Thanksgiving isn't 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!"
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.
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 the 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.
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.
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.
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.