A RED WAGON THANKSGIVING

By John Thomas Tuft

Little Danny was on a Thanksgiving mission. The weekend before the holiday he went to the garage and got out the Radio Flyer red wagon that his grandpa had given to his father when he was a little boy. Two Christmases ago, when Little Danny was seven, he found the wagon underneath the tree, all shined up, repainted, Daddy’s pride and joy passed on now to him. No robot monster or exploding goo or iPad game put the same gleam in his father’s eye as did seeing Danny get excited about the wagon. Other kids in the neighborhood did not quite see the appeal of such an ancient relic, but to Danny there was magic in the shiny steel and hard rubber wheels. And a very real connection to the men he most admired in his life.

The Saturday before Thanksgiving Danny told his parents that he was going to ask people for things that would help someone less fortunate have a better Thanksgiving. He wanted to pull the wagon around the neighborhood and collect donations from friends and neighbors for those who did not have the means to celebrate Thanksgiving in the way he was used to celebrating it. He set off with a pack of two frosted strawberry PopTarts in hand and a bottle of PowerAde in the wagon. Six hours later as the afternoon sun dove toward early retirement, Danny had still not come back home. (Need I remind you, if you’re a reader of JTT magic stories, you knew it was going to be a ride. In the placenta of our imagination, where our experiences and memories interact with inspiration and magnified silence, sometimes we have to get our hands dirty, dare I say bloody.)

Danny’s parents raised the alarm and the entire neighborhood along with the authorities turned out to search for Danny and the red wagon. As Danny’s parents began to talk to them, the story of Danny’s journey that day emerged. Mrs. Wilson said, “All I had were some chipped and cracked pieces of my mother’s china, so I gave it to Danny. I had no use for them.” The thirteen-year-old Thompson twins reported, breathlessly, that “You know, he’s always hanging around, annoying us walking around with that stupid wagon, so we gave him our old Beanie Babies. Really, duh, what were we going to do with them? We aren’t into LARPing as children or anything!” Retired Mr. Grimley chewed on the ends of his mustache as he rubbed his eyes, “What was he doing out on his own? I gave him an old transistor radio, told him to learn a trade and sent him on his way.”

One by one the people told Danny’s parents of giving him that which they intended to discard. Still, Danny had not come home. Police issued an Amber alert and all the cell phones buzzed with the news. As the Hunter’s moon rose in the sky, Pastor Kimberly opened the church to the searchers because, well, it’s a building and you have to do something, right? Danny’s Sunday School teacher offered that “Jesus will watch over him” at which point Danny’s father rolled his eyes and went back out into the night, desperately trying to think how his son would be thinking. He wandered down to the river and began to walk its banks, dreading what he might find but desperate to know. Finally, up ahead, he spotted the flare of a barrel fire underneath the overpass of the road into town.

Heart in his throat, Danny’s dad began running toward the sparks of the fire. As he drew near he saw the red wagon parked near the barrel. He began calling, “Danny! Danny, my son, where are you?” Out of the shadows emerged some discarded human beings, watching him carefully. One of them stepped forward and greeted the frantic man. “I’m Randy, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry. Are you here for the feast?” Another stepped up. “Simon, Corpsman, Master Chief, I take care of these men and women. Are you here for the feast?” One by one they all stepped forward, introduced themselves by rank and branch, and asked the question, “Are you here for the feast?” Danny’s dad, bewildered asked, “What feast?” They all smiled. “He’s brought us a feast” and stepped back to form rank around some old ponchos spread on the ground.

Arranged on the ‘table’ were place settings of old china, each marked by the favor of an old Beanie Baby. On each plate awaited a package of frosted strawberry PopTarts and each baby leaned against a bottle of PowerAde. “I don’t understand,” said the father. “Where’s my son? What have you done with him?” Simon stepped forward, tried to speak, but had to pause to compose himself. “He’s up top. Volunteered to stand watch so we wouldn’t be bothered.” With that they sat down to the feast, the old radio putting out scratchy Christmas music. Danny’s dad grabbed the handle of the wagon and dragged it behind him around the abutment and up the bank to the road.

There was Danny, sound asleep, resting against the rail of the bridge. Above his head a small plaque was attached. As Danny’s dad knelt beside him to lift his brave soldier of the heart into the wagon, the writing on the plaque caught his eye. “For those who came back but never found home. Rest in peace.” And underneath were the names of the 22 veterans who had taken their own lives that day…the names of those sitting down to a thanksgiving feast…brought by a very special red wagon…

Words are magic and writers are wizards.