A Thanksgiving Lesson

“Girls,” Dad announced at the dinner table Monday night, “your mom and I have been talking, and we think it is time for the two of you to experience more of the world.” Seven-year-old Allison exchanged a worried glance with her eight-year-old sister, Beatrice.

Dad was always talking about “experiencing more of the world.” Last time, it was taking a family trip to the Amazon jungles. Allison had gotten exactly twenty-two bug bites (she counted each one), as well as a skinned knee and three blisters. She wondered what Dad had in mind this time, and hoped it had nothing to do with bloodthirsty mosquitoes.

            “This Thanksgiving,” Dad said, “we are going to visit an orphanage in Russia.”

            An orphanage? Oh no! Allison thought in dismay. I have to spend my whole Thanksgiving vacation with a bunch of strangers? Thanksgiving is ruined!

But Beatrice’s blue eyes lit up. “An orphanage?” she asked. “You mean, a place where children who don’t have parents live?”

“That’s right, Bea,” Dad nodded. “Your mom and I volunteered to bring toys and clothing to the orphans, and we thought you might like to come along.”

“Oh, cool!” Beatrice grinned. Allison sighed.

On Friday night, Allison and her family boarded the plane for Russia.

“Allie, we’re going to a real live orphanage! Can you believe it?” Beatrice bounced up and down in her seat. “We’re going to meet all those unfortunate kids who don’t have parents!”

“What’s so great about that?” Allison muttered under her breath.

“There’s probably going to be lots of babies and toddlers, and they probably won’t have enough food or clothes, or anything. We’re going to bring them toys, and they’re going to be so happy!” Beatrice sniffed dramatically. “I can just see it! The orphanage is going to be dark and dreary, and mean workers are going to whip the kids every day, and they won’t have any shoes to wear, and…”

Allison slid down in her seat. “I don’t want to talk about it, Bea.”

“Oh.” Beatrice stopped talking. “Okay.”

The plane lifted off the ground with a roar, but Allison didn’t notice. Visions of sad-faced children in ragged clothing stared at her from the shadows. Oh why do we have to go to an orphanage?

Thanksgiving was on Saturday, and for the whole day, Allison was nervous about the visit to the orphanage. She really didn’t want to go and meet a bunch of poor, strange children. All she wanted to do was stay home and play with her Beanie Babies. Even when Dad drove up to the gates of the orphanage, and Allison saw that the building was not dark and dreary like Beatrice had said, she did not feel any better.

Mom and Dad ushered the girls inside to a large room with flowers and wall decorations everywhere. Beatrice frowned at a poster with a teddy bear on it. “Where are the whips?” she asked Dad.

“Whips? What whips?” Dad looked at Bea, puzzled.

“Nothing.” Beatrice dug her toe into the soft green carpet. “When are we going to see the orphans?”

“Right now,” Mom said. “They’re waiting in the playroom. Come on.”

Mom and Dad led the girls into another room, even larger than the first. There were bookshelves and a ping-pong table, and children were running all over the place, laughing and screaming.  As Allison watched the happy scene before her, the knot in her stomach slowly began to dissolve. But Beatrice hung her head.

“They have shoes.” She said sadly.

“Of course they have shoes, silly,” Mom said, ruffling Beatrice’s hair. “The workers here don’t want the kids to hurt their feet.”

Allison wasn’t paying attention. She looked around the room and spotted a little girl in the corner who looked to be about six or seven. She was sitting on the ground and playing with Beanie Babies. Hesitantly, Allison walked over.

“Hi,” she said softly.

The orphan looked up.

“I’m Allison. Who are you?”

“Who?” The girl frowned in confusion. Then she smiled as she understood what Allison was asking. “I’m…Sasha.”

Allison smiled back. “I’m visiting with my family. Are these your Beanie Babies?”

“Beanie Babies…? Oh! Yes, I have whole collection in room.”

“Really? Me too! I have Maple the Bear, and Rocket the Blue Jay, and…”

“Rocket Blue Jay? See!” Sasha held up a small blue bird. Then suddenly, her eyes widened. “I have idea! Play with me? No fun talking to self.”

“Okay!” Allison agreed. She sat down in front of Sasha and picked up a purple hippo. “What’s his name?”

“Happy Hippo,” Sasha replied shyly. “My favorite. I like to be happy.”

Allison grinned at Sasha. “Me too,” she agreed. This Thanksgiving Day was finally looking up.