The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Caleb and Henry - A Thanksgiving Blessing

By Wm. Axley Allen © 1986

Issue: November, 1986

"Caleb you cantankerous old cuss, you'd disagree with me if I said your Ma was a fine, honorable woman."

"Now, now Henry. You know I don't disagree with you just because its you. Just so happens you're wrong most of the time."

"Wrong! Caleb I can't believe I'm hearing you say this. You know as well as I do that every time we turn around anymore somebody is telling us we're obligated to buy something and give it away."

"Where is your spirit of sharing Henry? Ain't no use being that tight with a dollar."

"Caleb, I've handled it pretty well, I give away Valentine cards, I really did. I done it right along with everyone else and I done pretty good at passing out Christmas cards. And you know as well as I do that I got a charitable heart at Christmas time. But I tell you Caleb this business of sending out Thanksgiving cards beats anything I ever seen in my life. Why I remember back when it was thanks enough to invite friend over to share a plate of crowder peas and country ham topped off with a slice of Ma's pumpkin pie. That was a Thanksgiving. Beats the heck out of any old card I've ever seen."

"But you got to realize Henry that now-a-days people are scattered out more and you can't invite 'em over to dinner like you used to. But you can send 'em a card and let 'em know you're thinking about 'em. You can do that several times a year. You can do that at Valentines, you can do that at Christmas and you can even do that at Thanksgiving. Why heck you remember that time in The Mountain Laurel they said you could send somebody a gift subscription for Happy Possum Day? I thought that was so cute I sent two or three folks those."

"Yea, but you're a sucker for anything Caleb."

"Now look here Henry, You're getting kinda ill tempered in you old age. I don't think you can't see the good in anything anymore."

"You're right about one thing Caleb. It's hard for me to see the good in letting people con us into thinking we got to send a card ever time the calendar turns a leaf. Of course, the ones that are trying to convince us to do that are the ones selling the cards, you understand."

"Henry if folks don't want to send cards to ones they care about, those places wouldn't be in business very long, so I guess folks want to do it or they wouldn't be doing it. Besides did you see the front of that card I sent Aunt Clara? It had a scene on it, Henry, that reminded me for the world of Ma's table back when I was growing up. She piled a table full of food that way and had family gathered around it. Why she'd invite a stranger just passing through to sit down to a Thanksgiving meal, any meal for that matter. Never been a kinder woman in the world. Thought a lot about her lately. The way things used to be. You remember, Henry.

Almost seems like a different world anymore and if I can see that scene painted on a card and send it to a friend and let them know I'm thinking about 'em this time of year, or any time of year Henry, I reckon its worth my dollar just to let them know I'm thinking about 'em"

"Well we all know what kind of sucker you are Caleb," grumbled Henry. "Caleb what's the matter? Something wrong?"

Caleb had leaned forward in his rocking chair and grabbed a hold of his chest. His face had suddenly taken on the look of ghostly paleness and his old friend Henry was scared nearly out of his wits. It was one thing to argue with Caleb, they had been friends all of their life, and two better friends had just never been. They were good enough friends that they could argue with one another and still be friends.

"You ok Caleb?"

"I don't know," moaned Caleb. "Got a terrible hurting in my chest. Everything seems kind of fuzzy. Henry I don't like to complain but you might ort to call Doc Pritchard and see if he's got time to see me this evening."

"You just sit still there Caleb. Don't move! You just rest a minute," Henry said as excited as he could be. "You just hang on there and sit right still. I'm going to call Doc Pritchard right now," he said as he ran into the house heading for the telephone. Henry moved toward the telephone faster than he had moved in twenty years, dialed up Doc Pritchard and explain the situation to him. Doc Pritchard called the rescue squad and had the ambulance on its way in moments.

Henry high-tailed it out on the porch with a glass of cool water and a cool wash cloth to sit with Caleb until the ambulance got there.

"Caleb, you want to try laying down and stretching out a bit? Why, you can lay down right here on the porch. Me and you done that many a time when we were youngin's"

"Naw, Henry I'll just sit here in my rocking chair. I'll be all right now don't worry."

"Worry! I ain't worrying, just don't want to see you feeling bad that's all," Henry said as he ran the cool wash cloth over Caleb's head.

It wasn't but just a few minutes until they could hear the siren as the ambulance came down the road and started up the driveway to their house.

Joe Bartley's daughter, Irene, was driving and George Taylor was riding with her, they were volunteer rescue squad workers here to help a neighbor. Quick as could be they loaded Caleb up on a stretcher - Caleb volunteered to walk to the ambulance, but they wouldn't hear of it and Caleb didn't feel like arguing - they got him loaded in the ambulance and off they went into town to the hospital.

By the time they got to the hospital Caleb seemed to be sleeping and Henry had nearly worried himself into a nervous tither that something was going to happen to his old friend Caleb.

Finally Doc Pritchard emerged from the emergency room and Henry was right there waiting for him. "How is he going to be Doc? Is he going to be all right?"

"Now, now, Henry no use in getting yourself worried into the hospital with Caleb. Be patient. It's a serious matter and Caleb has really had a rough time but his chances are good. He's a good strong man so don't you worry. We'll know more by in the morning, so why don't you go home and get a good night's rest."

The waiting room was filled with Caleb and Henry's children, grandchildren and friends. Everybody was anxiously overhearing Henry's conversation with the doctor.

Henry said, "If you don't mind Doc, I'll just stay here and wait on him. He has sit with me through some pretty rough times and I don't think it would be doing him right now if I high-tailed it home to get a good nights sleep with him laying here sick. I'll just sit by his bedside."

"Well, you have it your way Henry, what ever suits you, just don't worry too much. We'll know more about Caleb tomorrow." A hushed silence fell over the room as the doctor spoke.

Everybody knew Caleb and Henry had grown up as childhood buddies, courted together, married together and suffered some pretty heavy loses together over the years.

They were more than just old friends, they were a link back to a better time for each other. Sharing memories of years gone by almost daily, arguing as a form of entertainment, and helping each other through hard times all their lives. Yes, the two old men were the epitome of friendship. And now one of them was in a very bad way.

Henry was trying as hard as he could to comfort the family but everybody knew he was as worried as they were, if not more so. Caleb's boy, Roy spoke up and said, "Uncle Henry if you want to sit with Pa you're welcome to."

"I'd appreciate that Roy, you know there ain't no way I'm going to sleep tonight so I'll just draw me up a chair by the bed and stay here. Be right here in case he needs something in the middle of the night. Ya'll go on home. There ain't no use you all sitting around and worrying. He'll be OK. We've been looking out for one another for nigh onto eighty years now. This will just be another night like always."

"Ok, Uncle Henry, but here is Aunt Lucy's phone number. We're all going over to her house. You know she lives about a block from here and we'll all be waiting over there for word from you. If there are any changes at all during the night, you just call. Aunt Lucy's going to put us up on pallets on the floor, so we can be right here close to the hospital. If you need any help at all during the night you just give us a call."

"Ok, Roy," promised Henry.

After all the tests were completed Caleb was finally wheeled into the room. He had an IV in his arm and a tube in his nose. And to Henry he looked as pale as a ghost. He just couldn't stand the thought of seeing his old friend Caleb so sick.

After things had quieted down and most of the folks had left the waiting room, Henry drew up his chair beside Caleb's bed. Along about 3 o'clock in the morning the nurse came in and asked if he didn't want to get up on the other bed, which was empty and take a nap. He said, "Naw, I'll just sit here beside of Caleb. He might need something during the night. I ain't sleepy no way and couldn't sleep if I laid down."

"Well," said the nurse, "we could give you a mild sedative, something that would make you sleep."

"No ma'am, not with Caleb like this, I'll be Ok. I've been up all night long more nights than I can count. Why we've coon hunted two nights running just catching cat naps during the day. Losing a little bit of sleep won't hurt me. I just want to keep an eye on Caleb."

All night long Henry sat patiently beside of Caleb's bed, keeping a watchful eye over his old friend, his mind quietly retracing their footsteps over the last three quarters of a century. A passerby peeking in the door might have been surprised to occasionally hear a chuckle as Henry remembered an amusing episode from years past.

He recalled a time when Caleb and him had sneaked a bunch of his Pa's black powder. They weren't no more than ten years old. They packed it into an old bamboo fishing pole section, drilled a hole in a big old oak tree in the woods behind the house, drove the bamboo section into the hole, fixed up a makeshift wick and torched it. Law, he reckoned he'd never forget the whipping him and Caleb got for that one. It shook out window lites in three neighbor's houses and split that old oak tree from top to bottom. Folks all over the neighborhood thought it was an earthquake. It's a wonder they both hadn't got killed.

The Christmas they got caught making apple brandy was rather exciting too, best he could recall. Boy they sure caught it from the kids over that, especially his boy who had to bail them out, him being a preacher and all. Said that was the most embarrassing thing ever to happened to him, having to come bail his Pa and Uncle Caleb out of jail for making liquor at Christmas time. But a smile crossed Henry's face as he remembered how Caleb had surprised him by pulling a few select bottles from under the floor boards of his living room. They still had managed to have their Christmas toddy the same as they had for years.

As he sat there all night long remembering, it would have taken a volume of books to record the happenings in these old friends' lives. There were good times and bad, but all in all they were mostly good. Oh, not that it had been easy, there had been hard times. But it had been a good life and Caleb was a good friend.

Along about four-thirty in the morning Caleb moved a little but didn't open his eyes, just moved in his sleep. Henry was up on his feet in a wink quietly leaning over the bed looking at his old friend while he pressed the button for the nurse to come. In a moment the nurse came in and checked the IV bottle and the wires they had hooked up to Caleb. The nurse assured Henry that Caleb was doing fine but that if he needed her again she would be at the nurse's station right down the hall. Henry sat back down as she left.

Henry reckoned he had done more praying this night than had took place at a Primitive Baptist annual association meeting. He had never prayed so hard in his life.

The hands on the clock had barely passed 7:00 am when Doc Pritchard came in and told Henry he would have to leave while they put Caleb through some more tests. He reluctantly agreed to leave Caleb's bedside and stepped out of the room into the hall. He glanced down towards the waiting room and saw the worried faces of Caleb's kinfolk and friends anxiously looking his way. His steps were tired as he made his way to them but he tried as hard as he could to reflect an air of confident assurance that Caleb was going to be ok.

"How is Pa, Uncle Henry?" Roy asked.

"He seemed to rest well all night except for one time he moaned a little but I called the nurse in and she said he was ok. Outside of that he slept well."

Roy's daughter Sarah said, "We saw her come in the room."

"I thought ya'll were going over to Lucy's house and spend the night?" Henry questioned.

"We were Uncle Henry, but none of us wanted to leave so we just sat it out in the waiting room," Roy said.

"Here comes Doc Pritchard," Sarah said, and everyone turned to questioningly face the doctor.

"How is he Doc?" Henry asked.

"He's going to be fine Henry. It appears to have been a mild heart attack and he's going to have to take it easy for a while but you fellows will be back to arguing before you know it. Of course he'll have to stay here a few more days so we can keep an eye on him. He'll miss out on a home cooked Thanksgiving dinner this afternoon, but he's going to be home before you know it. Soon as he woke up he asked to speak to you Henry and I told him you would be in as soon as we are finished. We'll be another fifteen minutes or so if you want to go down to the cafeteria to get yourself a cup of coffee and some breakfast."

A wave of relief swept across every face in the room as Doc Pritchard gave them the good news. Everyone was so relieved and excited that no one noticed Henry making his way over to the elevator...

Twelve minutes later Henry was standing outside Caleb's door when the nurse came out and told him that Caleb could see him now. Henry stepped into the room and over to Caleb's bedside.

"How are you feeling Caleb?" Henry asked.

"Well I'd be lying to say I've not felt better but everything seems to be working ok. Sorry to give ya'll such a scare yesterday."

"Don't you worry about scaring us we're just glad you're feeling better Caleb."

"Henry I had some of the darndest dreams last night. Things me and you done years ago. Remember the time we sat that black powder off and the Christmas we got caught making brandy? Seemed as real in the dream as it did when it happened. What you got in the sack Henry?" Caleb asked as he noticed the small brown bag in Henry's hand.

"It's something I got for you downstairs Caleb. Ain't much but," then his voice fell silent and he hesitated as if looking for the right word, "here see for yourself," he finally managed as he handed Caleb the bag.

Caleb slowly opened the bag and withdrew an envelope with his name written on it in Henry's unmistakable handwriting. He opened the envelope and pulled out the card with a vaguely familiar old time Thanksgiving scene on it. His eyes misted over when he opened the card and read the verse about old friends at Thanksgiving time. Below the verse was a message written by Henry, "Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Glad you're feeling better," signed, "your old friend Henry."

"What with everything being so close together, didn't see no sense in wasting cards," grinned Henry.

Folks standing close to the door in the hall would have overheard quiet chuckles coming from the two old friends in Caleb's room.