Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays and not just because I love a good meal. (My ass is all, “Psshhhhttt. Like I don’t know.” Shut up, ass.) Cooking the meal of the year for my loved ones is part and parcel of who I am. Funny thing is, the feast itself is the least of what I remember about past Thanksgivings with my family, especially with my parents. The rituals surrounding the preparation are what resound with me. There’s planning, shopping, cleaning, baking, cooking…all of which stress me out. My middle son likes to joke, “It isn’t really Thanksgiving until Mom drops three F-bombs in the kitchen.” Funny guy, my middle son. Anyway, the Hubster and I did our Thanksgiving shop yesterday and I’ll begin the prep this afternoon. As much work as it is, it’s still something I could never live without.
After my parents retired and moved back to Texas, we began a new Thanksgiving tradition, whereby the kids and I would spend this day at their house, baking all the pies, cakes and cornbread for the next day’s feasting. We’d arrive for a quick lunch, then we’d turn on some music before getting to work. (Motown. Always.) My job was baking. Mom’s job was roasting the turkey. She buttered and sprinkled and marinated that sucker like some sort of poultry mortician. She also talked to it lovingly, much as she would her houseplants. She’d say how tasty it was going to be and how much joy it was going to bring our family, then she’d put “him” in her enormous roaster pan and set her alarm for 4 am. Thus began the ritual of “the bird,” with basting appointments every 30 minutes throughout. (That roaster pan lives at my house now. It’s about forty years old and behaves very much like Dumbledore’s Pensieve every time I pull it out for use.) While Mom and I puttered in the kitchen, Dad would play chess with the kids and teach them how to steal pieces of pie crust without getting caught. Sometimes they’d play football in the yard while Mom and I sat on the back porch. We’d order pizza for supper and by the end of the day, we were plumb worn out from laughing so much. The kids would beg to spend the night with Nana and Papa and, most times, they got their way.
The next morning, Mom would call me around the time she was doing her third basting. She’d ask me again what I was making and did I need anything from town before they came to our house. Shortly before noon, I’d hear the toot of her horn and she’d holler at the kids to help her unload the car. As I was finishing up the dressing, ham, and all the sides, there would be Mom, looking forlornly at my table for signs of domesticity that I lacked. You see, I married into a large family and then had four kids of my own. Things like cloth napkins and centerpieces aren’t really our “thing” for huge gatherings. I’m more about the practical and less about the pretty. Nevertheless, I could always count on Mom to bring a beautiful centerpiece. She’d come to the kitchen and kiss me. (Among all the smells of Thanksgiving Day, Mom’s Esteé Lauder Youth Dew is missed.) She’d say, “Lis, why don’t you wear an apron? I’ve made you twenty of them,” to which I would reply that one doesn’t need an apron when one is cooking in shorts and an old t-shirt, Mom. Then she’d tell me to go get myself ready while she manned the battle stations.
I only got to have Mom and Dad back in Texas for a few years before they went to Heaven, but Thanksgiving Wednesday always makes me miss them a little more. I’m thankful for the memories I have with them and I hope after I’m gone, my kids will look back on Thanksgivings (F-bombs notwithstanding) with a smile.
May the Lord bless and comfort all my friends who are celebrating their first Thanksgiving after losing a parent. It doesn’t get easier, but there will come a time when you’ll look back with more joy than pain. It won’t always be as painful as this first time. Peace be with you.