Thanksgiving In Little Rock
By Gabrielle Blair
“Quick! Here’s a turn-off. Take it!” We made a sharp turn off the highway. On this desolate road, we passed a wrecked, clap-board house. “Looks haunted,” I said with a sinking feeling. “Don’t make me go there! We’re liable to be killed,” was Alec’s response, remembering horror movies. We’d seen too many run-down parts of the States already, testament to a failing American dream. With no alternative, we crept along to conserve gas, watching the needle inching at an alarming rate towards zero. One kilometer left, then ‘EMPTY’! In neutral, we coasted down the narrow levee road not knowing if we might soon run out of tarmac.
This was barren Arkansas. On each side was swamp with no possibility of turning with a trailer. There was no shoulder. We were driving from Toronto to Ajijic hauling household possessions and our precious baby-grand piano, a 1935 heirloom, recently inherited. Our SUV was guzzling gas and needed frequent stops to fill up. We’d survived the delayed receipt of U.S. Wild Life permits to bring an instrument with ivory keys across the border, held up because the government was shut down; endured the early freezing Canadian Winter, with the piano coddled in blankets; and now this!
Our previous ordeals had been briefly lightened by a funny moment at the Canadian customs, when an official asked if we were transporting a parrot (she’d heard ‘parrot’ not piano) and I’d replied, “We’re taking our elephant through”, at which point another agent had sat bolt upright in her chair and said loudly, “D’you have the elephant with you!? Does it have food and water?” She was serious.
We crawled around a bend in this unpopulated, Clintonian wasteland, and then – relief – a single house with people outside! We pulled up and a tall, elegantly dressed woman, perhaps in her mid-forties, came to greet us. “We’re out of gas and there’s been nowhere to fill up for miles,” we explained. “I know,” she smiled. “The nearest gas station is about twelve miles from here.” “Any chance you might have a gallon of gas we can buy from you?” we asked hopefully. “I don’t think so, but hold on; I’ll ask my brother.” She had a wonderful Arkansas drawl.
While we waited anxiously, we looked around. It was a neat bungalow with well-kept yard and a number of adults and children milling around, all smartly dressed. In a moment she returned and I noted her graceful carriage. Could have been a dancer, I thought. “He’s gone to look out back. There may be some gas for the lawn-mower he can spare. It’s lucky you caught us. We were just heading out.” We marveled at her beautiful voice. Her brother appeared with a can of gas. “We’re going to visit my father-in-law in the old-age home, to spend some time with him for Thanksgiving,” he said.
Absorbed in the trials of transporting the piano, we’d completely missed that it was the U.S. Thanksgiving, the Canadian one long gone. We offered him ten dollars, which he was reluctant to take. “Use it to buy your father-in-law a present,” I suggested and he thanked us graciously. “We’re about to leave. We can guide you in the right direction to the gas station, if you’d like.” Turning carefully in the driveway, we followed their packed car towards Little Rock, giving thanks at our good fortune at having come upon this friendly Black family who’d helped us out of a desperate situation. Thanksgiving in Little Rock!