Mother was studying the calendar in the kitchen when Carly came home from school. “I can’t believe I’ve done this, Carly,” she said, still staring at the calendar.
“Done what?” Carly asked, dropping her school bag on the kitchen chair. It was two days before Thanksgiving, but the kitchen already smelled spicy and good. “Did you forget to invite someone?”
“No—it’s the special dinner at the rest home tomorrow afternoon that’s the problem. I scheduled Jason’s dental appointment for the same time. Aunt Hattie will be awfully disappointed if I don’t come.”
“Can’t you just change the dental appointment?”
“No, it was hard to get, and he’s already in pain with that tooth.” Mother sat down at the table and rested her hands in her chin. “We can’t bring Aunt Hattie over here anymore since she is so feeble, but I thought that at least I could go over there and have dinner with her.” Suddenly her mother sat up straight and looked at her hopefully. “Aunt Hattie has always liked you,” she said.
Carly sat down too. She knew what her mother was thinking. “But, Mom, she’s so old! She can’t hear very well, and sometimes I can’t understand what she says. She doesn’t make much sense anymore.”
“I know,” her mother said sadly. “But she’s my grandma’s only sister. She always brought me lemon drops when I was a little girl.”
Her mother shrugged. Then the hopeful look returned to her face. “If you went, she wouldn’t be sitting there all alone eating her turkey. …”
Carly picked up a slice of apple and ate it. “When she eats, the food sometimes dribbles out, or she spills it onto her chin or down her dress.”
“Well, I know, but we all do that at certain stages of our lives. You used to do it.”
Carly sighed. “All right. I guess I can. How will I get there?”
“I can drop you off on the way to the dentist and pick you up when we’re through. Thank you, Carly.”
“An hour or so.”
Carly sighed again. She didn’t mind too much going to the rest home with her mother, but to be there all alone with all those old people would be creepy.
The next afternoon, her mother stopped the car in front of the old stone building, and Carly plodded up the steps and opened the big wooden doors. The smell of fresh pine cleaner struck her nostrils, but as she tramped down the long hall to the dining room, she could smell turkey and sage dressing. Old people, most of them looking lonely, sat at the round tables in the large room. A few had family members with them. She spotted Aunt Hattie’s snow-white hair and slouched over to her. “Hi, Aunt Hattie.”
Aunt Hattie turned her head slowly and looked at her. “Hello, dear,” she finally said.
“Mother had to take Jason to the dentist, so I came to eat with you.”
“And who would your mother be, dear?”
Carly was taken aback for a minute. “Helen, your niece.”
“Oh yes. Dear Helen, Zella’s girl. Well, sit down, dear. Now, you’re …”
“Carly, Helen’s daughter.” Carly pulled out a chair and sat down.
“Of course,” Aunt Hattie said. She leaned back in her wheelchair and thoughtfully fingered the lace on the collar of her housecoat.
Soon a young man in a blue medical smock brought them each a plate with turkey, dressing, potatoes, and green beans. In the center of the table was a cardboard turkey with lollipops for its tail. Something about the turkey made Carly feel very sad. She didn’t know what to say to Aunt Hattie, and they ate in silence. Aunt Hattie dribbled a little gravy on her flowered housecoat, but generally she managed fine. Carly preferred not to watch her eat.
When the young man brought pumpkin pie, Carly looked at the wall clock. She’d been here only twenty minutes. What would they do the rest of the time? She looked around the room at the gray and white heads, some bent over their plates, some lying back in reclining wheelchairs.
At that moment, a man walked briskly into the room. To Carly, he looked pretty old but nothing like the people at the tables. He sat down at the piano in the corner of the dining room and began to play. At first he played old-time tunes that Carly didn’t know. As he played, Aunt Hattie sat up straighter and a little light came into her eyes. She smiled at Carly and her wrinkled fingers began to tap on the wooden table. Carly remembered that her mother had told her that Aunt Hattie loved music and had always sung in the ward choir.
Then the tunes began to sound more familiar, and Carly realized he was playing hymns. Suddenly Aunt Hattie began to sing “How Firm a Foundation.” Her voice was quavery but sweet and clear.
At first Carly felt embarrassed and looked around the room to see how people were reacting, but no one seemed to be paying any attention at all. Maybe Aunt Hattie did this a lot. Next she sang all the verses of “Count Your Blessings.” The piano player played all the songs in a lilting, cheerful way.
After that came “The Spirit of God.” Carly had learned the words to that song in Primary. Without really thinking about it, she opened her mouth and began to sing with Aunt Hattie. Aunt Hattie smiled, and her pale blue eyes were shining.
Then the man started playing Primary songs: “‘Give,’ Said the Little Stream” and “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam.” Carly leaned back in her chair and sang out nice and loud. No one cared. She thought about how she didn’t feel silly singing here.
Outside, a soft snow began to fall. The setting sun gave a pink glow to it and to the sky. Aunt Hattie laid her hand on Carly’s hand. It felt as though a warm leaf had blown onto her hand. Carly felt warm and cozy. They sang and sang.
The man stopped playing at the same moment that Carly saw her mother come into the room. She wished he’d keep on for a while—she knew that her mother would sing with them. As he walked by their table, he turned to Carly and said, “I play here on Wednesdays at dinnertime. Come back.” He stopped, plucked a red lollipop out of the turkey’s tail, handed it to Carly, and walked on.
When Carly got up to leave, she leaned over and gave Aunt Hattie a quick kiss on the cheek. Aunt Hattie squeezed her hand and smiled. “Helen’s girl,” she said softly.
In the car, Jason lay moaning in the backseat. “Was it awful?” her mother asked Carly.
“Yes,” Jason said, thinking the question was meant for him.
“No, not really,” Carly said thoughtfully.
“Did she dribble her food?”
“Well, anybody can spill a little gravy on her shirt.”
“Of course.” Her mother gave her a quick smile.”
“Would you be able to bring me over here next Wednesday—maybe leave me here while you do some errands or something?”
“You want to come back? By yourself?”
“Well, yeah. … Just to sing with Aunt Hattie for a while. We know a lot of the same songs. Maybe you could sing with us, too, sometime.”
Mother reached over and squeezed her hand in the same warm way Aunt Hattie had.