It was a time in history when most American families held high hopes for their future and looked forward to enjoying a Thanksgiving meal with family and friends. A few days before the holiday, an unforeseen tragedy struck the nation—President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22nd. Although families from all walks of life were in mourning, most held that year’s Thanksgiving holiday in their hearts as they enjoyed a bountiful feast together and prayed for the healing of a stunned nation. Others were not so fortunate—the ones who did not know where their next meal was coming from. They were the poor, the indigent, the invisible people. They were praying, and they were hungry.
“In Dog Bone Soup, Bette Stevens captures the feeling and images of growing up in hardscrabble times perfectly.” ~ John Clark, librarian and author
DOG BONE SOUP
A Thanksgiving excerpt
“BOYS, GET IN HERE. Hurry up!”
We set the groceries on the table and ran in to see what Mum was so worked up about.
“President Kennedy’s body’s back in Washington. Look, they’re switching from the Washington to that Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas. The world’s at a standstill and no wonder. I can’t believe that someone’s gone and killed the President…Sit down. Watch.”
“What’s for dinner?” I asked when I handed her the change.
“Good. We have more than a dollar left for the week.”
“What about dinner, Mum?”
“I’ll fix us some supper, later. We had plenty of hotcakes to tide us over this morning,” Mum sat there, captivated by the news.
Coverage went on all day and long into the night. Willie and I went out to cut and split fire wood for the week. Then we grabbed our fishing poles and ran down to the brook. I figured if we caught something, we could have a nice fry for supper, even if I had to fix it myself.
Willie peeled and cut potatoes while I figured out how to mix flour and cornmeal and get the fish going. I set the fish on the stove to keep warm while I fried up the potatoes.
We never did get Mum away from the darned TV.
I wondered if it was like that for other families that night. I wasn’t up to watching TV non-stop. I’d pop in every now and then to keep track of what was happening though. I kept thinking about President Lincoln. Far as I could see nothing good came from fighting, killing and wars. Why couldn’t people just treat everyone the way they wanted to be treated.
I got the washtub heated up before bed. The girls got their baths first, like always. Then Willie and I took turns. There’d be no hair cuttin’ this Saturday. There was only one good thing about this day—Dad didn’t show up. I didn’t want to think about that shotgun, but I couldn’t shake that Saturday out of my head.
By the time I got up Sunday morning, the news was already runnin’ non-stop. President Kennedy had big dreams for America. He hoped we would land on the moon; wanted Americans to be healthy; wanted Negros and poor folks to have rights like everybody else and he wanted to make peace with people in other countries. I wondered what would happen to those dreams now that he was gone.
Mum had the volume turned way up, but she wasn’t watchin’. She had the wood stove blazin’, fresh biscuits warming on the stove top and scrambled eggs cookin’ on the griddle.
“I’ve been praying for the President’s family,” she looked up and whispered. “Call the kids and sit yourself down. Thanks for fixin’ supper last night, Shawn. I’ve been walking around in a fog with all that’s been going on. I still can’t imagine why anyone would want to kill the President.”
After breakfast, Willie and I ran out to milk the cows.
“Now you boys, bundle up real good. It’s mighty cold out there.”
Two heifers started mooing real low the second they spotted us. The wind was blowing so darned hard, the pails were swingin’ all on their own, even with the weight of milk jars in them. By the time we got back to the house the sky was spittin’ out snowflakes big as quarters.
“Let’s fix us a cup a hot coffee, Willie.”
“Mum’ll have a fit if she finds me drinking coffee.”
I threw in a few small chunks of kindling and set the coffee pot on top of the stove.
“You might like it. I mix it up with lots of milk. We’ll fix Mum a cup, too.”
“Boys, get in here quick,” Mum hollered. “Some night club owner named Jack Ruby just shot and killed that Oswald guy who shot President Kennedy!”
Bad news just kept coming. Cameras jumped from Washington to Dallas and back again every few minutes. We watched the casket being carried from the White House to the Capital’s Rotunda. In between, they showed pictures of the President’s family before all this terrible stuff happened. Caroline and John-John were just little kids and the family looked real happy doing things together.
Then, reporters started talking to the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson.
I poured up coffee and went in to watch the mess. My head pounded. I closed my eyes and tried to figure out how I was gonna get out of school next week. I had to talk to that recruiter.
Just as I downed the last of my coffee, I heard a knock at the door. “Please don’t be Dad,” I prayed.
I lifted the latch, opened the door and there stood two snow-crusted ladies that I recognized from church. They were holding baskets chock-full of all the things us kids had been dreamin’ about. One had a turkey, a ham and all kinds of canned goods. The other held a plate mounded high with cookies and two pumpkin pies. I even spotted a can of cocoa.
“Come on in and sit down. I’ll go get Mum.”
“We’ll just set these baskets on the table. We have three more deliveries and we want to get home before the roads get any worse.”
“Mum, it’s ladies from church. They brought us baskets chock-full of food,” I hollered.
Mum and the kids must have flown out to the kitchen.
“What on earth are you doing here?” I thought Mum’s eyes would pop out when she spotted those baskets.
“Thanksgiving’s only a few days away and we’re out making deliveries this afternoon. I think you’ll find enough for a nice holiday feast, Mrs. Daniels. If there’s anything else you need, just let us know.”
“You have a wonderful Thanksgiving.” The ladies smiled before they turned to leave.
“You take your damned charity baskets and leave ’em somewhere they’re needed!”
The ladies spun around, looked at one another, then at Mum, then at us, then at the baskets. One of them held her hands up clutching at her coat like someone might steal it. The shortest one looked like she was ready to bawl. When they picked up the baskets and turned to leave, my stomach clenched up tighter than a double fisherman’s knot.
Annie and Molly stood there crying. Willie stared at Mum with eyes as round as donuts, shakin’ his head.
“I can’t believe you did that, Mum. You were rude and here we are starvin’ to death,” I scowled.
“I don’t want to hear any sass from you. And you girls stop your whining. We’re proud folks. We’ve never taken charity and we’re never gonna take it.” Mum shook her head and shuffled back in to watch TV.
I sat down at the kitchen table and didn’t know what to make of it. Mum couldn’t believe somebody’d killed the President. Well, I couldn’t believe Mum just killed our only chance of having a decent meal.
Today, more than 45 million Americans are living below the poverty line.
Most of them aren’t looking for a hand-out. They’re looking for a hand up—decent jobs that pay a living wage.
Want more Dog Bone Soup?
- DOG BONE SOUP, A Boomer’s Journey (Literary/Historical Fiction/Ages 12-Adult) by Bette A. Stevens
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About the author
Inspired by nature and human nature, Maine author Bette A. Stevens is a retired elementary and middle school teacher, a wife, mother of two and grandmother of five. Stevens lives in Central Maine with her husband on their 37-acre farmstead where she enjoys reading, writing, gardening, walking and reveling in the beauty of nature. She advocates for children and families, for childhood literacy and for the conservation of monarch butterflies—an endangered species (and milkweed, the only plant that monarch caterpillars will eat).
Stevens is the author of AMAZING MATILDA, an award-winning picture book; The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles Too!, a home/school resource incorporating hands-on math and writing; and PURE TRASH, the short story prequel to her début novel, DOG BONE SOUP, a Baby Boomer’s coming of age novel: and MY MAINE (Poetry & Photography Collection)—see Maine through the eyes of a poet. You can find out more about the author and her books at http://viewauthor.at/BetteAStevens