Recently, I’ve been thinking about how the concept of Thanksgiving has evolved over the centuries. Once upon a time, it was mainly about giving thanks for a successful harvest. Now, however, it has grown into something much more expansive: giving thanks for all that we have…and trying harder to share those things with those who have less.
To illustrate, I thought I’d share a wonderful Thanksgiving short story a friend recently sent me called Bert’s Thanksgiving. It was written by a man named J.T. Trowbridge all the way back in the early 1870s. The story is about how showing a little kindness on Thanksgiving can lead to an
even greater kindness in turn.
I hope you enjoy reading the story as much as I did. And most of all, I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving!
by J.T. Trowbridge
At noon on a dreary November day, a lonesome young fellow named Bert stood at the door of a cheap eating house in Boston, offering a solitary copy of the morning paper for sale to the people passing by. But there were really not many people passing, for it was Thanksgiving Day and the
shops were closed, and everybody who had a home to go to, and a dinner to eat, seemed to have already done so.
An old man in a seedy black coat and rumpled stovepipe hat stopped at the doorway and, with one hand on the latch, appeared to hesitate between hunger and a sense of poverty before going in. It was possible, however, that he was considering whether he could afford himself the
indulgence of a morning paper as it was Thanksgiving Day. So at least Bert thought, seeing the opportunity for one last sale.
“Buy a paper, sir? Only two cents.”
The old man looked at the boy and answered, in a tired voice, “You ought to come down in your price this time of day. You can’t expect to sell a morning paper at noon for full price.”
“Well, how ‘bout a cent, then,” said Bert. “That’s less than cost, but it’s better than nothing.”
“You look cold,” said the old man.
“Near frozen!” said Bert, “and I want my dinner, seeing as it’s Thanksgiving Day.”
“You’ve a home to go to and friends, too, I hope,” said the old man.
“No, sir, no home and no friends – only my mother and two sisters. But it’s too late to see them today – it’s a long journey to get back to them.”
“It’s more lonesome not to eat at all,” said the old man. “Here, I guess I can find a cent for you – though there’s nothing in the paper I care to read.” His fingers trembling, he reached into his pocket and then dropped two cents into Bert’s hand instead of one.
“You’ve made a mistake!” cried Bert. “A deal’s a deal. You’ve given me a cent too much.”
“No matter,” said the old man. “It’s just one less cent for my dinner, that’s all.”
Bert had instinctively pocked the pennies, but he felt bad. Poor old man, he thought. He’s seen better days, I guess. Perhaps he’s no home. A boy like me can stand it, but I guess it must be hard for him. He meant to give me two cents the whole time, and I don’t believe he has had a
decent dinner for many a day.
“Look here!” Bert cried. “Where you going in to get dinner? I’ll pay for it.”
The old man tried to argue, but Bert wouldn’t have it. “Come! We don’t have a Thanksgiving but once a year. I’m going to have a good dinner for once in my life, and so are you. What do you say to chicken soup – and end up with a big piece of pumpkin pie! How’s that for a Thanksgiving dinner?”
“Scrumptious!” said the old man, appearing to glow with the warmth of the room and the prospect of a hearty meal. “But won’t it cost you too much?”
“Too much? No, sir!” said Bert. “Chicken soup, fifteen cents; pie—they give tremendous big pieces here, thick, I tell you—ten cents. That's twenty-five cents; half a dollar for two. Of course, I don't eat this way every day of the year! Here! Waiter!” And Bert gave his princely order as if he did it every day.
“But where is your mother? Why don’t you have dinner with her?” the old man asked.
Bert’s face grew sober in a moment. “What I want more than anything is to be with my mother and two sisters for Thanksgiving, and I am not ashamed to say so.” His eyes grew very tender while his companion across the table watched him with a very gentle, searching look. “I haven’t been with her now for two years – hardly at all since father died. Mother couldn’t support three mouths to feed, so I said, I’m the oldest; I can do something to help. I’ll go to work and maybe help a little with money besides taking care of myself.”
“What could you do?” asked the old man.
“That’s just it – I was only eleven years old. What could I do? So, I started selling newspapers. I’ve sold newspapers ever since, and I shall be thirteen years old next month.”
“Do you like it?”
“I like making my own living,” replied Bert proudly. “But what I want is to learn some trade and settle down and make a home for my mother and sisters, though I suppose that’s too big a dream for me. But there’s no use talking about that now. What about yourself?”
“Yes. What do you do? Is it what you always wanted?”
The man shook his head. “Life isn’t what we think it will be when we are young, both good and bad. You’ll find that out soon enough. I am all alone in the world now and am nearly seventy.”
“It must be so lonely at your age! What do you do for a living?”
“I have a little place on Devonshire Street. My name is Mr. Crocker. Come and see me, and I’ll tell you all about me and maybe help you get a better job, for I know several businessmen.” And Mr. Crocker wrote his address on a corner of the newspaper which had led to their acquaintance,
tore it off carefully, and gave it to Bert.
“Well, Bert,” said the old man, “I'm glad to make your acquaintance, and I hope you'll come and see me. You'll find me in very humble quarters. Now, won't you let me pay for my dinner? I believe I have enough money. Let me see.” And he put his hand in his pocket.
Bert would not hear of such a thing but walked up to the desk and paid the whole bill. When he looked around again, the little old man was gone.
“I'll go and see him the first chance I have,” said Bert as he looked at the penciled strip of newspaper margin again before putting it into his pocket.
On the following Monday, Bert went to call on his new friend. He found him in a small but handsome apartment with the door ajar. Looking in, Bert saw Mr. Crocker at a desk in the act of receiving a roll of money from a well-dressed visitor. Bert entered unnoticed and waited till the money was counted and the receipt signed. Then, as the visitor departed, Mr. Crocker noticed the boy and offered him a chair.
“So, this is your place of business?” said Bert, glancing about the plain office room. “What do you do here?”
“I buy real estate, sometimes—sell—rent—and so forth.”
“Who for?” asked Bert.
“For myself,” said the old gentleman with a smile.
Bert was shocked! This was the man whom he had invited to dinner last Thursday? “I—I—I thought—you were a poor man!”
“I am a poor man,” said Mr. Crocker, locking his safe. “Money doesn't make a man rich. I've enough money. I own houses in the city. They give me something to think about and keep me busy. I had truer riches once, but I lost them long ago.”
From the way the old man's voice trembled and eyes glistened, Bert thought he must have meant by these riches, the friends he had lost, wife and children, perhaps.
“To think of me inviting you to dinner! You could’ve got a much finer dinner anywhere!”
“No, I couldn’t. You see, young man, in exchange for two pennies, you gave me something I can’t ever buy: A friendly ear, a warm heart, and company. I like you. I believe in you, and I've an offer to make you. I want a trusty, bright boy in this office, somebody I can bring up in my business and leave it with as I get too old to run it myself. What do you say?”
What could Bert say?
The lonely, childless old man, who owned so many houses, wanted a home and a family. One of his houses he offered to Bert's mother, with ample support for herself and children, if she would allow him to live with them like a grandfather.
Of course, she accepted, and Bert soon saw all his dreams come true. He had employment, which promised to become a profitable business, as indeed it did in a few years. The old man and the boy proved very loyal to each other, and, more than that, both were reunited with something they
had long thought lost: A family in a happy home, where both have since had many Thanksgiving dinners.
Written by John Townsend Trowbridge
Now in the public domain