say! Waddle! Come back here—package for ye!" Obadiah hastily went back, his heart leaping.

"Registered package," explained the postmaster. "'Most forgot it. Sign your name on that line. Odd name you've got. No danger your mail going to some other fellow."

Obadiah laughed and said he guessed not, and hardly believing his senses, again started for home, and soon struck out upon the far-stretching road. In the privacy of the great prairie he looked at the package again. How heavy it was for such a small one, and how important looked the long row of stamps; and there was Uncle Obadiah's name in one corner, proving that it was truly the answer!

There must be a jackknife in it, or something besides the dollar. He cut the stout twine, removed the wrapper, and lifted the cover of a strong paper box. There was something wrapped in neat white paper and feeling very solid.

Obadiah removed the paper, and a heavy, handsome and very fat leather purse slipped into his hand. He opened it. It had several compartments, and in each one were three or more hard, flat, round objects wrapped in more white paper to keep them from jingling, very likely.

Obadiah unwrapped one of these round, flat objects, and even in the dull light of the drizzling and fading November day he could see that it was a bright, clean, shining silver dollar—and had no hole in it.

With hands fairly shaking with joy, he returned the purse to the box and sped homeward. He ran all the way, only slowing up for breath now and then, but it was dark, and the poor little supper was waiting when he reached the house. The small lamp did not shed a very brilliant light, but a mother does not need an electric glare in order to read her child's face.

"Well, Obie, what's happened?" asked his mother as soon as he was inside the door. "Have you caught a whole flock of quails?"

"Something better'n quails! Guess again, Ma!"

"Three nice fat prairie hens then."

"Something better'n prairie hens." And then Obie could wait no longer. He pulled the package from under his coat and tossed it down beside the poor old teapot, which had known little but hot water these many weeks.

"Why, it's from Brother Obie—to you!" exclaimed his mother, while his father drew near and said, "Well, well!"

"And look inside! I haven't half looked yet," said Obie, "but you look, Ma! I just want you to look!"

Ma opened the box, and then the purse, and then the fourteen round objects wrapped in white paper. And they made a fine glitter on the red tablecloth.

"Well, well!" repeated Mr. Waddle.

"And here's something written," said Mrs. Waddle, taking a paper from a pocket at the back of the purse.

"Read it, Ma—out loud! I don't care," said Obie generously.

So Ma read it in a voice that trembled a little:

My Dear Nephew:—If I count rightly, it is thirteen years since your good mother labelled you Obadiah. I'm not near enough to give you thirteen slaps—I wish I were—so I send you thirteen dollars, and one to grow on. Never mind returning the dollar with the hole in it—keep it for your grandchildren to cut their teeth on. Give my love to your parents and little sister; and if you look the purse through closely, I think you will find something of interest to your mother. It is about time she paid our old Vermont a visit. Be a good boy.
Your affectionate uncle,
Obadiah Brown.

"Oh, that blessed brother!" cried Mrs. Waddle, wiping her eyes with her apron.

Obie seized the purse and examined it on all sides. It was a very wizard of a purse, for another little flat pocket was found in its inmost centre, and from it Obie drew out another bit of folded paper and opened it.

"Why, it's a check!" shouted Mr. Waddle. "A check for you, Mary, for—two—hundred—dollars! My! There's a brother for you!"

"Oh, not two hundred—it must be twenty—it can't be——" faltered Mrs. Waddle, wiping her eyes to look at the paper.

Then she gave a little cry and fell to hugging all her family. "We can all go back—we can go next week!" and she almost danced up and down on the unresponsive clay floor.

"I owe you two cents, Pa, and I'll pay it back to you just as soon as I can get a dollar changed," said Obadiah proudly, fingering the shining coins.

"How's that, Bubby?"

Then Obadiah explained.

"I hope you didn't complain, Obie," said his mother, her happy face clouding.

"Well, I told him about the drought and the cyclone. I guess if I was a near relation I wouldn't call that complaining. And then I asked him if he wouldn't swap dollars with me, so I could have one without a hole in it to get something for Thanks——"

Mr. Waddle broke in with a shout of laughter, and Mrs. Waddle kissed her son once more, and laughed, too, although her eyes were full of tears. And then Obadiah knew everything was all right.

"We can have Thanksgiving now, can't we, Ma?" he asked. "It's so near; and I'm going to get all the things. We'll have chicken pie—tame chicken pie—and plum pudding—and butter—and cream for the coffee—and cranberries—and lump sugar—and pumpkin pie—and——"

"Oh, me wants supper!" exclaimed Sis. And then they laughed again, and fell upon the cooling cornbread and molasses and melancholy bits of fried pork and the thin ghost of tea as if they were already engaged in a feast of Thanksgiving. And so they were.