Wednesday, November 22, 2017

On Thanks

I'm getting things ready for tomorrow.  Just a fairly simple meal with my husband as after both of us being gone a good part of the month we didn't wish to travel.  My husband will likely get the SUV serviced for a trip to southern Illinois to visit his parents next weekend but this weekend we're staying home and safe. I just saw my Dad a couple of weeks ago, so I won't be flying out there for Thanksgiving with him and he has an invite to join a family nearby.

It wouldn't be the same with both Mom and my brother gone.  But thinking of that got me to smile with a memory from a Thanksgiving long ago. Mom had read somewhere that cooking the turkey in a bag would render the turkey very juicy. Except she missed the part about low temperature and the type of bag. So Mr. Turkey went into the oven in a Safeway paper shopping bag,  pop-out timer side down.

 As he roasted, the juice and grease pooled in the bottom of the bag. When the timer popped, "turkey's done" it popped THROUGH the bag, releasing all the hot grease onto the burner.


Big Bro calmly said "Mom, the turkey blew up!"
It was the first and only time I heard my Mom say a four-letter cuss word. Dad admonished her to leave the door closed as she turned the heat off.  He simply stood in the corner of the kitchen, muttering "Oh, the Humanity", tears rolling down his face as he was laughing so hard. We had KFC that year as the remains were removed in a bucket.

After Mom took ill, there were other events. A time at the vacation cabin where Dad cooked pancakes. I'm not sure how he did it, but you could hardly cut through them. He gave one to our wiener dog Pepper, who took it outside and buried it in the sand along the shore. Big Bro threw another one in the fire. It didn't burn.

I can picture that as if it were happening now, the splash of sunlight on cedar, the memory, of the smell of wet dog and the taste of laughter, of where people have lived and will always.
Hygge.  The word comes to mind, especially at Thanksgiving.  It's a Danish word that roughly means eating and drinking and being together with friends, a feeling or mood that comes from taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary everyday things simply extraordinary. We don't have any such word in the English language, and life today seems to rarely accommodate such a ritual.

I can be insular, and driven. At work I take no quarter and am not intimidated by blood, death or bad hair days.. Yet at home, I am a caregiver, as my Mom was with us. Even when she was tired, she would make us homemade cookies and pastries to have after school or with our lunch. Shortening scrapped from its can, dough formed and rounded, rolled flat, and rolled up, carefully studded with fragrant spices and baked golden.
When at school, I'd open up my lunch box, and find every given day, a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, coins for milk and an ice cream and a small tinfoil packet I'd unfold with great care. Inside, the scraps of her making, dusted with cinnamon and sugar, soft and whole. I do not share. I scrape the foil clean.

Dinner at the big table wasn't just on Thanksgiving. It was every night but TV Tray in the Family Room Night. But on those dinners around the big table, I can't recall so much of what we talked about or who said what, but I do remember the gathering, the smells of beef and fresh vegetables, of laughter, of stories from school, from work, a discarding of weighty thought and the simple gathering of those you love, for nourishment of the soul. I can't recreate the exact moments through what I cook, or who I serve it to, but I still can remember how those simple meals made me feel, the redemptive power of the communion of those who love one another.

Dad is clearing stuff out of the house, as his days grow shorter.  Having just downsized and gotten rid of so much, the only things I wished from it were small; things of worth, but perhaps not value. A couple are tattered cookbooks in which are written Mom's notes of when she made something new and if we liked it. One was a folder in which Mom placed handwritten menu plans for family gatherings and holidays. Some were planned dishes, some were instructions for the meal itself. Piece after piece of small lined paper, on which her handwriting lay.
So many scraps of paper, so many meals, some dated 1962 when she and Dad were still new in the house.  It was the house she lived in the remainder of her life and to which they brought me and Big Bro home as small, scared children, to heal with them, then to belong, as family.

I hold those pieces of paper and feel the warmth, a woman preparing food for her family, for her friends, small hieroglyphs that tell me nothing but that someone loved us, scribbled messages that would not make sense to everyone but will never fail to be understood.

At that family table we learned many things.  We learned patience (I tell you young lady, you are going to sit here until you eat that squash!) We learned aerodynamics (spoon at 45 degrees, wind from the SE at two mph, PEAS, initiate launch sequence!)  We learned thanks, and not just at Thanksgiving. We learned comfort and safety.

As I went out on my own, even when I didn't have a family of my own, there was a gathering, even if I just invited over my bachelor colleagues, put together a ham and some homemade mashed potatoes and the trimmings while we listened to music and actually talked about something other than our jobs. For it was the sharing and the care that was important, not necessarily what we ate.
Hygge, it's something I learned from my Mom as I watched her growing up. Even as Dad bought her the latest appliances to ease her burden as she grew sicker, she continued to make things as her Mom and generations past had done, stirring by hand, shaping and crafting, only forming a brief and sullen armistice with the food processor when chemo was winning.
She made meals in health and she made meals in sickness, those last days where there was a look on her face as if having seen something which she knows existed even as she refused to believe in it. She'd pause, blink as if the sun was in her eyes, then go back to peeling the carrots for one of perhaps thousands of relish trays she made in her life. Then she'd set it upon that old dining room table with the captains chairs that looked like something taken off an old schooner, a table that looked out of place among all the 70's orange and yellow shag carpeting, but was as timeless as that moment.

She carried more than meals to the table, she carried us, with broken dreams and broken hearts, holding us together, even as she left us.

 "You did good Mom" I say to an empty kitchen, the curtains in the window moving with the opening of a door as if breath. Then the curtains fall still, the room quiet as if this hushed little space is isolated in space, without time or dimension, hollowed whisperings of love and safety amidst the turmoil and fury of time. There is no light in the room now, but for one small kitchen candle, the flame standing sentient over the wick as I wait for the sound of steps on the porch.

My Dad's table will not ever be graced by all of us again, but it will be the inheritance of those who remain, few of them family by blood, but all of them family by acceptance. I hope that one day, long after I am gone, a small child will sit at it and say "tell us the story about when Great Grandma Grace's turkey blew up". . . .

. . and laughter will ring out again.


  1. Hari OM
    I recently batch baked in my father's kitchen and all I could think about was mother, who endlessly experimented in there. She was not a natural cook, but she had a scientist's approach to try and try and tweak. We never went hungry. There were some interesting challenges to the tongue, but it meant all grew up wishing to experiment in our own kitchens. Enjoy your Thanksgiving, you three; Blessings and Love, YAM xx

  2. I am sooo happy you stopped by Cody's blog (and THANK YOU for adding both Cody and Dakota to your sidebar!) We just signed up to follow you and are delighted to meet you!! Your story was beautiful, you can tell you are an author, your writing is glorious! What wonderful memories you shared...this post is what Thanksgiving is all about. BTW I wanted to follow your eat fit blog too but I don't see "follow by email" there unless I missed it. Sending Thanksgiving (((hugs))) to you and yours! Caren, Cody and Dakota

    1. Hi Caren - I added a "follow by email" function to the eat fit blog, and I'll do this blog as well. I didn't know about that gadget until I looked it up. To get to the healthy eating blog go see my right sidebar and click on the PHOTO of Abby Lab staring at her empty food bowls - it will take you there. Thanks for the comment on my writing. I'm a scientists/federal agente by trade, writing was something that was fun for me, and has helped earn a fair bit of money for the animal rescue groups, for which I'm grateful.

  3. Hygge is such a cool idea. I have heard a lot about it recently. I also captures cozy. We North Americans need more of that.

    Isn't it funny that it is the dinner disasters that stay in our hearts and bring joy later? There was a Christmas where my mother, not normally a drinker, and the other women (friends who become family) had too much to drink and dinner was very late. There was the year our friend's stove died and the turkey never cooked . . .

    Have a wonderful a Thanksgiving.

  4. That is a hilarious turkey story! You were lucky KFC was open!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

    1. WE have had KFC more than once at Thanksgiving.

  5. We too will be having a quiet Thanksgiving, but we can all recall sweet memories of days past. We loved reading about all the memories you shared, both humorous and treasured.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    Woos - Lightning, Misty, and Timber

    1. Thank you! Since you enjoyed TBOB I think you would enjoy "Saving Grace - A Story of Adoption". Different but similar stories of growing up, this with a theme of being adopted with my brother and later adopting several dogs after I gave up my daughter for adoption as a college age teen Mom. If you'd like an autographed copy, I'd be happy to send you one.

  6. That is a great Thanksgiving story. It reminds me of when we were at Ted's house. Somehow his mother, who was cooking dinner, had the perfume around her catch fire, but not her. Ted was yelling at her that she was on fire and she was yelling at him not to raise his voice during dinner untl she finally listened and with one hand swat put out the fire. Keep the good times in your heart.

    1. My husband tells the story of one holiday meal where someone had lit a whole BUNCH of tea lights along a railing. Apparently that was a railing the long haired cat like to walk. Everyone is eating when someone deadpans "cat on fire". NOT words you want to hear in the middle of the meal. Cat was put out, and other then a little singed fur was purrfectly OK. But we still will look at each other at holidays with "Cat on Fire" and just shake our heads..

  7. What a nice post of all your Thanksgiving memories!!
    My mum is really not the greatest cook (but don't tell her I said that). Dad has to do most of the cooking in our house because mum's had a few 'issues' with some of the meals she's tried to prepare in the past.. but she's never exploded a turkey!
    Lots of licks, your good friend Morrie :)

  8. love this post... it is as if all member of your family would sit next to me telling this story... thanks for a wonderful family memory... Happy Thanksgiving!!!

  9. We are thankful for the memories of those who are no longer with us as well. Life changes but keeps moving on. Have to say we love Penzeys spices and have a whole drawer full we use daily. Happy Thanksgiving.

  10. It has probably been more than fifty years or so, but my cousin still gets tweaked about keeping her fingers out of the moving parts of the mixer!

  11. Happy Thanksgiving Day everyone! From the staff at The Daily Bone

  12. Abby and Mom what a beautiful heartfelt post. Thank you and your mom for sharing all these lovely memories...the mind's eye is a powerful tool.

    Mom had a chuckle at the cooking turkey story. Until Mom was about 50 my Loula (her mom) always cooked the turkey dinner. Mom was so proud of her first turkey..the house smell divine...then Loula arrived to make the giblet gravy...she asked mom where the bag of giblets were. Mom said what bag?
    Yep she left the giblets plastic bag and all in Tom Turkey. Thank goodness nothing caught on fire....lesson learned always stick you hand in tom to get the plastic bag
    Hugs madi and mom

  13. God Save the KFC! And the Queen also!

    Good story, reminds me of the one I heard about my ex's Dad. In Czech one of the traditional main courses is a carp, usually bought live and brought home a few days early, fed in clear water to clean out, and then prepped for the oven. My ex's Dad, when he was younger and freshly married decided that his family should do a traditional carp dinner. He brought one nice one home, cleaned the bathtub out, ran water into it, and carp went in for several days. Time came for the deed to be done, and as he'd never done it before, he figured the proper and merciful way was to use his 16 gauge. Worked well on the carp, worked well on the bathtub too..which was on the second floor.

    Good times, good times.

  14. Thank you for the laughter. Who blows up a turkey? :) And thanks for sharing the nostalgia. It sounds as if there was a lot of love around that big table.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  15. Thank you so much for swinging by the Ranch and for the follow! We ❤︎ visitors, especially those who have the ability to touch the heart through their elegant writing. It sounds as if you parents are a bit like mine. It's especially at this time of year how I realize my good fortune to have this family's and its crazy stories with the souls of angels. Hope your Thanksgiving was fur-bulous!


Welcome to The Book of Barkley and the Blogville dog blogging community. This blog was created for more memories of Barkley as well as updates on Abby the Senior rescue Lab, who we adopted in 2014.

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