Thanksgiving in Belgium

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    A true story

    Early in the summer of 1914, Dorothy Page and her parents left their home in the United States and traveled across the ocean to the city of Brussels in Belgium. Her father had been sent there on business and the family expected to be away at least a year.

    Soon they were comfortably settled in a quaint old house with beautiful gardens, surrounded by a high stone wall with a heavy iron gate in front. When Dorothy grew tired of playing among the tiny flower beds and winding paths, she and her mother would drive through the narrow, crooked streets. The odd little shops and houses were interesting to Dorothy and unlike any she had ever seen back home.

    In August, just as Brussels was becoming more like home to the Page family, Belgium entered World War I. Mr. Page received word that he should remain in Belgium, as few people thought the war would last very long. Dorothy and her family didn’t even worry much when they heard the big guns booming in the distance.

    As food became scarce in Belgium and Thanksgiving Day drew near, Dorothy began to think of the traditional party that would be held at Grandfather’s farm back home. There would be a wonderful dinner of turkey, cranberry sauce, and mince and pumpkin pies. She was homesick for the cousins who would be there having fun playing together.

    The day before Thanksgiving, Dorothy’s father came home with the news that the next morning they were driving to the coast to make arrangements to return to the United States. “Pack everything we’ll need,” he said, “and remember to take plenty of warm clothes for the ocean voyage. I believe we can fit it all in the car.”

    Many hours were spent packing at the Page home, and early Thanksgiving morning the family was in the car ready to start.

    Just as the car rolled through the big iron gates, a man came running after them, carrying a large square box. He explained that the box had somehow managed to come through by express from the United States. He put it down in the bottom of the car and stepped back and waved good-bye.

    Soon their home in Brussels was out of sight, and the car sped smoothly down the country road toward the coast. Suddenly, as the road turned sharply, they were stopped by a sharp command, “Halt!” A half dozen soldiers blocked the road in front of them, and an officer approached their car.

    He was polite but firm. He said he was very sorry but he must have their car. It was needed to carry wounded soldiers, he explained. Despite their protests, the family was soon sitting alone by the roadside with all their luggage in a neat pile beside them.

    “It’s Thanksgiving Day, and we don’t have anything to be thankful for,” said Dorothy, big tears in her eyes.

    “We have a great deal to be thankful for, dear,” said Father. “We are all healthy, alive, and together.”

    Just behind them was a small farmhouse with one end entirely destroyed by shell-fire. The other walls had several gaping holes where bombshells had hit. The place looked uninhabited.

    Suddenly, a little girl darted from the cottage and ran toward them, speaking rapidly in her own language.

    The girl was about Dorothy’s own age. She had very blue eyes, yellow hair, rosy cheeks, and wore a little cap over her tight pigtail braids. Her clothes were worn but clean.

    A man and a woman came from the house that had seemed so empty and deserted and followed the little girl. They all began gesturing and talking in a mixture of French and English.

    Mr. Page tried to explain what had happened. At the end of his story, the man invited them to share their humble home, but he apologized that they didn’t have a crumb of food to offer them.

    Everyone began carrying the baggage to the house while Dorothy’s mother was sorting out their belongings. She laid aside many things that had at first seemed necessary and kept only the warmest wraps. At last she came to the big express package from home.

    When she tore off the wrapping paper and lifted the lid from the box, she gave such a happy shout that all the others crowded around her. They peered eagerly down at the package and Dorothy shouted with joy.

    There was a canned turkey, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry jelly, nut bread, raisins, candy, cookies, and other tasty homemade foods that Grandmother always prepared for Thanksgiving Day.

    Everyone was so hungry that they hurriedly spread the feast on an old kitchen table, but no one touched a bite of food until they had first bowed their heads and thanked Heavenly Father for their blessings. For a few moments, as they enjoyed the food, the war seemed very far away even though they ate to the sound of booming guns in the distance.

    Dorothy and her parents explained why Grandmother had sent the box of food and told their new friends about Thanksgiving Day. As they did, each one felt that never before had they understood and appreciated the true meaning of Thanksgiving Day. And their Belgian friends decided that it was indeed a wonderful custom to set aside a special day of thanks for year-round blessings.

    Illustrated by Ted Nagata