The calm before the rush of Thanksgiving preparation invites reflection. My mom, although extraordinary in matters of the heart, was really not a very good cook. I’m the first to admit her Thanksgiving turkey was a tad dry, and the cauliflower-au-gratin was s bit more watery than Velveeta cheesy. Yet she managed to create the best of what Thanksgiving offers. It was the meal we all loved the most.
I remember standing in her small kitchen in the early afternoon of every Thanksgiving. My siblings, our spouses and children were quite simply “in the way” as my mom negotiated her cooking space. Wearing a grey wool skirt, cardigan sweater with an inevitable run in her stocking hose, she stood in her flat-heeled shoes checking each stove burner to see how the pot contents were coming along. Sleep-deprived from her pre-dawn appointment to stuff the turkey, joy rose above her fatigue while in the company of her family. Although she often invited us to “go relax” away from the kitchen, there seemed to be no other place we wanted to be. The chaos of the kitchen was laced with laughter and tease. My brother would “test” the resting turkey, licking his fingers with each sample. My other brother would help to stir the struggling gravy.
My mom insisted that we sit together despite our growing numbers. We shared elbow space and tolerated shoulder rubs. The unfortunate one who was stuck in the middle seat was just that, stuck. I recall more than a few years when I shared a seat with my sister. None of us seemed to mind our jam-packed state, because we were together. And as far as my mom was concerned, there was always room for one more.
Inherent in family life is inevitable adversity. The continuum between joy and sorrow is vast, yet none of us are immune to the unexpected twists and turns of life with each passing year. I take stock of what the last year has brought those I love. The pain of tragedy has walked beside the joys of new beginnings. Yet here we are, ready to gather again. For some, there are newly healed scars from unwelcome trauma. For others, the presence of joy unimagined a year ago is evident. My mom suffered through unimaginable loss, yet each Thanksgiving her smiles of gratitude threw water on the fires of sadness. Her prayerful words to commence our meal centered on gratitude and hope, regardless of what the winds brought us.
Thanksgiving is a simple holiday, where the celebration is centered around the table, the care in food preparation, and the ability to smile with one another. Gathering is cathartic. I realize now how important it was for my mom to have everyone collected. There is power of renewal in being together, regardless of how dry the turkey may be. New little ones, making their debut for their first Thanksgiving, remind those who have suffered loss that hope reigns. Those reconciling disappointments can be encouraged by others who have persevered. Being together is a good reminder.
My mom has been gone for several Thanksgivings now, yet my heart memory of her kitchen remains an example of how to celebrate in authentic style. My mom set the perfect Thanksgiving table, despite the mismatched silverware and piano-bench seating. Every year in her honor, we too, sit at the same table, whatever it takes. We embrace one another allowing the joys and sorrows of the past year to flow freely beneath the laughter and chatter of the day. And just like my sister and I did in years past, our daughters now share a seat, just in case we need room for one more.
Anne Marie Romer is a regular contributor.