Washington County Young Authors Contest: Short Story Winner

Washington County Young Authors Contest: Short Story Winner

Grade 8 Short Story Winner: Anna Baldasarre from Smithsburg Middle
Teacher-Mrs. McCallion

"Thanksgiving in Ohio"
Thanksgiving is the biggest holiday in my family. We all drive miles and miles cross-country to get to my grandparent's house in time for the most famous Thursday in America. It's a time for stuffing our faces, socializing, and playing flag football; the ultimate celebration of family and food. Like it or not, you're going.
And this year was no different from al the others. We squeezed into the car with our golden retriever; my mom, my dad, my two little brothers, and me. We drove through horrific traffic all night, the highway stretching out in front of us in a river of red lights. Half an hour into the trip, my mom complained that she had to pee. She was practically crossing her legs in the front seat by the time my dad was able to find an exit.
Mom's pregnant. After two little brothers, I'm hoping it's a girl. Praying even. And honestly, even though this baby will be fourteen years younger than me, I wasn't all that surprised when my parents announced our family was about to get a little bigger. After all, I had seventeen first cousins just on my mom's side.
An hour later, my youngest brother whined that he was hungry, and I had to root around in the monstrosity we call a cooler to find him something to eat. As if he won't be eating enough tomorrow.
When we finally reached Ohio, everyone except the really little kids had stayed up to welcome us, despite it being close to midnight. After being smothered in hugs and interrogated about my life for two hours, I scooped up my brothers and used them as an excuse to escape. Soon after, the four girl cousins I shared the tiny attic room with crept in and climbed into bed. Although they fell asleep quickly, I lay awake for forty-five minutes longer.
Thanksgiving is somewhat torturous for me. Don't get me wrong-I love my family and all, but I'm not like the rest of them. I'm not good at sports, am not a particularly huggy kind of person, and my idea of fun does not include slaving away over a hot stove for ten hours in a room, choking from an excess of estrogen. Sometimes I wonder if I was adopted, because I don't look like them either. After all, in a family full of dark-haired, blue-eyed beauties, a green-eyed girl with ginger-colored hair stands out like a brown cow in a herd of white-and-black.
The next morning, my mom and Aunt Sue scurried into the attic room and yanked open the curtains viciously. This, however, did not have the desired effect, it being just before five o'clock a.m. in November.
By the time I got to the kitchen, it was already crowded and stifling. If you're female, and part of my family, you are practically required to cook on Thanksgiving. If you don't, I think you would be ostracized from the family for the rest of your life, like the Amish shun the ones that want to wear jeans and have electricity, or whatever. No one has actually been ostracized, though, at least that I know of. But, I'm still not going to risk it.
I'm the oldest granddaughter except for one, so I always get the "honor" of helping the little girls mash the potatoes awkwardly or measure flour for the biscuits while dumping half of it over the floor and me. They all seem to be somewhat in awe of me, especially the older ones. My twelve year old cousin even wore a pair of jeans and a shirt last year disturbingly similar to ones I'd worn that summer while visiting our grandparents. It gets kind of aggravating sometimes.
My mom and Cousin Gina kept taking turns sitting in a chair by the window because their feet hurt from standing around while carrying a couple extra pounds. Gina's not as far along as Mom, but it's her first pregnancy, and aunts all keep giving her advice on babies. She just nods and smiles politely, but I can tell she thinks some of them are nuts, like the one that tells her to give the baby castor oil once a day for the first year. I wonder if she actually misses shoving sticky stuffing into the oversized turkey with all the other women. Every year we always seem to get our hands on the one that eluded capture for a couple years, and it takes about three people to lift it.
After seven long hours, I herded the weary, hot little girls into the den to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with their dads and brothers. It's a tradition in our family: the men veg out and the women slave away all day to fill their bellies. So unfair. I now I will be missed if I stay too long, but I still manage to obtain a few minutes of relief. Of course, as soon as I sit on the arm of the sofa by my uncle, my cousin starts hurling jabs at me from across the room. Brian's twenty-one, unemployed, and living at home. He's been there since quitting college after only a semester, and I honestly don't know how his family stands him. I mean, his mom is my favorite aunt, and his dad is the only one who doesn't try to force me to play football. My whole life Brian has made fun of me, and I have a suspicion that I'll only ever be free of him if he moves to Tibet to become a monk. But I'm not holding my breath.
I shoot him a parting glare, which he cheerfully ignores, and return to the kitchen, only to be met by chaos. Apparently the jell-o mold slid off its plate and halfway across the slick wood; one of the aunts had slipped on its slimy trail and crashed to the floor, the pumpkin pie in her hands sailing across the room, spattering pumpkin and ceramic pie plate. I sighed. This happens every year. Well, not flying pumpkin pies, but some breed of disaster. Last year we ran out of cranberries, and my mom had to drive around for two hours to find an open grocery store so the cranberry sauce could be made, and two years ago, the rolls exploded in the oven and began squishing through the oven door. I, of course, got blamed for this one, because apparently the little girls, who I was supposed to have been supervising, had put too much yeast in them.
Although the Pie Incident was rapidly cleaned up, it did not stop the women from barking more, and laughing and reminiscing less. By one-thirty I was more than exhausted. Forty-five minutes later, I escaped to the den again, where the men were glued to a football game on the big-screen TV and the kids were engrossed in Candyland. The next thing I knew, I was staggering under the weight of a load of heavy china plates and being pushed towards the dining room.
For some reason, we always have dessert before dinner on Thanksgiving. Although I've never gotten a definitive reason for this odd tradition out of anybody, I'm guessing it has something to do with my family loving dessert but eating too much turkey. After receiving my tiny piece of pumpkin pie (there wasn't time to make another after the crisis), I retreated to the sunroom at the back of the big house. Hardly anyone actually uses it, but it's my favorite room in the whole house. This time however, Gina was lying on a yellow print sofa, her eyes closed. I started to mumble an apology and rush out, face flaming, but her soft, musical voice stopped me. She patted the cushion next to her as she sat up, and I crept over meekly.
We sat in silence for a long time. She seemed to be completely at ease, sitting staring out at the cold, bare garden my grandmother loves, but I fidgeted uncomfortably. Finally she spoke, and I jumped.
"I remember the day you were born," she said. My gaze darted from my plate to her face. Her words surprised me. "You were a miracle to Grandmother. You were the real first granddaughter to her; I always disappointed her. You were her chance at having a granddaughter to be proud of."
My mind raced. Grandmother dissatisfied by a grandchild? She was famous for lavishing attention on her grandbabies. She was the sweetest person I knew. But I didn't interrupt, because I could sense that this had been burdening Gina for fourteen years, ever since she herself was my age.
"I babysat you forever, you know," my cousin continued, her voice quiet. "At first I was jealous, because no one had ever made such a fuss over me. But then I got to know you, and I realized how wonderful it was, getting to see you grow up. I fell in love with you, baby." Her eyes were unfocused, deep in past memories. I was thunderstruck; we had never really been friends, yet it was obvious she did love me. A lot. "The day you looked at me, and said my name-that was the day I knew I wanted to be a mom someday. And now I'm going to be." Gina drew in a deep shaking breath. "I had four younger brothers, I was sick of babies. But you changed my life, Annie. My baby cousin changed my life." Her voice was filled with wonder, as if she still couldn't believe it.
But I never had time to react, because at that moment my brother dashed in, breathlessly crying, "Annie, Mom's having her baby!"
Gina and I leapt to our feet at the same instant and raced to join the rest of our family. She moved faster than I would have thought possible for a pregnant woman. Dad was helping Mom into the car, ready to go to the hospital. I climbed in too, and everybody else gathered up the kids, my brothers included, and followed us as we careened madly towards the hospital, too many miles away.
I'd talked to Mom extensively in the past few weeks about this day, and I'd been there when she'd had both my brothers, so all in all I was feeling rather prepared. My brothers, however, had no idea what to expect, the older having been just a year at his brother's birth.
As I sat in the waiting room, I struggled to fit the day's events into my orderly little world. First, my cousin had confessed that she had once resented me, then told me I was reason she dreamed of having children. Then, my mother, right in the middle of coffee and pumpkin pie, had gone into premature labor with her fourth child.
I was still frozen, my spinning head in my hands, when Dad appeared, his face flushed, and ecstatic grin stretching across his face. My whole family looked up at him eagerly, awaiting the news. "It's a girl!" he finally managed to say. Immediately everyone converged upon the happy father to offer hugs, kisses, and congratulations. But he pulled me aside so I could be the first to see my new sister.
I had never seen a more perfect baby. Not when my brothers were born, not when so many of my cousins were born. She was so tiny, so beautiful, and I couldn't breathe for fear it was a wonderful dream that could burst in an instant. Finally, Mom took my hand and guided it to my sister's face. I gently ran a fingertip along her soft cheek, and then I started to cry, and tears streamed down my mom's face too.
An hour later my family crowded into the hospital cafeteria for our Thanksgiving dinner, the elaborate meal at home forgotten. As I peeked through my eyelashes at my family, as we held hands for grace, I was thankful for them. Thankful for their love, and for all our silly traditions. Suddenly, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday.

A banquet to honor all contest winners will be held on Friday, May 12, 2006 at the Four Points/Sheraton in Hagerstown. For all contest winners, see "For Kids by Kids" in the upcoming issues of Picket News.