This story takes place in 1894, when West Palm Beach was just beginning as a tiny town. We are at the home of Fred S. Dewey and Byrd Spilman Dewey, who lived on the shores of Lake Worth in a grand two-story house. Mrs. Dewey wrote children’s stories about her cats and dogs. Her most famous book was Bruno, written in 1899 about her beloved dog. It became a national bestseller, selling over 100,000 copies its first year. In her books, Mrs. Dewey becomes the character of Judith Sunshine and her husband Fred becomes Julius Sunshine. This story is an imagined tale of one eventful Thanksgiving at The Blessed Isle, which is what the Deweys called their lakeside estate.
Outside, the Northeast breezes had once again returned to The Blessed Isle, bringing their cool winds and reminding us here in the South that indeed it was Autumn. Judith Sunshine had started her preparations for the Grand Feast of Thanksgiving, at least the Southern Florida version of it.
“How many will be joining us for our feast?” asked Julius at the tea table. “Counting just people, or the cattle as well?” Judith asked with a wry smile.
“Just counting those at the table.” said Julius.
“Well, the Kinzels, the Greens and their children Constance, Prudence and Frankie, and the newspaperman Mr. Metcalf and his new bride, so that makes eleven at the table.” said Judith.
“That’s quite a crowd, Judith – are the children going to help you?” Julius asked.
“Their little hands can certainly help peel the sweet potatoes we got from Will Moore, and the apples as well.”
Just then there was a knock at the back door, and Judith opened it to see Jackson, the young grocer boy.
“Good morning, Mrs. Sunshine. I have your groceries.” said Jackson.
“Bring in the boxes and put them on the kitchen table.” said Judith.
Judith began to unpack all the good things so reminiscent of her northern days – red apples, fresh cranberries, pumpkin and all the “fixins” for a special feast.
But what of the bird! The Sunshines had a few turkeys in their chicken park, but they were pets, a part of The Blessed Isle’s “cattle,” which consisted of cats, dogs, chickens, turkeys and birds.
The children who played at The Blessed Isle often would chase the Tom Turkey General Bragg around the yard, and the Sunshine’s dog Foozle gave him a good chase as well. Mr. Burkhardt at the Pioneer Grocery on Clematis Street was taking orders for turkeys, but somehow that didn’t seem right being as they had turkeys for pets. So Julius and Judith settled on something as delicious – a venison roast from their good friends the Seminole Indians.
As the day before the Grand Feast arrived, Judith began her preparations. Mrs. Sunshine set the house in perfect order, the good china was on the dining room table, and Julius started a little fire in the dining room fireplace, just for a lovely effect.
As Judith gazed down to the long wharf on Lake Worth, she spied a sailboat just arriving. Out sprang her small helpers – the Green’s three children – eager and excited about the coming day.
“Oh Mrs. Sunshine, my sister and I couldn’t sleep all night because we were so excited!” cried Prudence.
At once the girls were peeling the sweet potatoes and apples. Little Frankie wanted to help too, so he was sent to the garden to pick string beans. Soon he filled the basket with the beans, and Frankie darted in the house. “DONE! Can I go play with Foozle?” asked Frankie.
“Why certainly! But don’t get into any trouble!” said Judith.
The apples and cranberries were simmering on the stove, saved bread was toasting for the dressing, and the pumpkin was mashed for the pie.
“Oh my stars, I am out of cinnamon.” Judith exclaimed as she looked dumbfounded into her spice cupboard.
“Would you girls run over to Mrs. Kinzel and see if she has any?”
“Sure Mrs. Sunshine!” said Prudence.
The two little girls darted through the yard, their little white dresses and black stockings flying as fast as their feet would take them.
As they were running, they spied General Bragg in the chicken yard. They both stopped suddenly – tomorrow was Thanksgiving!
And on Thanksgiving you eat turkey.
“I don’t want to eat our good friend General Bragg tomorrow! What can we do?” cried Prudence.
“Let’s find Frankie! He will think of something!” said Constance.
Frankie was down by the lake playing fetch with Foozle and a cocoanut. The girls ran down the hill and were out of breath as they gasped to Frankie “We must save General Bragg!”
“Why? I saw him over in the chicken park.” said Frankie with a puzzled look.
“But tomorrow is Thanksgiving!” cried Prudence. “And he will be on the menu!”
So the three children thought of a plan – they would kidnap General Bragg and make sure he was safe for Thanksgiving.
The two girls ran to Mrs. Kinzel’s house and asked if she had cinnamon; she did and gave the girls the small jar.
“Oh Mrs. Kinzel, we are so hungry! Could we have some crackers?” asked Constance. Mrs. Kinzel found some Pilot crackers in a tin and gave each girl one.
“Thank you!” said Prudence.
The girls darted back to The Blessed Isle. Judith opened the door for the girls.
“Well that took a while. Did she have the cinnamon?”, said Judith.
“Yes here it is!” Constance put the jar on the table. “May we go play with Frankie?”
“Yes you may” said Judith – “but don’t get dirty in those pretty dresses!”
Constance and Prudence met Frankie on the side of the house. The girls took the crackers they had gotten from Mrs. Kinzel and broke off tiny pieces so General Bragg would follow them. They led him deep into the pine woods. Frankie had taken some chicken wire he found in the garden and made a little pen between some trees. General Bragg walked into the pen and Frankie twisted the wire shut. The turkey was safe – Frankie crushed the rest of the crackers for him, and filled a small tin cup with water from the bird bath.
The three children returned to the house, and soon their father came to claim the turkey saviors.
The next day was the Grand Feast. Judith got up betimes to set the venison in the oven, and her pies were already cooling on the window sill. She prepared some bread scraps and cracked wheat for her feathered friends at the bird table and went to gather eggs in the chicken park. She walked out with her pan full of good things; she found it odd that General Bragg was nowhere to be seen.
“Julius, have you seen General Bragg?”
Julius was tending the roses and replied “Why no! He’s not in the chicken park?”
“No I was just there. Let’s look for him.”
Judith and Julius looked far and wide across The Blessed Isle – under the house, out by the wharf, in the pine-apple patch – no General Bragg!
“Oh Julius, do you think someone has taken our General Bragg for their Thanksgiving dinner?” said Judith in a dejected and sad tone.
“All our neighbors know him – I can’t believe they would do such a thing!” exclaimed Julius.
“Well, I can’t look anymore or my dinner will not be done – everyone will be here at noon!” cried Judith.
The guests for the grand feast began to arrive a few minutes before noon. Soon all were sitting cozily in the front parlor with a grand view of the lake. Judith was busy in the kitchen with Mrs. Green helping to dish up the meal.
“Mrs. Sunshine, you look rather distraught today – is everything all right?” asked Mrs. Green.
“It may seem rather silly to you, but our prized pet turkey General Bragg is missing.” said Judith.
“Oh my, that is distressing!” said Mrs. Green.
“My children always talk about him and Foozle.”
Soon Julius was carving the venison in the kitchen, arranging the meat on a platter for the table. All took their places at the beautiful table, set with an ivory lace tablecloth and red candles. A blessing was said, and the plates were filled with the fresh vegetables and succulent meat. The three children looked downheartedly at their plates as the meat was dished up, thinking their effort at saving General Bragg had been a failure.
Mrs. Green was watching her children, and noticed that were not eating their meal. She whispered in Constance’s ear “You are being very rude to Mrs. Sunshine – don’t you like her meal?” Just then Constance cried out “I can’t eat our friend General Bragg!” Tears soon began to flow from all three children.
“General Bragg!” exclaimed Judith. “You thought we cooked General Bragg? Heavens no – in fact he has been missing all day!”
Just then the children lit up.
“We know where he is! Over in the woods!”
“In the woods? What’s he doing there?” asked Julius.
“We knew it was Thanksgiving and that General Bragg might be our dinner, so we made a pen to hide him in the woods.” said Frankie.
“Well let’s go get him.” said Julius, leading the children from the table out the back door to the woods. They all returned a few minutes later, General Bragg being shooed along by Frankie with a stick, over to the chicken park to rejoin all the biddies.
Once back in the house, the children dashed to the table, and began to eat heartily.
“All this fuss over a turkey!” exclaimed Dr. Kinzel.
“Well at least I have the headline for my newspaper – Kidnapped Turkey Found!” said Mr. Metcalf jokingly.
“Amen to that” said Julius.
As Judith washed the dishes, she gazed out back to the chicken park to see General Bragg happily clawing at the dirt, realizing a peaceful tone had returned to The Blessed Isle.
She was indeed thankful.