Thanksgiving Reads - Happy Turkey Day to All!

From the desk of Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy..........

Here's my warm wish for a happy and bountiful Thanksgiving American style to all!

These days it almost seems like Thanksgiving gets shuffled to the side between the candy blitz of Halloween and the upcoming festive Christmas season.  Sometimes the focus turns more to football than family dinners and since the holiday advertising is well underway, there isn’t much to focus on this humble American holiday which remains one of my favorites.  I love the history dating back to the Pilgrims and even more to the old tradition of Harvest Home, something we don’t hear as much about but I’m sure the Pilgrims knew well.  The old European custom celebrates the end of fall, a good harvest and a bountiful dinner, kind of a statement to celebrate survival through the coming winter.   Thanksgiving as we know it owes much to the tradition but it has also become a celebration almost as All American as the Fourth of July.
                                       It may mean a little more downtime for many of us, especially after the dinner's been cooked and eaten.  Since I have such a fondness for Thanksgiving, it's no wonder it turns up in several of my novels including the just-released Devlin's Grace. Then I've shared the cover and a short excerpt from my other books with a Thanksgiving theme!  Here's the cover and a short Thanksgiving snippet from each!

            “Mom, where’s Devlin?” she asked.

            Preoccupied with kneading hot roll dough, her mother said, “Oh, I think he went outside with the boys.  Your father came in and I introduced them.  It’s going to be a while until we eat dinner so I think they’re going to have a shooting match like we used to do.”

            Gracie remembered the tradition.  Like a lot of Ozark families, they’d set up targets in the east field and spent hours shooting on Thanksgiving.  The custom probably dated back to pioneer times, she reflected, and she always enjoyed it.  She wasn’t sure Devlin would, not with his military background or his reaction to unexpected firearms noise.  Remembering his response to the blanks fired on the train ride at Silver Dollar City, Gracie worried. 

            “I’ll just run out and say hi to Daddy,” she told her mother and hustled outside to find Devlin before he suffered a meltdown.  Although her dad served in Vietnam, Gracie wasn’t sure how her family might respond to one of Devlin’s PTSD events.

            Dry grass crunched under foot as she crossed the back yard and skirted the clothes line.  Just as she expected her father and brothers stood near a makeshift table – a board tossed over a pair of sawhorses – with several long guns, some rifles and shotguns.  Boxes of shooting clays were there too along with an automatic clay thrower.  Devlin stood beside her dad and she joined him, reaching to grasp his hand in hers.  He smiled but so far, Gracie saw no evidence of any emotional distress.

            “There you are, girlie,” Anthony Alloway said. “I wondered when you’d show up out here.  Gonna give your old dad a hug?”

            “Of course I am, Daddy.” Gracie untangled from Devlin to embrace her father then each of her brothers.  “I guess you’ve all met Devlin.”

            “Oh, yeah, we have,” her brother Bill said. “We’re getting ready to do some shooting.  Are you cooking or playing with guns?”

            “I don’t know,” Gracie replied, flustered.  So far, Devlin wasn’t uptight.  His relaxed stance reassured her that a meltdown wasn’t about to happen, but she caught his eye, inquiring with silent question.

            “My daughter can shoot as well as the boys,” her dad bragged. “Gracie’s better than Faith ever was, but Faith never did have the interest.  Are you a fair shot, Devlin?”

            To Gracie’s surprise, he nodded. “I do all right.  I made my qualifications in the Marine Corps, earned a Distinguished marksman badge, too.”

            Chuck, her oldest brother, whooped aloud. “This’ll be fun, then.  We’ve got some real competition.  Let’s see what you can do, Devlin.”

            Gracie opened her mouth to protest then closed it.  If she said anything now, her family would think Dev was a wimp or freak.  As if he read her thoughts, Devlin said, “Sure, let me just walk Gracie back to the house first.  I’ll be back.”

            He grasped her hand and she took it, confused and more than a little worried.  As soon as they were out of easy earshot, Gracie halted. “Dev, are you okay with this?”

            Devlin gave her a sweet little smile. “Babe, I’m fine.”

            “But at Silver Dollar City, when the conductor fired the shotgun, you reacted,” Gracie said.

            “I didn’t expect it,” he told her. “It makes a difference, honey.  Yeah, I freaked out, but I didn’t know it was coming.  I do today so it’s okay.  I’m about to impress the hell out of your dad and brothers.”

            His confidence eased most of her worries.  “Well, promise to be careful, Dev.”

            “I will.” His grin widened. “You never mentioned you can shoot, babe.”

            “It never came up.”

            “Well, I’m proud of you, Gracie.” Devlin sounded like me meant it. “Come on, I’ll walk you back to the house to make it look good, but I want a kiss for my trouble.”

            So did Gracie.  Beneath the branches of a large tree Devlin pulled her into his arms.  He kissed her, his mouth slow and tender over her lips.  His kiss evoked emotion and ignited passion, but she’d have to wait for anything more.  Before he let go, her niece Marcy burst through the backdoor.

            “Oh, like whoa, Aunt Gracie,” she said with fervor. “Nice but Gramma wants you in the kitchen.”

            Devlin chuckled as he released her. “Go ahead.”

            Gracie paused long enough to put her hands on either side of his face. “I’m going.  I love you, Devlin.”

            “Love you too, babe.”
            She entered Thanksgiving Central, the kitchen now teeming with activity.  Faith put together a classic green bean bake casserole and Amy peeled a pile of potatoes.  Peggy Alloway assigned Marcy and Gracie to doing dishes and the women worked in harmony, chatting as they handled cooking chores with ease.   Her brother’s wives, Cynthia and Tamara, worked too although neither said little.  Both always carried themselves a little aloof, proud to be the wives of the successful car dealers.  In Kansas City, Alloway Brothers Motors, did well enough and both women were area natives.  Visiting the farm on holidays was the closest either Tamara or Cynthia came to experiencing rural life.  

Or how about a historical snippet from Dust Bowl Dreams...

Harvey Anderson delivered the biggest turkey any of the Minks ever saw, feathers and all, on Tuesday so Rose invited him to come for the holiday meal.  At Henry’s urging she also invited Mamie and her parents so Thursday afternoon ten people gathered around the old wooden table for a meal.

            Rose parboiled the bird before roasting it in the oven and made cornbread dressing.  Thanks to a little financial help from Henry’s stash, the Minks served cranberries, sweet potatoes, mashed Irish potatoes, corn, beans, biscuits, and two pumpkin pies.  As all ten present joined hands and offered a blessing, Henry reflected on how fortunate he was.  With Mamie at his side, he ate too much and could have gone to sleep long before the pie was served.

            Mama sparkled throughout the meal, hair swept up into a neat figure eight braid pinned into a bun.  She wore her best Sunday dress and Henry thought, but couldn’t swear, she wore a pale lipstick.  Every time she smiled, he wanted to grin. Henry seldom remembered her being so happy and thought it might be due to both his recovery and the end of their financial worries.  Although she was, the reason for her joy rested elsewhere.  Before she cut the pies, Harvey Anderson stood up beside her and cleared his throat.

            “I got something I want to share with y’all,” he said, nervous as a cat walking past six big dogs. For a moment Henry worried he might have found out about the shooting up at Pratt or one of the bank jobs, but when Harvey paused to gaze at Mama, he realized the news wasn’t about him. “I guess everyone knows I’ve been courting Miss Rose here for some time.  Tom Mink was one of the best friends I ever had and he’s been gone more’n three years now.  So I’ve asked Rose to be my wife and she’s agreed.”

            “Oh, Rose, congratulations,” Mrs. Logan said. “What wonderful news!”

            Eddie exchanged a glance with Henry and nodded.  Henry figured they agreed this would be fine for Mama and probably a good thing for the gals.  As the oldest son, he figured he should speak up so he said, “Congratulations, Mama, Harvey.  When’s the wedding?”

            “Easter Sunday,” Rose said. “April 1st at two o’clock in the afternoon. I know it’s April Fool’s Day too but it’s no joke.”

            The gals started talking at all one time and the flood of happy comments drowned out anything else.  Somewhere between all of it the pies were cut and Henry retired to bed, Mamie trailing behind him.  He pulled off his boots and lay down with a sigh.

            “Feeling okay?” Mamie asked.

            “Hell, no,” Henry said. “I ate too much and I’m worn out. Then he grinned and added, “I’m fine, honey.  I’m happy for Mama and Harvey but it takes a little getting used to the notion.”

            She smiled. “If you’re all right, I’m going home with Mama and Daddy.  I’ll see you tomorrow, sweetheart.”
            “Give me a kiss,” Henry said, too weary to rise up.  Since he left for St. Joseph, they hadn’t shared an intimate moment and hardly a kiss.  Mamie planted a firm, sweet kiss on his mouth and let her lips linger.  His cock stirred with interest, another sign of returning health.

From Kinfolk (in both print and eBook formats)

Dawn was a faint light in the eastern sky and the wind was damn

cold but Ben climbed the hill behind the farmhouse with his .22 rifle. On the

ridge, he heard the squirrels in the treetops and a few nutshells fell almost at

his feet. He stamped the ground to stay warm and stifled a cough so he

wouldn’t spook the tree rats. As soon as there was enough light to see, he

fired and dropped a squirrel. In quick succession, he dropped three more and

carried them home. He skinned and gutted the squirrels. After a change of

clothing, he walked through the pastures to the back door.

Her back faced him and he watched as Katy slid a roaster into the

oven. As she washed her hands, he entered without sound and when she

turned around, she jumped. Even after a few months of apparent safety, she

startled easy, always anticipating some henchman from Hu Sing to appear

when she least expected it.

“Good morning, Katy. Look what I brought you.”

He held out the squirrels, now enclosed in a plastic bag.

“Have you been hunting already this morning?” she asked and he

nodded. “I’ll cook them with dinner. Should I put them to soak in salt


He hadn’t expected her to know that. “Yeah, I always do. I haven’t

been squirrel hunting in years.”

His leg bothered him just enough that he’d had little enthusiasm for

tromping through the cold woods carrying a gun. Without asking, he poured

coffee and sat down at the table.

“Let me know if I get in your way.”

“You won’t. Are you hungry?”

His stomach was empty but he wanted to starve for the big feast. “I

might eat a little something but I don’t want much.”

“Have a muffin.”

A blue Willow Ware plate on the table held muffins so he took one.

He broke pieces off as he drank coffee and watched her work. Katy moved

with an easy grace, a balance, and dexterity that he liked. She chopped

onions and celery, and then stirred them in melted butter before pouring them


into a pan of crumbs. Her long fingers tossed the white bread chunks and

hunks of cornbread with the vegetables before pouring broth over the

mixture. He liked the way her nose wrinkled as she sniffed the steaming

mass and he smelled the sage leaves she crumbled, the first thing he had been

able to smell all morning.

“Is that the dressing?”

She nodded.

“It looks good already.”

Her smile rewarded him and he sat without speaking as she cooked.

He smoked two Camels but the smoke irritated his throat. A dry cough

racked his chest and he swallowed the rest of his coffee to ease it. Mucous

clogged his nose and he groped in his pocket for a tissue. If she noticed, she

didn’t mention it and he was glad. He hated being sick and he did not want a

cold to ruin the days they had together.

By twelve thirty, dinner was ready and she asked him to carve the

bird. Inexperienced, he did the best he could and managed to de-bone most of

the meat. He didn’t think he liked roast turkey but to his surprise the meat

was tender and delicious. He ate two plates of turkey, dressing, gravy, peas,

and hot rolls. As promised, she fried the squirrels and he ate a piece in

memory of his childhood.

“Are you ready for pumpkin pie?” she asked, as he pushed his plate


He groaned, hands on his belly. “Later. I couldn’t eat any more now

or I’ll bust.”

Instead of dessert, he helped her clear the table. He put the remaining

squirrel into a container and cut the pie, placing a large piece in another dish.

Without invitation, he picked up a towel and dried as she washed. When the

kitchen was clean, he slipped into his coat and picked up the two containers.

“Get your coat. We’re going to Bentonville.”

“We are?”

“Yes. I want to take this squirrel to Pop and give him a piece of pie.

He won’t give a flip about having turkey but he would miss the squirrel.”

In the large day room at the residential care facility, he searched for

his grandfather. Pop listed to one side in his wheelchair, mouth open and

eyes glazed. He did not look cognizant of his surroundings. Ben stopped in

mid-stride and stared, a cold fist of fear squeezing his gut. The old man

looked as frail and faded as the few leaves that still clung to the otherwise

bare oak trees in front. He’s sinking, Ben thought, the old-fashioned

expression popping into his mind. Savage grief bit at his soul and his anguish

must have been evident because Katy squeezed his hand.

“He looks like hell,” Ben said, in a voice he didn’t recognize. She

did not answer but he saw one tear creep down her cheek.

“Pop?” He crouched on his heels next to the wheelchair.

At the sound of his voice, the old man stirred. Recognition filled his


vacant features and his eyes, dull a moment before, lit with joyous fire.

“Ben, this place is no good. They served us up a dry slice of turkey

with not a bite of squirrel to be found.”

The sensible statement eased his anxiety and he grinned, optimism


“I didn’t figure they’d serve any so I brought you some. I shot it

myself this morning and Katy fried it.”

“Give it to me.” Pop grasped a piece between his fingers and

gnawed. “That’s good, real good.”

He slicked the meat off the bones and ate the pie, then belched with


“Now I need a smoke.”

On the wide front porch, Ben lit two cigarettes and handed one to his

grandfather. He inhaled the rich, tobacco smoke and choked when it filled his

lungs. He coughed so hard that he thought he might puke. When the moment

passed, he lit a fresh Camel.

“That cough doesn’t sound very good.” Pop’s tone was the same

he’d used when Ben was five. First time he had a cold, Pop smeared his chest

with Vicks VapoRub, and he’d stunk for three days. “You’d better take care

of yourself.”

“I’m all right.” He hawked into the dry grass.

“You don’t want to get down sick.”

“I’ll live. Let’s go find Katy. It’s cold out here.”

On the way back to the farm, he was quiet. Pop weighed heavy on

his mind and although he knew he had been lucky to have him so long, he

could not bear the thought of parting. Occupied with his thoughts, he didn’t

realize she asked a question until he saw the concern in her eyes.

“Ben? Don’t you feel well?”

“I’m all right.” He tried to grin but he could tell it failed. “I’ve been

coughing but mostly I’m worried about the old man. He seems so frail


“He enjoyed the squirrel, though.”

He couldn’t help but chuckle. “Yeah, he did, didn’t he?”

“Yes. Ben?”


“Do you think we could rent a movie?”

Her idea was perfect; he wanted to watch a movie with one arm

around her and relax, and think about someone else’s troubles.

“Sure. What kind of movie does a girl from Hollywood like?”

Although he was teasing, he wondered. After all, Katy had written

the screenplay for an adaptation of one of her books and she had lived on the

edges of the movie world.

She crinkled her nose in a way he found cute. “I don’t know; I’m

from Arkansas and I’d like to watch something light, something funny that

will take our minds away from everything else.”

That was just what he needed. He did not want to think about his

grandfather’s mortality or the threat that Hu Sing’s men might trace

Katherine. Funny movies, though, were sometimes hard to find. He

remembered a movie Kenny had recommended months earlier and grinned.

She would either love it or hate it but he was going to rent Shrek, the movie

about the big green ogre and his donkey sidekick.

With Katy snuggled beneath his right arm, he decided he had made

the right choice. The movie was funny, engaging and yet moving as the love

story between the Princess and the Ogre unfolded. After the big holiday

meal, neither Ben nor Katherine really wanted any supper but they sipped tea

as they watched without a single lamp on. Relaxed, cough eased by the tea,

he found himself aroused, very aware of the woman beside him. Some sweet

scent wafted into his nose from her hair and the curve of her body against his

felt right.

Shrek and Fiona’s happy ending lulled them and after the last song,

he turned off the television.

“Well, did you like it?”

“It was perfect.”

He stretched. “It’s late. I probably should be heading home.”

“Don’t go, Ben.”

That was what he wanted to hear. “It’s late and we’re both tired. Are

you sure?”

“Yes. Come to bed with me.”

Her words fueled his desire. “Katy.”


Her dark eyes met his and he was lost. Time stopped as he put his

mouth over hers in a slow, deliberate kiss that ignited his body. This time,

though, he wanted to use a slow hand, to savor each caress, to feel each

stroke to the fullest so he took her hand and led her upstairs.

The lips beneath his were warm, her breath rapid and her hands

active. With an almost lethargic movement, he caressed her until she writhed

beneath him on the aged bed, head back, and hair streaming around in a dark

cloud. Her nails raked his back and her open legs wrapped about his torso.

“Ben.” His name was a moan on her lips, a plea. He put his mouth on

the pulse that beat in her throat and kissed her there. Her nipples blossomed

and he took one into his mouth, suckling it with a pleasure that made his legs

weak. The sounds she made fired him but he held back, running his tongue down the curve of her belly to her moist warmth. Her legs bucked and

tightened as he plunged his tongue deep into her, the taste of her in his


            She woke Thursday morning to the rattle of sleet against the tin roof of the little cabin and when she looked out, snow covered the ground.  Shivering as soon as she tossed off the covers, Jessica peered out the window at a world turned icy and white.   She dressed in layers to stay warm and turned on the oven to banish some of the chill.   She made coffee, sipped it and savored the heat, then nibbled on a slice of toast.

            Her cell phone chimed and she turned it on, knowing it was Phyllis.

            “Hi!” she sang out, forcing a cheerful note into her voice.

            “Good morning, Jessica,” Phyllis said.  Her muted tone forewarned that this wasn’t happy news. “I don’t think we’ll have dinner today after all.”

            “What happened?”

            “Tad wrecked his truck,” Phyllis said and then erupted into sobs.  “He had an accident last night after he left the casino.  His truck’s totaled.”

            The chill she felt since rising turned to ice in her stomach.  “How’s Tad?”

            “He’s in the hospital.” Her mother-in-law wept, the words hard to distinguish. “He’s mostly okay, though, but he gets out this morning and if I go get him, I can’t make dinner.”

            Relief melted most of the ice. “If that’s all, I can go pick him up, Phyllis, or I can come try to fix the dinner.  Have you called anyone else yet?”

            “No, I started with you.  I didn’t even know until Tad called me a few minutes ago.”

            If he could phone, he wasn’t hurt that bad, Jessica thought with a sigh.  “Don’t cancel dinner, everyone will just be upset if you do.   Tell me what hospital and I’ll go get Tad for you.”

            Phyllis sobbed something she couldn’t understand into the phone and then, cleared her throat.  “Oh, honey, thank you.  It’s the one at Neosho.  Let me give you his room number and all that.”

            Jessica grabbed a pen and wrote it all done.  “Okay.  I’ll head up there in a few minutes.  Now are you okay?”

            Phyllis made a sound that sounded half like a laugh.  “I think so.  I will be when I see my boy and he’s really all right.  I can’t lose another of my kids, Jessica, I just can’t.”

            “You won’t,” Jessica promised.  “I’ll see you after while.”

            “You’re such a blessing.  Thanks honey.”

            Jessica entered the small hospital a bit later and soon located the single floor with patient rooms, then Tad’s.   As she pushed open the door, he shouted, “Go away and leave me alone.”

            Undaunted, Jessica stepped into sight.  “Does that mean me or are you yelling at someone else?”

            Her brother-in-law, half dressed in a pair of worn blue jeans and boots sprawled on the bed.  Bruises darkened his forehead and the left side of his face. His right arm hung in a sling at his side.  He scowled at the sight of her.

            “I thought it was that damn social worker again. What are you doing here?”

            “I came to pick you up so Phyllis could still have dinner,” Jessica answered, keeping her tone mild.  She sat down in the one chair, a wobbly, ugly brown dinosaur.  “What happened?”

            Tad glared from red-rimmed bleary eyes.  “What do you think? I rolled my truck which totaled it.”

            “I know that but why?”

            He used the control to raise the bed higher and she saw that his ribs were taped, too.

            “Why do you think?”

            Her own emotions, tender and volatile, threatened to turn the conversation into a two part confrontation.  That chip on his shoulder and ugly attitude angered her even though on some level she understood, at least a little.  

She thought before she spoke and after several long minutes of silence, she said, “I think you were upset about yesterday.  I know you’re frustrated because you think you lost your brother and you can’t get closure.  You want to believe that I’m right but you’re afraid to hope in case it’s not true.  You hit that guy and then you felt ashamed of doing it.  Plus it’s a holiday and right now the whole family is gun shy on holidays.  Having Thanksgiving without your brother is hard.  All of that put you in the worst mood I’ve ever seen you in and so you went out last night, drank too much at the casino, and drove too fast on the way home.  Am I right?”

            Jessica spewed the words out, fast and hard, watching his face as each point hit home.  As she ranted, his face softened and lost some of the arrogance present earlier.  As his bravado faded, she saw the sorrow in his eyes and the physical pain that carved lines into his face.   Tad nodded, unable to speak, and then he began to weep.    She waited, unsure if he would accept comfort from her but then, when she couldn’t bear to watch his pain without trying, Jessica walked over to the bed and put her arms around him.   She moved with gentleness, so she wouldn’t hurt him any further and Tad cried in her arms.

            Although she held him, there was no passion, nothing but the same feeling she would have succoring a child.   She hugged him the way she wanted to be comforted in her own miserable moments and when he calmed, he raised his head from her now wet shoulder.

            “Bet you think I’m the biggest wuss you ever saw,” he said as he attempted a grin.

            “Nope,” Jessica said. “You’re just hurting and you screwed up.  You’re going to have to get a grip, though, before I take you to your mother’s house.   She’s cooking dinner and everyone’s still coming over.  Phyllis sounded very upset when she called me, Tad, and she almost cancelled Thanksgiving dinner.  I think you’d better get dressed and we’ll get out of here.”

            “Shit,” he said, in a very quiet voice.  “I’ll try.  They dismissed me already, all the paperwork is done.  Give me a few minutes, okay?”

            She nodded.  “Sure.  I’m going downstairs, buy a soft drink or something, then I’ll come back. Just be ready.”

 We roared back down to Rusk through the evening dark with music blasting through the Cadillac which annoyed Seamus to no end.  His cell phone seemed to have attached to his ear as he chatted with Amber.  It took a lot of dirty looks and a heated brotherly exchange in Irish but Will turned down the music so Seamus could chat with his lady. 

            At home, my mama turned out the best Thanksgiving dinner ever.  The turkey couldn’t have been any more perfect and I ate too much, proving that even a vampire girl can get a real bellyache if she tries.  As I lay on the couch holding my over full tummy, Will and Seamus took all the little kids outside into the mild temperature to play a game they called ‘Moonlight, Starlight’, a reverse sort of hide and go seek where the ‘ghost’ hides and everyone else seeks him. 

            We heard the delighted shrieks when the ghost – Will or Seamus taking turns – caught one of the kids and when they came inside, the kids headed off for baths and bed.  Will settled down at my feet, looked at my hand stuck up under my T-shirt rubbing my stomach and asked,

            “Do you need to feed?”

            Mama heard him and answered, “If Cara’s hungry, there’s all kinds of leftovers and plenty of them.”

            She went on to list everything from turkey to mincemeat pie and headed into the kitchen to drag out dishes for those who might want to eat. Will laughed and asked, “Well, do you?”

            I shook my head. “No, honey, for once my belly hurts from what I put into it, not what I need. You ate twice what I did – why don’t you have a belly ache too?”

            “I don’t know,” Will said with a smile. “But I’m glad I don’t.  Seamus was worse off than you till he puked in the bushes out back.  He felt better after that.”

            I groaned. “I don’t want to throw up but my stomach’s killing me.”

            “Poor Cara,” Will said with a grin that made me think he found it funny. “All goodness is poison to thy stomach.”

             “Shakespeare said that?”

            “He did,” Will said, “In Henry VIII.”

            “Figures,” I said.

            By the time everyone else headed off to bed, I felt fine again and even nibbled a turkey sandwich.  Of course we slept while Mama and my two sister-in-laws headed off to Jacksonville to nab bargains in all those Black Friday sales and when we roused up at dark, we headed home.

            “Come back for Christmas,” Mama shouted as we climbed into Will’s Cadillac.

            “We will,” I answered.


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