Thanksgiving Fitness Tracker
Virginia Lee Bliss
As soon as he saw it on the Web, Travis had to have it. A fitness tracker. And not just any fitness tracker. This one had all the features—tracking not only steps and calories burned, but also distance, heart rate, and weightlifting activity. Not to mention being waterproof and Android compatible, and with a battery that lasted for a few days, at least.
His brother Jordan had texted him the link. Jordan was a freshman at the University of Connecticut where he was studying to be a nurse, like Mom.
“There´re other trackers that don’t cost so much,” his brother cautioned.
“But this one’s the best. If I’m gonna win a basketball scholarship like you, I gotta stay ahead.”
“How will you raise the money? I paid two hundred dollars and that was with my student discount. You might have to pay as much as two hundred and fifty.”
“I’ll earn it.”
“If you can get the money, I’ll buy it using my MasterCard next time I’m home. Good luck, bro.”
* * *
Travis googled “Ways for teens to earn money online.” Completing surveys on Swagbucks, blogging on Bubblews, reviewing music on Slice-the-Pie…there was just no end to the opportunities.
But then he noticed that some of these activities required parental consent. Mom and Dad always worried about online predators. Plus they had spoken sternly to him about his screen time, even going so far as threatening to replace his smartphone with a granny cell phone. He had the feeling that if he discussed earning money with them, they’d likely favor something more active than sitting on the couch.
He might as well go that route. After all, he needed to stay in shape for basketball.
The town of Millfield wouldn’t let kids under sixteen work in a store or gas station, and Travis was only fourteen. But he knew a thing or two about yard work, his father being the owner of Tom’s Farm and Garden Supply. He found a website that recommended advertising door-to-door, especially in a small town like Millfield. He knew many of the neighbors, seeing as he often accompanied his father on deliveries.
He considered knocking on doors in the evening but thought better of it. Likely folks would be eating dinner and wouldn’t want to be interrupted. Saturday morning would be better.
His traipse through the neighborhood resulted in a lot of outright no-thank-yous and some we’ll-keep-you-in-minds. It was mid-September; a lot of folks had lined up someone else in the spring. But Mrs. Giannetti said they could use some help on account of her husband having strained his back.
Mr. Gianetti showed Travis around his yard. “The grass still needs mowing, and the leaves will be dropping soon. Can you prune shrubs and weed a garden?”
“I sure can, sir. My father taught me.”
“Of course! You’re Tom and Coretta Washington’s son. I think there’s enough to keep you busy for two or three hours a week. Ten dollars an hour, if your work is good. And oh—say! Do your folks know?”
“Uh—no. But I’ll tell them as soon as I get home.”
“Okay. Have them call me.”
* * *
When Travis told his parents about Mr. Gianetti’s offer, they were cool with it. But they wanted to know what he planned to do with the money.
“Oh…just save it, ‘til I think of something. I’ll put it in my account at Millfield Savings.” He doubted his parents would think a fitness tracker was one of life’s necessities. In fact, he suspected they would consider it a downright extravagance. Only by using his utmost powers of persuasion had he convinced them to purchase a fifty dollar smartphone for his fourteenth birthday and only under the condition that he shouldn’t expect additional gifts and only with the understanding that his parents might spot-check it.
“Okay,” said Mr. Washington. “I’ll phone the Gianettis, but I’ll let them know I only want you working on Saturdays. The weekdays are for school and basketball. Understood?”
“Understood, Dad. Thanks.”
* * *
On his first day, the nine-year-old Giannetti twins, Mike and Matt, glared at him from the window with baleful eyes. Travis waved and smiled and was rewarded with two neener-faces.
When he was finished, he waved again. “See you guys later.”
The next week, the little hellions greeted him with water pistols.
I could lick both of them singlehanded
Then Travis considered that Mr. Gianetti wouldn’t like that at all. And anyway, why lower himself to the level of these—children
? So he swallowed a scathing retort and laughed. “Thanks for the refreshing shower, guys. I can sure use it—awful warm today.”
Their attempt to annoy having failed in its mission, the twins scowled.
Travis noticed the basket above the garage door. “After I’m done work, would you like to shoot a few hoops?”
Mike eyed him suspiciously. “What do you know?”
“I’m Millfield High’s new point guard. You’ll see me play in December.”
The twins consulted each other in stage whispers. Finally, they said, “Okay.”
Later that afternoon, Mr. Giannetti paid Travis. “I’d like to give you extra for the time you spent with Mike and Matt.”
Travis blinked. He could use the money. He’d have to work twenty-five hours to earn two hundred and fifty dollars. What with schoolwork and preseason conditioning, there wasn’t much time. Not that he had many customers, anyway. Then he thought of what his father would say.
“I had fun! I couldn’t take money for that. Thanks for the offer, though.”
* * *
When Travis arrived at the Gianettis the following Saturday, the twins had a visitor, their schoolmate, Ryan O´Halloran.
Mike introduced Travis as “the basketball star of Millfield High.”
“Aw, I knew that,” said Ryan, with an air of superiority. “And I know something I bet you don’t know. His brother, Jordan, won a basketball scholarship. I’ll win one too—you’ll see.”
“Whites never win basketball scholarships,” scoffed Matt.
“Not true,” countered Travis. “Jordan says there’re some real good white scholarship players at UCONN. Skin color’s not important; it’s how you play the game.”
After shooting hoops, Ryan said he’d better head home.
Mrs. Gianetti asked, “Do you need a ride?”
Travis asked, “Where do you live, Ryan?” Millfield was mostly a safe town, but it was getting dark earlier now, and he didn’t like the idea of a nine-year-old out by himself.
“I’m headed that way,” Travis lied. “Mind if I walk with you?”
“Okay!” Ryan’s freckled face crinkled into a grin. “Wait ‘til my folks see me with Millfield High’s point guard.”
Travis located Beech Road with his smartphone GPS. He didn’t know anyone who lived on that road, and he couldn’t recall ever having been there.
Ryan stopped at a white house, paint peeling, a shutter askew. A garter snake slithered through the long grass. Travis almost tripped on a loose brick on the walkway. A dilapidated Dodge Caravan was mounted on cinderblocks, its license plates removed.
A pretty but exhausted looking woman holding a baby opened the front door. Two other children—a girl and boy, about three and five years old, Travis guessed—clung to her faded jeans.
“Mom, this is Travis Washington—the basketball star! He offered to walk home with me.”
Mrs. O´Halloran smiled weakly. “Well, that’s real nice of you, Travis. Don’t like Ryan walking home by himself. I’d have picked him up if—if only…” Her gaze traveled to the car.
“Do you have any older children, Mrs. O´Halloran?”
“No. Ryan’s the eldest.”
“I mean—if there’s no one else to help you, I’d be glad to rake leaves and mow your lawn.”
“I can’t pay you.”
“I wasn’t expecting any pay.”
“No, thanks. I’ll do it myself, soon as I have a free moment.”
* * *
That night at dinner, Travis asked his parents about the O´Hallorans. “Never seen anybody that poor in Millfield.”
“We’d heard that her husband took sick,” said his mother. “Your father stopped by to see if he could help with yard work or repairs, but she refused.”
“Will Mr. O´Halloran get better?”
“I think so. He fell off a ladder—he owns O´Halloran Construction—and broke his heel. Then it got infected, and for a while they were afraid he’d lose his foot. The danger’s past, but meanwhile he can’t work of course—and neither can she, what with four children.”
“What do they live on?”
His father answered, “He has small-business insurance—same as I do—but it doesn´t go very far. Of course if something happened to me, we’d have your mom’s job as a nurse to fall back on.”
It had never occurred to Travis that white people could be poor.
* * *
As the weeks passed, Travis came nearer and nearer to his goal of two hundred and fifty dollars. On November fourteenth, Mr. Giannetti paid him twenty plus a ten dollar bonus. “That’s the last of the yard work ‘til spring, Travis. But if you’re interested, I’d sure like to call on you for shoveling when the snow flies.
“Yes sir, I’d like that.”
He said goodbye to the twins.
Mike asked, “You gonna visit us?”
“Sure. We’ll go sleigh riding and ice skating.”
Matt asked, “Whatcha doin’ for Thanksgiving?”
“Have dinner with my folks, like always. Jordan’ll be home.”
Mike said, “Our mom asked the O´Hallorans for dinner, but they said no.”
Matt added, “Ryan said they probably won’t have Thanksgiving this year.”
A cold drizzle accompanied Travis on his walk home. He fished in his pocket for a tissue to blow his nose. He’d hate to run into any of his buddies right now, and have them think he’d been crying. It’s just the cold and rain, that’s all.
* * *
Travis logged into his savings account. Just twelve days until Thanksgiving. As the holiday drew closer, he would start making withdrawals—fifty at a time. His brother would be home, and Travis would give him the cash. On Black Friday, they’d go to Sports World in the city, and Jordan would use his MasterCard to buy the fitness tracker. Travis didn’t understand why he couldn’t pay in cash. Jordan explained that in the city where they weren’t known, it was better for a black man to use a credit card, so store clerks would be less likely to think he’d stolen the money. For the same reason, Jordan insisted they ought to wear their Sunday best.
He saw himself sauntering into Sports World…strutting out sporting his fitness tracker…swaggering into homeroom on Monday, flaunting his wrist for all to see…
He daydreamed about Thanksgiving dinner. Mom’s roast turkey with oyster stuffing…cranberry relish…sweet potatoes and marshmallows…pumpkin pie…His mouth watered.
I should be the happiest boy in the world
Yet something was gnawing at him, annoying him, like a slow Internet connection or an ankle twinge that stopped just short of pain…Matt Gianetti’s words echoed in his mind.
Ryan said they probably won’t have Thanksgiving this year
* * *
On Thursday afternoon, one week before Thanksgiving, he checked his savings account once more. He rode his bike to Ibrahim’s Grocery at the corner of Elm Street and Main.
Mrs. Ibrahim asked, “What can I do for you, Travis?”
“I’d like to buy a turkey.”
“But your mom already ordered one.”
“I know. This is—uh—for a friend.”
“How big a turkey?”
“For six people. And Mrs. Ibrahim, my mother always buys those ha—hal—”
“That’s it. She says they’re the best.”
“What else would you like?”
“The same things my mom buys…sweet potatoes, cranberries…”
“I can put an order together for you. When do you want to pick it up?”
He hadn’t thought of that. He couldn’t just leave a box of food. Then he remembered that the Ibrahims made deliveries.
“Mrs. Ibrahim, can you and your husband keep a secret?”
“If I write down the address, can your husband deliver the food, the day before Thanksgiving?”
“He can. But Travis, will your friends know how to prepare the food? Not everyone is as good a cook as your mother, you know.”
He hadn’t thought of that, either. He assumed all women could cook.
“Travis, why don’t we do this? Ask your mother for her recipes, and I’ll use them to make up an order and put a copy of them in the box. And I think you better buy the pies at Jacques and Marie’s. Only the most experienced cooks can bake a good pie. Then bring them on Wednesday, and Mr. Ibrahim will deliver them with the rest of the order.”
He stopped by Jacques and Marie Chantal’s bakery.
He asked Jacques, “What kind of pies do you have for Thanksgiving?”
Jacques laughed. “Your mom—buying pies from us? She could sell her own pies.”
“She says your pies are the best---next to hers, that is. Anyway, they’re not for us—they’re for some friends.”
“French apple pie is nice.”
Marie added, “And tarte au sucre brun
“Brown sugar pie. Very delicious. Very Québécois
They all sounded so tasty Travis couldn’t make up his mind, so he ordered an apple pie, a brown sugar pie, a pear pie, and a Canadian maple raisin pie.
After adding up the estimated prices that Mrs. Ibrahim and the Chantels quoted him, Travis rode to the bank and withdrew fifty dollars. Two more fifty dollar withdrawals would more than cover the cost.
He asked his mom for her recipes, saying that the mother of one of his classmates wanted them, and emailed them to Mrs. Ibrahim.
* * *
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, school let out early, so he picked up the pies and brought them to the Ibrahims.
Mr. Ibrahim was just loading his truck.
Travis said, “Promise—not a word?”
“Not a word.”
* * *
That evening, Mr. Washington logged into his son’s account at Millbury Savings. “Coretta, did you see this? All this time, Travis hasn’t spent a cent, and then a week ago, he took out fifty; two days later fifty; and today fifty.”
“Fifty is all he’s allowed to take out at a time without our permission. Obviously, he got around it. Ask Jordan if he knows anything.”
* * *
Thanksgiving morning, the Washingtons were eating breakfast before heading off to church.
Travis asked, “Dad, do priests and ministers ever talk to each other?”
Tom’s eyebrows shot up in amusement. “I’ve heard it said, Son, that the priest, the minister, the rabbi, and nowadays the imam—that’s a Muslim clergyman—get together every Wednesday afternoon and play golf.”
The imam too? But the Ibrahims had promised
Tom added, “Why do you ask? You and your friends haven’t gotten into any mischief, have you?”
“Oh, no…I—well, never mind.”
Millfield’s Riverside Church was packed, as it was every Thanksgiving. After the introductory hymn, Reverend Brown ascended the pulpit.
“Friends, in our very midst, are examples of Christian love from people who are often portrayed in our media as selfish, irresponsible, and self-centered. I’m talking here of teens. Teens in our own town of Millfield. I’m speaking of one particular teen—I have it on the best authority that he bought a Thanksgiving dinner for a family down on their luck, paying for it out of his own hard-earned money. It is acts like this for which we can be truly thankful.”
* * *
That afternoon, the Washingtons were enjoying pumpkin pie and coffee.
His father said, “Jordan told us about—what do they call those things—the fitness tracker. But he said when he asked you about it, you said you had spent some of the money on something else.”
“I’ll earn the money again. The Giannettis asked me to shovel snow this winter, and I got some calls from other folks.”
“We know you’ll earn the money. But we’d like to chip in. As a Christmas gift. Agreed?”
“Well, sure, Dad—I mean, thanks. But how—?” said Travis.
“Son, like I said about the priest, the minister, the rabbi, and the imam—seems that besides playing golf together, they text a lot these days, too.”