I frequently hear that Thanksgiving is not just about the food, but let’s face it: if there were no food, or not the right kinds, there would be disappointment, at least in my family. So my mother and I, living in the same town as we were, divided duties for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for years. Mom would do Thanksgiving, I would do Christmas, and the next year, we reversed dinner responsibility. It worked well for both of us for a long time. As Mom moved into her 70s, I offered to host the dinners, with Mom providing the main course, pies, rolls, mashed potatoes, and anything else she could insist on bringing to assuage her guilt at not being the host and doing most of it herself. She started ordering a fresh turkey each year, and bringing it early Thanksgiving morning for me to roast. One year, she arrived and neither of us had arranged for a turkey. Alarum! Chaos! But good old LaLonde’s had a fresh turkey left, and she immediately picked it up–Thanksgiving was saved. So much for Thanksgiving not being about the food.
One of the things Mom did up until she couldn’t anymore, was make the gravy, which I was not confident I could adequately produce. As the years passed, I began to pay more attention to the gravy technique, since I could forsee the day she would not be around to learn from. Of course the day came, several years ago, that she was “not here,” but fortunately I had absorbed the steps. Add water to the drippings (and we had wonderful drippings yesterday!), heat and stir until dissolved, shake water and flour in a jar, pour this concoction into the boiling water, a little at a time, until just thickened but not TOO thick. I must say that the pure gravy this year was spectacular, but there would never have been enough for the 21 people we served. Add enough Heinz ROASTED TURKEY (not plain turkey) gravy to accommodate your crowd. Thank you, Mom, for teaching me. I’ll try to pass on the skill, which she learned from her mother, who learned it from her mother on the farm in southern Illinois, the difference being there was no Heinz gravy. How did they stretch it?
Yesterday I missed Mom when it came time to make the gravy, not because I couldn’t, but because I wanted the “real” her with us. My sister brought my parents to my house for dinner, bless her, since moving my parents is a project these days. Mom sat between me and my sister, and we held hands, and ate, while she periodically tickled me, and then my sister, and enjoyed her pie–a little of pumpkin and apple, thanks. Mom was pretty happy, but after a trip to the bathroom was ready to leave. Dad also enjoyed the dinner, the company of our first-born son, and the general happy chaos of the dinner. He can’t join in as he did in the past, since his hearing is so poor, but one-on-one, he’s often a delightful conversationalist.
The only two anecdotes from my childhood pertaining to Thanksgiving are 1) the year my mother carved the turkey before bringing it to the table, and I commented, “Well, that’s a LOW turkey,” and 2) the year my mother created a centerpiece of fruits–a stab at a cornucopia–and I helped myself to a banana, not understanding that it was a decoration. Years later, instead of providing little-kid humor, I’m nearly at the top of the generational heap; depending on my parents’ health, I could stand in my mother’s place next year. Trite as it is, the profound truth is that time moves us all, willing or no, through the years. May we live them as best we can, with moments of joy, and strength for the sorrows, and yes: God bless us, everyone.