When Zack and his dad drove into the Jenkins’s yard on Thanksgiving Day, he saw his cousins setting a ladder next to a tree.
“Hurry, Zack!” called Amber.
“You’re just in time,” said Penny.
Zack jumped out of the car into the soft snow. “In time for what?” he asked. He and his dad lived in an apartment far away from any relatives. They had never spent Thanksgiving with the Jenkins family before.
Penny held up the basket in her hand and said, “We’ve made all kinds of treats for the birds. It’s a family tradition.”
What’s a tradition? Zack wondered. He was about to ask, when William said, “Come on—you can be first on the ladder, Zack, since it’s your first time here.”
Zack’s dad helped William hold the ladder steady while Zack climbed up it. Penny handed Zack a popcorn-and-suet ball from the basket. Zack reached as high as he could and hung the ball on a branch.
Everyone took a turn climbing the ladder and hanging up a treat. Soon the tree looked splendid decorated with popcorn-and-suet balls, pinecones spread with peanut butter, orange and apple slices, and milk-carton feeders filled with crunchy seeds.
“Let’s go inside now and watch the birds through the window,” said Penny.
“What’s a tradition?” Zack asked as he trooped inside with the others.
“A tradition is something you do every year at the same time in the same way,” Penny said.
Grandpa Jenkins greeted them at the door. “Yes, and it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a feast for the birds,” he said.
Just then another car came up the driveway.
“Hurray!” everyone shouted. “Here comes Aunt Irene with the pies.”
“It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without Irene’s pies,” said Grandpa. He took the pies and gave her a hug.
Grandma looked over from the stove. “Set them on the counter, please, next to the pickles,” she said. Her face was warm and red from basting the turkey in the oven.
Zack sniffed the savory kitchen smells. “Wow! Pumpkin pie!” he exclaimed.
“Aunt Irene makes two kinds of pie—pumpkin and apple—every year,” Amber told him.
Another family tradition, thought Zack. Traditions are great! He smacked his lips and helped the other grandchildren set the table. His dad helped the uncles bring in extra chairs. The aunts mixed the salads. William fed the dog. Outside in the tree the birds chirped over their feast.
At last dinner was ready to eat, and everyone sat down. After a blessing on the food was said, each person shared aloud some of the special things he or she was thankful for that year. While they ate, they told funny stories and laughed.
As each course was finished, the aunts cleared dishes from the table. Empty dishes began to pile up on the counter where the pies and pickles and salads had been before. When the counter overflowed with dirty dishes, the aunts stacked more in the sink. When the sink was full, they piled more on the stove.
When the last slice of pie had been eaten, Grandma smiled and sighed as she put her apron back on.
“Now for the ‘dirty dish disaster,’” Aunt Nora muttered, echoing Grandma’s sigh.
But Penny, Amber, William, Grandpa, and all the uncles put on their jackets and caps and mittens.
“What’s going on?” asked Zack.
“It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a walk in the park after dinner,” said Grandpa, patting his full stomach.
“The river is frozen hard enough to walk on. It’s fun. Grab your jacket and come with us, Zack,” said William.
Zack ran for his jacket. In the kitchen he stopped. Grandma and Aunt Nora were at the sink. It was spilling over with sticky dishes and dirty pots and pans. The other aunts were putting leftovers in the refrigerator and pantry. “Aren’t you going on the walk?” Zack asked them.
Grandma shook her head. “We stay here and attack the dirty dishes,” she explained.
“We always do,” said Aunt Nora.
“We have plenty of practice,” said Aunt Irene.
Penny and William and the others waited at the door for Zack and his dad.
Some people go for a walk. Others stay and do the dishes. Is this a tradition, too? wondered Zack.
“Aren’t you coming, Zack?” asked Penny.
Zack walked slowly over to the sink. “Dad and I do the dishes every night. I guess that’s our tradition,” he said as he took off his jacket and picked up a dish towel.
Zack’s dad nodded and rolled up his sleeves.
Then Amber took off her coat and said, “I can dry too.”
William took off his jacket. “I was on the dish-scraping crew at summer camp.”
Grandpa gave a little cough. “I suppose it won’t matter if we delay the walk a bit.”
Soon Zack, his dad, and all the rest of the Jenkinses were busy in the kitchen, scraping and washing and drying dishes. Grandpa put them away because he knew where they belonged in the cupboards.
“Well, I never!” Grandma kept saying.
When the kitchen was all cleaned, the sun was beginning to set. The blue sky was streaked with red and orange. Many of the birds were gone. Zack was worried. “Did we break your after-dinner Thanksgiving tradition?”
“You sure broke the ‘dirty dish disaster’ tradition,” said Aunt Nora, helping Grandma on with her coat, “and it’s about time!”
“Yes, you’ve helped us replace it with a better one!” declared Aunt Irene.
Zack gave a happy grin as they all went out in the fresh November air for their walk together—a new Jenkins family tradition.