The Pearl, Part VI

thanksgiving day


It was Thanksgiving Day.   Sally, William, and Freddy spent the day together.   They invited Oliver too, because he had been such a great help to them that year.   Oliver thanked them, but said that he never went out in the daytime and besides, he said, he was really too old now to fly such a long way out over the ocean.   He would think of them, he said, perched on his beam at the barn.   Oliver had taken a little time to explain Thanksgiving Day to Sally and today she shared what he had told her.   She told William and Freddy how, long ago, some human beings had come to these same seas where they were now floating so peacefully.   They had come in ships that were quite small, on a stormy day late in the year just like today.   There were no bell buoys then to guide them and keep them safe, but they had found their way somehow past the dangerous rocks and reached the land, not too very far from Providence city.   Except, of course, there was no city there then.  There were only trees; many, many trees, and there were lots of rocks, too.   Oliver told Sally that there were birds and fish then, many of them, just like Sally and Freddy, but that was about all there was.   The human beings landed their ships and made a fire on the shore.   Then, they sat shivering with cold, wondering what to do next.

Sally, William, and Freddy had learned enough about human beings by now to understand how hard it must have been for these helpless creatures, who couldn't fly or swim, or carry heavy things, or even sing very well, to be happy in such a cold, lonely place.  Oliver had surprised Sally even more when he told her that back then the humans didn't even have stacks of green paper or big bags of shiny things to exchange with each other.  It was hard to imagine.  Needless to say, there were no street cars or houses or pianos, or piano teachers either.   There were little girls like Miranda and boys too, and their mothers and fathers, but that was all; rocks and trees, and birds and fish, and a shivering bunch of human beings huddled around a fire, listening to the ocean crashing against the seashore.

We won't tell the whole story of Thanksgiving now.   Sally did tell it to William and Freddy, but they had all day to listen.   Besides, perhaps you know it already and it's close to your bedtime, so we'll skip ahead.

The human beings did manage somehow to survive.  The birds and fish helped them and some other humans who already lived there helped them, too.   A year after they first came, they were doing better.   They had built some small houses to live in and learned how to grow some of the food they needed.   They were a little happier now and decided to have a party.   They called their party 'Thanksgiving', and made it a special day they would celebrate each year to 'give thanks'.

Perhaps one of the hardest things that Oliver told Sally, or to explain to William and Freddy, was the idea of a special day on which to be grateful for all the good things that come so easily to birds and fish.   How could the humans not remember to be grateful every minute of every day?   Was it because they worked so hard?   Was it because they were mostly thinking about collecting stacks of green paper?   Sally didn't know.   Sally, William, and Freddy knew that all the good things they needed were always there for them without 'working' or thinking about it.   For them to be 'thankful' was just what it meant to be alive.   They knew that all good things are a 'gift' and they didn't have to worry or even think where the 'gifts' came from.

Sally finished her story that day by explaining the hardest thing of all.   She called it 'prayer'.   One night, when she and Oliver had visited Miranda and her father, they had flown high up in the tree outside Miranda's window when she went upstairs to her bed.   Sally had seen something very strange. The little girl was kneeling beside her bed.   Her head was bent down and her hands were folded together.   She was speaking.   She seemed to be talking with someone, but no one else was in the room with her.   Sally couldn't hear what she was saying because the window was closed, but Oliver explained to her that this was called 'prayer'.   Sally did tell William and Freddy about prayer that Thanksgiving day, but she had to admit she didn't understand it very well.   What Oliver had told her was this:

"Because they are so helpless, the human beings have many troubles they don't know what to do about.   They call these troubles, 'problems'.   Unlike you and me, when the human beings have a problem, they spend a lot of time 'worrying' about it."   Sally was still trying to understand what a 'problem' could be.   "What's worrying," she asked?   Oliver just smiled.  "That's almost impossible to explain to a bird," he said.  "It means they are thinking about their problem."  Now Sally was completely puzzled.  What could 'thinking about a problem' be?   Now Oliver laughed out loud.   "Birds don't think about problems," he said.  "When birds need something, they always know just what to do, and then they do it. When the human beings have a problem, some kind of trouble, sometimes they just sit still for a very long time and don't do anything.  They call that 'thinking'.   It sounds silly, doesn't it?   Birds don't worry or think very much.   We
don't even sit still very long unless we're resting or sleeping, but the human beings are not like us, are they?"

By this time Sally's little head was spinning around and around.   She was quite sure now that she didn't understand the human beings at all, but she was trying very hard.  She sat still.  She wondered if maybe she was doing some of this 'thinking' herself, just to figure out what Oliver was saying.

Then she remembered about prayer.  "But what's prayer, Oliver?", she asked.  Oliver waited a while before speaking.  "Prayer," he said, "is asking for help.  That part is easy to explain. When you or I need help, we ask a friend, just the way you did when you wanted to know about the lady
in the shop with the beautiful plumage.  Sally understood that.  She also realized that ever since that day when she had begun to wonder about the humans and their strange ways, she had been doing a lot of 'thinking'.   Maybe that's what thinking means.   Just sitting still and wondering about things you don't understand.   Oliver said yes, that is thinking.   "But what about 'prayer'?"  Oliver continued, "Prayer is a special way the humans beings have of asking for help.   Instead of asking a friend, they kneel down just like Miranda did and talk to someone they call 'God'.   This God is someone who is a little bit like them, only much bigger and stronger.   He lives far away, high up in the sky, and they can't see him.   The human beings believe that somehow it is this far-away person who gives them all the 'gifts'  they are thankful for on Thanksgiving Day.   So, when they want something special that they can't exchange for green paper, they kneel down and talk to God."

Oliver paused.   He looked at Sally.   She looked at him.   Oliver had stopped talking and Sally had stopped thinking.   They just looked at each other and didn't say one more word.   After a few minutes, Sally said, "Okay.   Okay, Oliver.   Thank you very much."   Then she gave him a little peck on his beak and flew away.

As Sally flew, she felt the wind under her wings, holding her up in the sky.  She felt the sun shining on her back, helping her stay warm.   She flew out over the ocean and saw the waves, rolling and surging far below, with all the millions of fishes and whales and porpoises and oysters and crabs and lobsters, swimming below them.  For the first time in many months Sally remembered she was a bird.   She felt strange.  She felt very glad to be a bird, and only a bird.  What had she been thinking of?  She had been thinking, of course, of the human beings and their peculiar ways, which she didn't understand.   But mostly she had been thinking of Miranda and the beautiful sounds she made with her piano, sounds that had floated up through the chimney, high into the night sky.   Now, for the first time in many weeks, Sally let all her thinking slip away.   She felt only the wind and the sun and she longed to be home again, sitting on William's rigging and rocking on the waves.

Sally arrived back at the bell buoy just at night fall.  William and Freddy were very happy to see her, but they didn't talk much.  Everyone went to sleep early and rested.

The next day was stormy and rainy and very dark.   The wind howled too loudly for anyone to speak.   Sally clung to William's mast as tightly as she could while he pitched up and down in the big swells.   Freddy stayed below in the oyster bed, hiding from the storm.   It wasn't until evening that the weather finally calmed down.   The thick clouds still hung low over the sea, but the rain had stopped and just at the horizon a bright silver line appeared where the setting sun shone through, casting a lovely glow across the water.

click here for part VII

© 2011 by Kendell Kardt