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A Tale of Thanksgiving

by Dana Sherman

Note: I wanted to write a light, funny holiday story with none of the melodramas and intrigues of the past year. So I am jumping back in the WENN timeline a bit. This story takes place in November 1940. It is set between Don't Act Like That and Christmas in the Airwaves. Jeff and Hilary are still together and in love, Scott is still in pure con-artist mode, Maple is still the new girl, and Victor is still dead.

Disclamer: Remember WENN and the characters therein belong to Rupert Holmes, Howard Meltzer Productions, AMC and a lot of other people who are a lot smarter and more talented than I could ever hope to be. This particular story is entirely my fault.

The poem To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time was written by Robert Herrick in 1648. It is quoted here in its entirety.

Monday, Nov. 25, 1940

"Telegram for you, Hilary." Gertie caught the leading lady of WENN on her way in the door after lunch. "Just arrived a few minutes ago."

Hilary nodded as she took the folded piece of paper from the receptionist and quickly opened it. Telegrams were not sent for the fun of it. They always contained news, usually bad news.

"Oh damn," she muttered as she read the message. This news wasn't what she needed. Pretty much ruined her holiday.

"A problem, Hilary?" Gertie asked. She knew it wasn't likely to be anything serious. Probably a minor inconvenience. Hilary got so upset over minor affronts and inconveniences that Gertie had often wondered how she would handle it if there were ever something serious to get upset about.

Hilary glanced up from the telegram toward the red haired receptionist. "Nothing, Gertie," she muttered. "Just a freak blizzard in Maine".

Hilary swept into the Green Room, agitated and highly annoyed. Jeff looked up from the theatre magazine he was reading.

"Jeffrey, a freak blizzard has hit the whole state of Maine. The roads are all closed."

"Oh, Lord," Jeff said sympathetically. "There goes Thanksgiving with your parents. They are OK aren't they?"

"Yes. Listen to this telegram. 'Dear Hilary, STOP. Dreadful blizzard, STOP. Roads closed, STOP. Maybe next year, STOP"

"It could be all right by Wednesday, don't you think?"

"Not in Maine, darling," Hilary answered. "A blizzard there means snow on the ground for weeks. Damn, now what are we supposed to do? There's no way they will be able to get down here now. And look what it does to our freezer. A huge turkey and no family to cook it for."

Hilary had invited her parents for Thanksgiving before, but they had never been able to come. Now it looked like they were finally going to. Until this happened. A November blizzard in Maine. Two feet of snow already on the ground and no way of getting out. And everything for Thanksgiving dinner had already been bought.

"Well, I guess there's just nothing else for it then, Hilary," Jeff said, grinning. "We'll just have to invite the station staff"

"Bite your tongue."

Wednesday, Nov. 27, 1940

"Betty, dear, on your way over to our house, could you pick up an apple and a pumpkin pie at the bakery? They will be open until noon tomorrow."

"Store-bought pies! Oh, Hilary, you couldn't!" Betty was so clearly horrified that Hilary had a sudden mental flash of her writing a horror radio script with a giant store-bought pie attacking Bonnyville Mills.

"Betty, some of us are not from small towns in Indiana where people do charming, down-home things like bake apple pies. I have never baked a pie in my life, and I have no intention of starting tomorrow morning."

Betty nodded to Hilary. "Sorry, Hilary. Just my Midwestern upbringing getting the better of me" she said coyly. Don't worry, I assure you, I'll bring the pies to your house by tomorrow noon."

Some of us, however, are from small towns in Indiana, and we are going to save your Thanksgiving dessert, Betty thought to herself, planning to call her mother that very night to ask her for the pie recipes that had always won the blue ribbons at every church fair in Elkhart since Betty was a baby. If I can turn out several dozen radio scripts every week, surely I can bake two pies before noon on Thursday morning.

Hilary was pleased with how this was all turning out. Well, not pleased exactly. A nice, lovely, quiet Thanksgiving with her family would have pleased her more, but that was not to be. The few social friends Jeff and Hilary still had time to have all had their own plans with their own families, so eventually Hilary had admitted defeat and taken Jeff's suggestion, inviting any and all at the station with no way to get home to their families to come to her house for the holiday. Her invitations had been graciously received and Hilary was beginning to consider that this might be a rather enjoyable experience after all. As long as she didn't have to cook too much. How difficult could it be anyway? She had been consulting magazines for Thanksgiving ideas ever since Halloween. It didn't seem difficult at all.

"So, thanks for the invite, Hilary. I sure will be there, seeing as my chances of getting to Brooklyn and back in one day seems pretty slim. Everyone coming to the party?"

"Nearly everyone, Maple," Hilary answered her. She knew she would never be friends with Maple. Too different from her, too brash and common, but now that she was certain that at the very least, Maple was not after Jeff, the two women could exchange pleasantries without difficulty. "Eugenia will be visiting her sister's family in Altoona, but promises to drop by on her way back for dessert, and C.J. will be at his parents. Other than that, we all will be there."

"You actually invited Scott?" Maple grinned. The hostility between Hilary and Scott was hardly a secret around the station.

"Well, he is the station manager," Hilary shrugged, "and it doesn't hurt to have a higher-up on your side sometimes." She lowered her voice confidentially. "Besides, Betty has promised to keep him in line. She seems to have some strange influence over him. I wonder if something is 'going on' between them. Although I give Betty credit for better taste."

"Hey, don't write off Scott Sherwood so fast." Maple laughed. "If he decides its Betty Roberts he wants, I give him six months tops before he gets her. Six weeks if he is really determined. But I don't think he wants her. She's the kind of girl who can tie a man down, and ties are the last thing he ever wanted."

"Just how well do you know Scott Sherwood?" Hilary asked her.

"Well enough to know that he's not the type to fall for the perky small town girl type. At least, I don't think he is. I doubt he's ever met one before."

Hey, Victor Comstock was right, Scott thought, as Betty exited his office, this girl is really something. Brightest girl he'd ever seen, and really sweet too. And pretty? Just about the prettiest girl he'd ever seen that wasn't posing for a magazine wearing a Follies costume or a bathing suit.

A little too conservative about new ideas of course. What exactly was wrong with his idea of a dance exhibition on the radio, Scott wasn't entirely sure. But she had something there. If he could talk her out of some of that strict Indiana morality, she could go far. She would have made a good scam partner, he thought suddenly. Smart enough to con anyone, and pretty enough that the marks wouldn't mind being conned. A shame all those church picnics and small town values had ruined her.

He accepted Hilary's invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. She was obviously none too thrilled at the idea of inviting him but he had decided to attend and be on his best behavior. He and Hilary had gotten off on the wrong foot. He had to admit that. Even though it was mostly her fault. She was a spoiled little diva who thought the station and the world revolved around her. But still, Jeff loved her, and she did have her good points. She was a good actress, for one thing. And for another, she added another very pretty feminine face to the studio. Between Betty, Maple and Hilary, this was the best job he'd ever had in his life.

THURSDAY, NOV. 28, 1940

Betty stood in the kitchenette wishing she had telephone. She wanted to call everyone she knew and boast. Her dress, apron and hair were covered with flour, her thumb had a cut where the knife had slipped when she was peeling the apples, and she had dropped the rolling pin on her foot, not once, but twice. But after all was said and done, two pies sat in the oven cooking away happily.

Her mother had won the prizes every year for a good reason. The pie recipes were some of the best she had ever tasted. Of course her mother had a large kitchen with plenty of counter space to work with. Betty had to use the tiny kitchenette in her apartment at the Barbicon hotel. She rolled out the pie crusts on the wooden table and long before she had finished the tiny sink was filled with dishes. But Hilary's Thanksgiving dinner would be saved from the blasphemy of store bought pies.

She had one hour to take a shower and change into a good dress before she had to leave. The trolleys were on holiday schedule and there was no way of being sure exactly when she would be there. It was important that she leave enough time to get across town to Jeff and Hilary's house. She had the address but she had never been there. Neither had Maple, so the two girls had agreed to meet at the trolley stop and go together.

Mackie was pleased to be invited to a Thanksgiving dinner. Being a bachelor, he had long been used to largely ignoring family holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. His own family wasn't in the area, and the WENN staff served as the only family he had for the holidays. He never thought he'd be seeing Jeff and Hilary throw a Thanksgiving party though. Just trying to imagine Jeff carving a turkey made Mackie grin. And the very thought of Hilary cooking! A shame Victor wasn't here to see this. He'd have gotten a kick out of it too.

Hilary said she didn't need anything. Just bring yourself, she had told him. But Mackie never liked to visit anyone empty handed. He finally decided to bring Mackie's Mashed Potatoes, with paprika sprinkled on top to make it fancy. The one decent thing he could cook.

Hilary jumped when the doorbell rang. Who the hell was half an hour early? She looked a sight!

"Pumpkin, could you get that?" she called from the bathroom. Her makeup was only half on and she certainly wasn't going to answer the door with only one eye having the false lashes on. That was no way to make an entrance.

She heard Jeff open the door and was pleased to hear Mr. Eldridge's voice. Mr. Eldridge probably wouldn't notice if her eyelashes were long, short or light or dark.

"I'll be right out, Mr. Eldridge," she called into the living room.

"Take all the time you need, my dear," Mr. Eldridge called back. Hilary was grateful for the permission, but she had already decided to do just that.

By the time 2:00 rolled around, the house was full. Hilary was shocked but highly pleased at Betty's pies. They smelled more delicious than anything the bakery could ever have provided. Mr. Foley leaned against the piano having his ear talked off by Maple, who wasn't letting him get a word in edgewise. He didn't seem to mind though, Hilary noticed. He was gazing at her and smiling rapturously. Gertie, Mackie and Mr. Eldridge had seemed to find something mutually engrossing to talk about, and Betty had almost automatically taken on the role of co-hostess, helping Hilary and Jeff finish up the last of the cooking and setting up in the kitchen and dining room.

There was only one guest not engaged in conversation with anyone. Scott couldn't find any conversation going on that made sense for him to join. He watched Betty as she busily dashed around Hilary's kitchen, getting more ice cubes from the freezer as Jeff fixed more drinks. Jeff stopped briefly behind Hilary and kissed the back of her neck, then picked up the fresh drink tray and brought it out of the kitchen. Scott took the drink Jeff offered and sipped it slowly, quietly observing Betty.

He found he liked to watch her at the station. She was so amazingly efficient. It was wonderful to watch her dash about trying to get everything done on time. The way she kept everything running smoothly was incredible. But what was really amazing was that she had no idea how charming she was. Most women knew exactly what effect they were having on a man. They knew perfectly well when they were being observed. Their every move was calculated for effect. As far as Scott could tell, Betty had no idea at all. She would probably be upset and self-conscious if she knew.

Mr. Eldridge finally finished saying his rather long-winded Grace, and dinner had begun. Jeff was certainly no expert in turkey carving, but then, none of them were, and as host, it made the most sense for him to do it.

"Perhaps you should do it, Hilary," Scott joked. "You seem the type who would be good with large knives."

"Thank you so much, Scott, but I've always preferred to use poison. Which reminds me, I do hope you will try the sweet potatoes. I made them." There was general giggling all around.

"I once worked as the girl in a knife throwing act," Maple chimed in. "Carbini the Magnificent. I stood there in a bathing suit and he threw knives all around me. He was brilliant at it. Never missed."

"I hope you mean he never hit, Maple" Betty answered.

"Yeah, he never hit."

Despite Hilary's insistence that no donations to the table were required, everyone brought something. The food was delicious, although Hilary's attempt at stuffing privately made each member of the party wonder precisely what he was eating, and Mr. Eldridge's salad was an odd conglomerate of every single vegetable ever seen in a produce market. But after a few glasses of the brandy Scott had brought, no one much cared about the food.

"Hilary, this turkey is delicious," Mackie told her, honestly surprised that she was capable of cooking at all. Hilary hardly seemed the cooking type.

"Why, thank you, Mackie," Hilary answered. "The stuffing was Jeff's idea." Jeff didn't even bother to protest.

"Maple," chimed in Betty. You absolutely must give me the cranberry sauce recipe. It is some of the best I've ever had."

"Just came from a can, Betty. But thanks"

Thanksgiving should be a family holiday, Betty thought wistfully as she began her second helping of turkey, this time without the dubious stuffing. She looked around the table at her coworkers...her friends.

Gertie was beaming from the praise Mackie was giving her hot rolls, and Mr. Eldridge was sharing a long rambling story with Jeff, who laughed in all the right places and didn't even seem remotely bored. A shame Hilary didn't seem to appreciate Jeff, Betty mused. He has an incredible gift for diplomacy and tact. In the months since she had first come to WENN, she had never seen Jeff say or do anything the least bit unkind. But when Betty turned to Hilary, she saw the beautiful leading lady casting an adoring gaze on her husband. She realizes, Betty thought with relief. Jeff really does care what Mr. Eldridge is saying, and Hilary does realize what a nice guy she married.

Betty turned to the other side of the table. Mr. Foley nodded in agreement with the critique of a new movie Maple was giving him, but his mouth was too full for him to say anything. He could hardly be blamed for this. Maple's cranberry sauce deserved to be honored with a full mouth. Thanksgiving was a family holiday, but that was fine, Betty suddenly realized. Because these people were as much her family as anyone else she knew.

"Betty Roberts," a voice next to her rang out, interrupting her reverie. "You're pretty quiet," Scott said. "Penny for your thoughts."

She smiled at him. She actually liked him outside of the office. His over the top charm never ceased but without the pressures of hustling and making a buck and being a con-man, his charm was put into a different context. The context of simply wanting to be liked and to have his company appreciated. And she did appreciate it. He had a strange aura of chivalry behind all that con-artistry. He had been the one to ask her if she wanted any more stuffing before he took seconds. He had been the one to pour the gravy for her.

"Just wondering how the interns are getting along at the station without us," Betty laughed in response to his inquiry."

"Don't even think about it, Betty. They're fine, and you deserve a WENN free holiday."

"WENN free? What's that?" she laughed. "I haven't had a WENN free minute in months."

The interns had the station to themselves until six o'clock that evening. Betty gave them simple things to read. A children's story she wrote about the landing of the Mayflower on Plymouth rock, a reading of The Courtship of Miles Standish, another reading of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, which although it had no connection to Thanksgiving at all, seemed vaguely patriotic enough for the occasion. She had told Enid to read the poem on the Statue of Liberty about the tired, the poor and the huddled masses. The afternoon was to be filled with records of patriotic band music. It was the same sort of Americana that every radio station across America put on for Thanksgiving or any other patriotic holiday. It certainly didn't seem like anything the interns couldn't handle. And even if a small problem arose, they would be back at the studio at six and they could clear it up then.

The dinner dishes had been cleared and Hilary had just brought Betty's pies out of the kitchen to a chorus of the required ooohs and aaaahs, when the doorbells chimed loudly. Jeff opened the door to a slightly wet but cheerful looking Eugenia.

"Hello Eugenia," Hilary said looking up from her pie slicing. "I didn't know it was raining."

"Oh, just a drizzle," Eugenia answered, taking off her coat and handing it to Jeff.

"Sit down, Eugenia. You're just in time for Betty's pies." Hilary motioned to Scott to move away from Betty and let Eugenia sit between them. He was a little disappointed to have anyone, even so nice a woman as Eugenia, come between him and Betty, but he smiled and gave Eugenia his place.

"Now, what kind of pie would everyone like?" Hilary asked. "For myself, I intend to have a nice big slice of pumpkin."

"What a surprise," Maple whispered audibly. The entire population of the table cracked up. Hilary and Jeff laughing hardest of all.

"It was a wonderful party," Betty told Hilary as she put on her coat to leave. "We should do it again sometime."

"Oh, maybe sometime, Betty" Hilary answered. "Sometime when I there is a freak blizzard in Maine and I have a huge turkey taking up half my freezer. Not until then."

"Point taken," Betty said with a giggle. "I'll see you back at the station in an hour."

"Give you a ride back to the station, Betty?" Scott asked. I've got my car here." Betty considered for a minute. It was cold and rainy.

"Only if you give a ride to Maple and Eugenia as well. Mackie is taking Gertie, Mr. Foley and Mr. Eldridge in his car."

"So, I will take Maple, Eugenia and you. I don't see any problem with being seen escorting three of the nicest girls in Pittsburgh." He grinned charmingly at her. She smiled back. If he was trying to win points with her, she had to admit it was working.

In Scott's car, Betty finally could not take it anymore. "Scott, please turn on the car radio. I would at least like to know what we are walking into." Scott nodded and flipped on the radio switch. The radio warmed up and they heard Enids clear voice ringing out.

"Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying.
And that same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying."

"Oh, no!!" Betty wailed. "She probably ran out of patriotic poetry and now she's just reading every bit of poetry she knows!"

"The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting."

"What's the matter with it?" Maple asked. "It sounds kind of pretty to me."

"The problem with it is the title, Maple," Betty responded. "It's called To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time." Eugenia blushed beet red and Maple started to laugh.

"That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer.
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former."

"I think we'd better get back to the station," Scott said, pressing down on the accelerator. "You and I are going to have a lot of explaining to do to the sponsors." Betty nodded grimly as they sped off toward WENN.

"Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while you may, go marry.
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry."


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