Thanksgiving: What a glorious, tasty, heart-warming and heart-breaking day we had. It was a day filled with mishaps, hand-palm-to-forehead moments, tears, cackling laughter, and wonderment in how my mom managed to pull off Thanksgiving all these years like it was no big deal. We had scribbled lists, and schedules, multiple copies of recipes but gosh darnit, we managed to feed 21 great friends and family. Halleloo!
The day was mostly a comedy with the underlying unfamiliarity of a holiday without our beloved mom. My brother, dad and I operated like an Old Man Softball League. (No offence to any Softball All-Stars out there. ) We were missing our coach so played mostly by memory of the good old days. We knew generally what we were supposed to do (i.e., grand slam Thanksgiving meal) but found ourselves in a few pickles, missing a few signs from our stand-in third base coach. We hit a few foul balls. Were threatened by the Mercy Rule. Even still, we hit it out of the park. A comedy of errors, yes. But ya’ll, we came out on top. If someone could win Thanksgiving, we did. Rally caps and all.
I have many mental snapshots and scenes from this Thanksgiving.
The time my dad, brother and I exploded out the door of a friends home (imagine us in slow motion, hurdling shrubs and sliding on car hoods) as we were just beginning dinner when we realized packet pick-up for the 5K we were participating in the next morning, ended 8 minutes later. We got back to dinner before our meals were cold, scattering good cheer and safety pins along the way.
The time I asked my dad what his plan was for the turkey. He shrugged and said “Oh, that? Not sure. I’ve never made one before.” .. Like, not ever? Gulp.
That time my brother beat my dad by one second in the Turkey Trot 5K. When my dad accepted his medal for running the fastest in his age group, my brother reminded him that if he’d been in the 50-54 age group, dad would actually be second place.
The time my brother remembered that we hadn’t planned to make our childhood (ahem, grown-up) favorite: Something Pie. We “created” the recipe when we were younger and creatively naming it a bland, lame name hoping nobody else would want to share it with us. Enter: Oreo, vanilla pudding, Cool Whip. My mom always kept the ingredients on-hand and sure enough all were found as if she had planned ahead for us. My brother whipped it up (plus the crust) by memory.
That time we listened to the Macy’s Parade from the kitchen while we all prepared our assigned dishes. We sang Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. We made a mess of the counter-tops and floors. (My mom was so good at cleaning as she cooked. My dad, brother and I rarely followed suit.) I pulled the mixer out of the sweet potato casserole a little too quickly, spraying a little extra sweet potato to every dish near by, plus the sugar jar. We sipped and tasted and recalled flavors of Thanksgivings past. We added a pinch of salt, one more shake of the pepper, more butter, a little more pecan topping, and licked the bowls clean in the name of assisting with kitchen clean up — we all have our own methods, I guess.
That time the green bean casserole got lost in a shuffle of I-thought-you-had-it-NO-I-THOUGHT-YOU-HAD-IT and ended up getting nuked in a casserole dish ten minutes before we sat down for dinner.
That time the Mac n’ Cheese was already in the oven when someone reminded me I forgot to add the milk and eggs.
That time we high-fived when we had the tables set for exactly nineteen guest just as two unexpected guests walked in.
And then, just before we got to taste the fruits of our labors — and see if my dad could consider himself a Turkey Master — we paused. We gathered and circled up, symbolic of how we’ve been postured since August 18. We prayed and toasted and cried. We got choked up but spoke anyway, undeterred by shaky voices. We were honest. We missed Mom. We missed her usual toast, beginning with “Well, Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday.” We missed the way she made everyone feel so stinkin’ welcome. We missed the way she’d gather us up post-meal for a nighttime walk before dessert. We’d pretend we didn’t want to go but secretly, getting a little fresh North Carolina air sounded pretty nice.
We admitted this isn’t the Thanksgiving we thought we’d be having but those of us remaining were glad to be there together. We lit a candle, let the tears roll but then lifted our heads. We have the honor of remembering my mom every day. Having so many people remember her at the same time, in the same place was powerful. I felt love. It was a stirring in me that urged me to smile. Even though I was hurting, I was also watching love actively keep us together like pearls on a necklace. It was different than feeling loved. It was witnessing what love can bring out of us. Love and caring can draw us out of the darkest places.
No, not all is bad.
And, there’s my whistle. Even amidst such deep sorrow and longing, love can prevail.