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When Thanksgiving came twice

GRANDFATHER Thomas told me, long years after, that Thanksgiving in 1865 came on a December Friday. President Johnson delayed the holiday so Yankee soldiers coming home from the war would have time to get there, and Grandfather Tom had just made it -- he walked up the road to his Maine hillside farm that very morning. Somebody spotted him from the kitchen window, and as he walked into the dooryard there was a beating of spoons on pans, yelling and cheering, and some teary eyes. Everybody was there -- cousins and aunts and all, and at 22 very mature years Grandfather Tom was thankful his war was over. He told me that President Johnson hadn't told Cobbler John Coombs that the date had been changed, so he came that morning, thinking it was just another day, and since he was there he ``took'' dinner with the family and cobbled.

The sons of the generations of the Coombses were many and one from the other was easily identified. Old John Coombs had three sons -- John, James, and Robert. Old Jim Coombs had three sons -- James, John, and Robert. Old Robert Coombs had three sons -- Robert, James, and John. So there came to be John's John, John's Jim, and John's Robert. Also, Jim's Jim, Jim's John, and Jim's Robert. And so on.

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Next came John's Jim's Robert, etc., and occasionally an odd one like Cobbler John. Cobbler John had two brothers -- Butcher Jim and Cooper Robert. I explain this so you'll understand it was Cobbler John Coombs who came on Thanksgiving in 1865.

Perhaps he wasn't altogether unexpected. He would come at least twice a year, and oftener if sent for, to make and repair boots for the family, and such was Grandfather Tom's family that he stayed at least a day and sometimes spent the night to finish next morning.

In his wagon he brought his bench, his tools, and his leathers, and from tot to oldsters he would cut and stitch and nail until all were shod and he could move on up the road to take care of the Smalls. Room for his bench was gained by moving the geranium stand away from the kitchen window.

As he worked, he would signal when he needed somebody to step up for a measurement or a fitting. He spoke seldom, and one reason was that his mouth was always full of sparables. You can look it up; it's in the dictionary.

But Grandfather Tom was unexpected. Word had not come that he would be home even for President Johnson's postponed Thanksgiving, and the family had planned to leave that empty place at table again -- for the missing one. With Tom home, the empty place was filled, and now they needed an extra place for Cobbler John.

So the girls arranged the long kitchen table, with Tom beginning to be a civilian again, and Cobbler John tapping away by the window. You understand, you see, that if it had been the real Thanksgiving -- the right Thanksgiving -- Cobbler John would not have come. But now that he had come, what difference?

The roasting pan with its six birds went into the oven, and the bag pudding had been tied off and put on to boil. The turnips and potatoes were being mashed, the onions put to stew, and all the goodies of a proper Thanksgiving readied. The pies had been baked ``yestiddy,'' and Grammie Rebecca was stirring the soft sauce and beating the hard sauce that would adorn them and the pudding. The youngsters were hanging on Tom, and he kept saying how good it was to be home. He had one boot off, because Cobbler John had wanted to inspect the government style, and Tom hadn't bothered to put the boot back on.

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The kitchen window had long since steamed up so daylight wasn't coming in, and the door to the shed had been opened to let in some air. It was time for Grammie Rebecca to call, ``All right, now -- if ye'll all find your places; and Mr. Coombs, you can sit here next to Tom.'' The tapping at the window ceased.

It was certainly good to have Tom home, and Uncle Henry dwelt on special thanks for this great joy on Thanksgiving Day. It was when he said this during the blessing that Cobbler John Coombs looked up in realization that he was working on the holiday. He didn't have any shoemaker's nails in his mouth now, so he said, ``We had our'n two weeks ago!''

And Grammie Rebecca patted Tom on the head and said, ``Well, Mr. Coombs -- take your 'taties and have another. They's good reason!''

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