Chip Morton angrily crumbled the flowered piece of notepaper in his left hand and hurled it toward the trash can.
As the wad bounced off the side of the receptacle, Lee Crane, Seaview’s Captain, joked, “Don’t quit your day job for the NBA.” When he observed the mixture of disappointment and hurt on the his best friend’s face, he continued dryly, “I take it, that was not ‘Happy Thanksgiving’.”
The Executive Officer shook his head. “Nooo, it was a ‘Dear Chip’ letter. Well, Kay was always one for great timing; wonderful holiday this is going to be!”
Sympathy and concern reflected from the Skipper’s face. “Chip, come over to my place tomorrow. Karen and I---“
Chip held up a hand to stop him. “I know what you’re about to say; don’t.”
“But no one should be alone on the holidays, and we’d love to have you!” Crane protested.
The Exec looked askance in reply. “Lee, the last thing that a couple who’s becoming ‘hot and heavy’---and I know that you two are---wants is a third wheel! Besides, I know I’d be miserable company.
“No, I think the best thing for me would be to throw my gear in the car and just take off for the weekend. If I don’t, I’ll probably be more than anyone can handle when we sail on Monday.”
Crane was still worried. “Are you sure you’re okay? I hate to think of you driving while you’re upset.”
The normally impassive expression had returned to Chip’s face. “I’ll be fine, Lee.
Still, as the Exec strode out of Crane’s office, Lee twisted his signet ring nervously.
Chip sat in his silver Mustang at the exit of the NIMR grounds. Just ahead in the brilliance of his headlights were the onramps to both North and South HWY 101.
“Eeny, meeny, miney, moe,” he
muttered. After just a moment of hesitation, he drove ahead and turned left
onto South 101 towards
The further he drove, the calmer Chip became, but also the sadder. In retrospect, it was obvious that that his year-long relationship with Kay had been going downhill, mostly due to his time away at sea. What saddened him was the knowledge that, at the age of 35, it was getting more and more difficult to find a woman who both understood and accepted the demands of the his position aboard Seaview. Lee was on the verge of becoming engaged; would he ever be as fortunate?
The pre-holiday traffic was
heavy when he entered Woodland Hills, a northwest suburb of
As his Mustang approached the
downtown area, overpass pass signs indicated that Hwy 101 would soon branch off
into any of several major freeways. After a moment’s hesitation, Chip
maneuvered the vehicle into a lane for Interstate 10 East which would take him
Just past the
Once he had finished dispensing the gas he went into the station to pay the attendant. He returned to his car, got in, and turned the key; nothing happened! He tried again, this time with his eyes on the instrument panel’s battery volt gauge. When the gauge’s needle failed to move, he leaned his forehead against the steering wheel, realizing that the battery was dead. As he cursed his luck, his attention was drawn to a Jeep Cherokee wobbling into the station, its right front tire totally flat. He watched as the driver, a slender woman of medium height with shoulder-length brown hair, exited the SUV, shook her head in disgust, and headed towards the rear of the vehicle. Presuming that she was retrieving the jack and spare tire, Chip walked over to see if could lend a hand.
“Ma’am, I…” he began.
The woman whirled around, startled by his voice, and then returned a shocked expression. “Chip Morton! What on earth are you doing here?”
Chip responded with a laugh
as he recovered from his own astonishment at encountering his ex-girlfriend,
now the wife of one of the midshipmen who had roomed directly across from Lee
and him at
The woman laughed. “Not since
that weekend when Mitch and I bumped into you and Lee in
Morton shook his head. How time flies. “Let me change this tire for you,” he offered, extending his hand to take the jack from her.
“Thanks, Chip,” she responded gratefully. “It’s not one of my favorite chores, as you can imagine.”
In no time Chip had the SUV’s rear end jacked up, the tire bolts and tire removed. As he reached for the spare, he asked, “So where’s Mitch stationed now?”
“Mitch died in a training flight two years ago,” Jenny replied quietly. Seeing his shock she continued, “With your deployment, I’m not surprised that you hadn’t heard.”
Morton tightened the bolts on the wheel. “I’m sorry, Jenny. I don’t know what to say. I…”
“Don’t worry about it, Chip. What are you doing for Thanksgiving, anyway?”
Chip grimaced. “I was on my
Jenny shook her head.
“Sorry.” She frowned and continued. “
“Thanks aren’t necessary. Let me see what I can do about my car.” Chip walked quickly into the small store. After a few moments, he returned with the attendant, and together they pushed the Mustang to the back of the station.
“He says that I can leave it here,” Chip announced, as he walked back to Jenny.
It was only a five minute drive to the quiet street of modest, well-kept, one story homes. Jenny pressed the garage opener clipped to her visor as she turned into the driveway.
As the garage door lowered, Chip rounded the corner of the Jeep and took the grocery bag from Jenny’s hand. She retrieved a second, closed the door of the SUV, and led the way into the kitchen of the house.
Jenny looked up as she began to put the groceries away. Noticing the unease on Morton’s face, she asked “What’s wrong?”
Chip hedged as he glanced around the adjoining living room. The family portrait hanging over the TV set caught his attention and he walked over for a closer look. A smiling Mitch had one arm around Jenny and the other around the infant girl on his lap. “You have a daughter?”
“We did. She died a month after that picture was taken; Sudden Infant Death.”
“What’s bothering you, Chip?” she repeated, observing that his discomfort had multiplied. She held up the coffee pot. “Coffee?”
Morton nodded. “Thanks. Uh, when you mentioned Mitch, Jenny, it occurred to me that a holiday was probably the last time of year that you’d want to see someone from those days. And your baby…”
Her jaw dropped in surprise as she handed him his cup and motioned him to the dining room table. “Chip, do you really think I’d blame the navy for Mitch’s death? P-a-a-lease! Look, from day one I knew I was destined to be the Mistress; to a guy married to a sub, when we dated, then to one married to his jet with Mitch. I was happier to have that role than none at all!”
Chip smiled as his eyes dropped to his cup.
“Besides,” Jenny continued, “there was never a day that I didn’t know I was the love of his life. And, Megan,…well, Mitch thought she hung the moon!”
A lump formed in the Exec’s throat as his grief-filled blue eyes met hers. “What happened?”
“After Megan was born Mitch wanted a base assignment so that we’d be together as much as possible. He was offered a position as a flight instructor at Top Gun and naturally, jumped at it.”
Morton could not restrain a laugh. “Ooh, boy! I pity the poor clowns in those classes!”
Jenny echoed his laugh. “Don’t you know it! He’d come home with story after story of some sucker who thought he was hot when he took off and then tried to slink out of his plane unseen, once the training flight was over!” She smiled at the memories; her expression reflecting the peace that she’d come to, though it still hurt. “Anyway, one morning they went up, and he hit a jet wash…and couldn’t pull out of it. He wasn’t able to eject.” She paused for a moment. “It was terribly hard, at first, but I’m doing okay, and I have a lot to be grateful for.”
You’ve lost your family and you say that? Yeah, right! Chip thought.
Jenny smiled at his look of askance and took a sip of coffee. “Tomorrow, since I’m manager of the county’s Social Services Agency, I spearhead the community’s annual Thanksgiving dinner for the poor, homeless, and anyone else who doesn’t have someplace to go. Would you be uncomfortable helping out, or…”
“I’d be glad to,” Chip assured her. “The Institute often does similar events at Christmas and Easter, and the whole crew gets involved.”
“Great! Now, what about you, Chip? What have you been up to?”
“Well, as you said, married to the boat. Haven’t as yet met someone ‘willing to be the mistress.’ Lee’s on the verge, though.”
Jenny nearly choked on her sip; coffee spewed over the table. “Lee Crane settling down? You’re kidding!”
Chip grinned. “I know, seems impossible. But, well,…this one seems to be something special!”
She shook her head. “Who would’ve ever thought? What else?”
He proceeded to entertain her with several of Seaview’s more colorful, albeit, unclassified adventures. They laughed and reminisced until, at one point, Jenny yawned and happened to glance over at the clock.
“Oh my word, Chip, it’s in the morning! I’ve got to be at the community center by 8:30.Go get your bag, and I’ll take you to the guest room.”
Chip retrieved his carry-on bag from the hallway outside the kitchen and followed behind her.
“In here,” Jenny said as she switched on the light. She gestured to the adjoining room on the left. “There’s the bath. Towels are under the sink.”
“Thanks again, Jenny.”
“No thanks needed; I’m glad
you’re here. Sleep well,” she responded with a smile and disappeared behind the
door of the opposite room. She was
glad, she reflected as she undressed. Their break-up had been very amicable,
and Chip had remained Mitch’s friend and hers. She remembered what he’d said…'how can I be such an ass to stand in the
way of your happiness…' As she fell asleep, Jenny found herself wondering
why Chip had been on the way to
“How did you and Mitch end up
here?” Morton asked, as they drove into Emerson the next morning. “It’s a bit
of a commute to
“Mitch’s aunt lived here. Since he was her only living relative, she left him the house when she died,” Jenny answered.
Chip observed that street after street contained rows of tidy, well kept houses and inquired curiously, “Do you have that many poor and homeless here, Jenny? This seems like a middle to upper-middle class town.”
“More like middle to lower-middle class, Chip. Only a few homeless, but the closing of a machine parts factory twenty miles from here has left much of the county in economic duress. More than half of the residents of Emerson are retirement age, living on pensions or social security, so it’s tough at times for them to make ends meet. Also, a fairly sizeable group of migrant workers live in make-shift camps on the out-skirts of town.
“Now, question for you: why
were you going to
Chip grimaced slightly. “ ‘Dear Chip’ letter. Lee invited me to stay
with him, but I didn’t want to intrude so I hit the road. Spur of the moment
“The girl must be insane!”
Morton shook his head. “It never would’ve worked,” he acknowledged and proceeded to recount the highlights of his and Kay’s stormy relationship. He had just finished as Jenny pulled into a parking slot behind the Community Center.
“Her loss, Chip!” She gestured to the minivan and pickup parked to the right of them and commented, “Look’s like Naomi and Angie have already gotten things started.”
The massive warmth from the four ovens and the aroma of sweet spices greeted them as they entered the large kitchen. Two slightly heavy, grandmotherly women were bustling around the center table; one rolling out pie crusts, the other kneading bread dough. “Morning, Jenny!” they cheerfully chimed in unison. Chip noticed that they were quite similar in appearance.
“Morning to you both! Looks like you’re way on top of the game,” Jenny responded. She proceeded to introduce Chip, and then explained, “Angie’s our mayor and Naomi is the Nursing Manager for the county Department of Public Health. And yes, they’re twins!”
“Ladies, it’s a pleasure to meet you! What can I do to help?”
Naomi picked up the notepad listing the menu. “Well, let’s see, ah, yes,” she said, as she retrieved a large rectangular pan from a cupboard, a large measuring cup, a cutting board, knife, and a bunch of bananas from the refrigerator. “Chip, if you’d be so kind as to slice these bananas and add them to this strawberry Jell-O.”
Observing his frozen expression as she handed him the boxes, Naomi frowned. “Is something wrong?”
He shook his head slightly as if to clear it. “Uh, no, Ma’am; not at all! I’ll get right to it,” he replied.
Jenny turned away quickly to stifle her laughter; Chip’s hatred of the substance was legendary! When she had regained her control, she whispered, “Sorry I didn’t catch that, Chip!”
“Forget it,” Chip whispered back, “but remind me to tell you about the time Seaview’s crew almost drowned in it!” He completed the salad as rapidly as he could, finishing as a group of six retirees entered the kitchen amidst a chorus of “Good Mornings” and “Happy Thanksgivings.”
“Put us to work, Jenny,” a tall, silver-haired man with an easy-going smile requested.
“The hall still needs to be set up, Bill. Table cloths and decorations are in the three boxes against the east wall,” she told them.
“How many are we expecting this year?” Bill’s petite wife, Martha, inquired.
“Probably close to 400,” Angie replied.
“400!” Chip exclaimed in surprise, remembering Jenny’s estimate of the town’s population.
Naomi smiled and nodded in understanding. “Five years ago when we started this project we had forty guests. The numbers have grown rapidly as people have seized it as an opportunity not only to reach out to those less fortunate but also as a way to get to know each other better. Many of them bring visiting family members and/ or grandchildren.” She turned back to the stack of potatoes that she’d been peeling.
Chip volunteered to assist the men in setting up the long metal folding tables and arranging the chairs up against them. Orange and gold paper tablecloths were taped into place and centerpieces of cornucopias containing a variety of fruits, vegetables, and nuts placed at even intervals on each table. The hall, barren two hours earlier, had been transformed into a warm, festive gathering place for friends and strangers, who only needed to be introduced.
Two final tables were assembled and set up in the front of the hall to hold the food platters, and then the men returned to the kitchen where the sight and aromas of meats, vegetables, breads, and desserts pleasantly assaulted their senses. Jenny, Angie, and Naomi delegated the final preparations to the others and within minutes, platters of roast turkey, ham, and roast beef were being carried into the hall, followed by bowls of mashed potatoes, gravy, candied yams, corn, fresh dinner rolls, apple, mince, and pumpkin pie…and the large pan of strawberry-banana Jell-O salad.
Just as the last dishes were being carried from the kitchen, a steady flow of people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds began to file into the hall from the front entrance.
“Welcome!” Jenny called out, a warm smile covering her face as walked across the room and began to greet each one, most by name.
A couple broke from the line and shyly approached the social worker. “Senora Jenny?”
“Juan, Maria, I’m so glad you could come. How are you?”
“Si, good, Senora,” Juan answered in broken English. He turned to his wife who was carrying three foil packages. “These are for you and Senoras Angie and Naomi.”
Jenny lifted the foil cover. Her eyes brightened in delight. “Homemade tamales! Yours are always sooo good! Thank you so much!”
The couple smiled with pleasure. “Si, enjoy!”
Jenny walked quickly to the kitchen to put the packages in the refrigerator and then returned to resume her greetings.
At the serving table Chip watched his friend, intrigued by not only the response of the citizens to her warmth, but the kindness that the people were extending to each other, regardless of who they were or their circumstances, much of which was reflected in their attire. He was so fascinated by the latter that he didn’t notice that Jenny had left the line, until her heard her snicker beside him. Startled, his eyes shot first to her face, then down to the table; he grimaced as he realized that he was in front of the pan of Jell-O!
“Come on,” she whispered, as she took him by the arm and led him to the head of the table to serve the turkey. “You had sort of a surprised look on your face before I came back; why?”
He hesitated, and the finally said, “The camaraderie, I guess. I mean, is it for real or a once a year thing?”
understandingly. “It’s for real, Chip. You’ll find a sense of ‘community’ in a
small town like Emerson that will never exist in a city. That’s why I’d rather
be here, although I could earn twice as much in
She turned to the crowd. “Well, what are you all waiting for; let’s celebrate!”
The line of people laughed
and began to move forward, still chattering with each other. As they moved
forward through the buffet with their plates, Chip listened quietly,
overwhelmed by their conversation; rather than complaints, there was unanimous
gratitude that there had not been another ‘9/11’, nor was the
“Senora Jenny, no planes this year!” a woman rejoiced, as a spoonful of mashed potatoes was added to her plate
“Time will tell, but thank God for another peaceful Thanksgiving!” an elderly woman expressed to her neighbor.
“Amen to that,” another person added.
Just about everyone struggled with their emotions for a moment, then resumed conversations and the celebration.
After a short time those who had eaten rose from their chairs to serve the volunteers and clear the tables.
The children began to squirm anxiously in their chairs, and for the first time Chip noticed that there were a sizeable number of them.
“After dinner we set up games for the kids and give out candy and small toys as prizes,” Jenny explained.
“Hey, Chip, could you give us a hand with these tables?” the volunteer named Bill called out, from the next one over.
Morton rose quickly from his chair and joined several other men in disassembling all but two of the tables and stacking them against the walls, along with the folding chairs. Next a dozen booths were quickly set up with games, such as ring toss, bowling, and basketball shooting, for which tickets would be dispersed for successful ventures. Other areas were designated for face painting, simple crafts, and the opportunity for a Polaroid photograph while the two remaining tables were supplied with the candy and toy prizes, which he was asked to man.
Chip watched in amusement as numerous elderly people maneuvered in and around the smaller children, assisting them in any way possible (including lifting them up) to win as many tickets as they could. Neither was it possible to restrain a smile at the delighted looks in the children’s eyes as they later began to run up to the tables to redeem their tickets. As the line trickled down he observed that the young ones were again watching the social worker expectantly, even more so as the booths were dismantled.
The answer was swift in coming as shrieks of joy and a stampede greeted the appearance of a piñata. The few left at his table hurriedly collected their prizes and ran to join the others.
Chip joined the circle around the group of children. After each one had taken two attempts at breaking the colorful bird, various adults, himself included, stepped forward to assist a child by supplying a little extra force to the stick. At last, there was a tear and a mad scramble as the contents spilled to the floor. More than one smile appeared as the older children took it upon themselves to ensure that the smaller ones shared amply in the booty.
The piñata was the apparent climax of the day, as a short time later individuals and families began saying their ‘good-byes’ and departing from the community center. Chip looked around the hall for Jenny and finally caught sight of her just inside the kitchen doorway talking with Naomi. He walked over to join them in the remaining clean-up.
Jenny and Naomi both chuckled as Chip’s jaw literally dropped upon entering the room; Angie assisted by a half dozen men and women were drying the pots and pans and wrapping several boxes of leftovers which would be delivered to shut-ins.
“Were you expecting to be enslaved again?” Naomi asked.
“As a matter of fact, yes!” Chip replied with a laugh.
The social worker shook her head. “No, it’s become a real community effort. Angie, since you’ve got everything well in hand, we’re going to leave. I’ll be by in the morning after I drop Chip off and pick up the boxes for delivery.”
Angie nodded. “I’ll leave the list of names taped to the refrigerator door. Nice to meet you, Chip.” She was echoed by the others.
"The pleasure was all mine,” Chip assured them.
As she unlocked the passenger door of the Jeep, Jenny observed a half smile on the Exec’s face. “Last night about this time, I was feeling so sorry for myself,” he explained. “Now, well, let’s just say a ‘Dear Chip’ letter and dead battery were the two best things that could’ve happened!”
When their laughter had subsided, she asked, “Where is Seaview off to next---or can you say?”
He smiled. “One of the more
routine supply runs to an underwater lab complex in the
“No, except for delivering
the boxes; we get the four-day weekend. What time to you have to be back in
“We’re due to leave port at 1700.”
“Well, if we’re at the automotive supply store when they open at eight, you should have plenty of time,” Jenny said.
They quiet the next morning during the brief trip into Emmerson. After stopping to purchase the car battery, they returned to the AMPM mini-mart. Jenny pulled up behind the Mustang and turned to the Exec. “Chip, it’s been so good to see you.”
He nodded in agreement. “Same here. I—thank you. I really enjoyed this; now I understand how you can stay so positive.”
She smiled in reply and after a silent moment said, “I better let you get going.”
As he opened the door, Chip blurted out, “Jenny, can I call you again? I mean, I don’t know if it’s too soon. I---"
Jenny smiled. It was one of the few times she’d ever seen him flustered. “Please do. As to the timing, I guess we’ll figure that out as we go.”
Chip smiled. Placing his hands gently on her shoulders, he kissed her on the cheek.
Seaview’s Captain checked his watch again as he stood on the dock. It was 1630 and still no sign of Chip. Lee silently cursed himself; he knew he should have insisted that his friend join him and Karen, instead of letting him take off in the livid state that he’d been in! Just then the sound of a familiar engine attracted his attention to the parking lot, where Chip’s Mustang had entered his slot. To Crane’s amazement, the Exec was whistling!
“Sorry I’m late, Lee,” Morton apologized. “Car problems; my battery took a dump. How was Thanksgiving? Are you engaged yet?”
“As a matter of fact, yes.” Crane stumbled slightly, as the tall blond pounded him on the back in congratulations. “Are you okay?” he inquired, still dumb-founded. “How was yours?”
Chip smiled slightly. “It was the best Thanksgiving I’ve had in years! Come on, let’s get on board. I’ll tell you all about it, once we’re underway.”
Author's Note:Jell-O is a product of Kraft Foods.
Chip's aversion to Jell-O based on stories by Rosemary Alcott and used with her permission.
Contact Becky Kemp