Ah, those memories, like the corner of my mind. Most days we chug along, casting a glance back once in a while when Facebook reminds us of something, or if it’s Mama’s birthday and she’s no longer of the planet — or it’s sister Rosie’s anniversary and I need to again make the time to fix up her Rosie boat memorial in the Secret Garden. You can get nudges from Saint Elsewhere quite often if you are open to receiving them.
But there is nothing like a mega holiday, like Thanksgiving, to put you in your place and remind you of where you are in life. You never forget the folks who didn’t get to come to dinner this year, the ones who chose not to make it for some painful reason or those who are residing just a step away from being able to do that. Someone told me 3 feet off the ground is where you can find that particular essence of spirit, if you are lucky to be indulged by any type of intersection of planets.
If I am hosting Thanksgiving, I like to set an extra place at the table to remind us of those that we are missing. It’s a sentimental nod to time, clock of our lives and our hearts, and a barometer of the things that truly matter. The days we speed through life without even casting a glance at memories left in the dust on the wayside; they matter less.
I love Thanksgiving; I’ve said it before. Not having grown up in the Thanksgiving culture, being — ahem — British at birth, it took me a while to come to the table. But when I came, boy did I. I have learned to love the sweet with the savory (see ambrosia and turkey on the same plate, no less!). I have come to understand that every clan has their own tradition they like to repeat year after year (see weirdly raw broccoli salad, also on the plate with the ham and the turkey, stuffing, gooey sweet hot yams, potatoes and gravy. Also, ambrosia. Still trying to figure out that strange creature we call blancmange in the U.K.).
I’m a creature of tradition; I love it when people hold tight to them year after. I respect that whole-heartedly; whether or not I can actually stomach their tradition on my dinner plate.
I also like the Thanksgiving holiday reminder that the generations roll on like time itself. When I first met my husband, the feasting day was hosted by his mother and father at their home in Freedom. Then his dad passed, and the beacon was slowly, but ceremoniously, passed on to the next generation who brought all the dishes to Mom’s house and cooked most of the meal. Then Mom leaves and the next generation takes over. The last few years, we have hosted Thanksgiving at our house with aunts and uncles and his mother. When Aunt Marvel passed on, my daughter took over her tradition of making the devilled eggs. I’m sure she will do that until she passes over the baton to her daughter. You get the idea.
Before you know it, it’s time for the generation below you to take over the trusty baton of tradition and run with it. “We are so nervous!” my daughter said. (She and her boyfriend Aaron were hosting the meal at their home we call The Hacienda in Arroyo Seco.) Though everyone was going to assist — we were bringing ham and sides, his side of the family the same — I understood her nervousness.
The baton was being passed down to the next generation and that’s a big deal when it happens. The house has to get cleaned, meals planned and prepped — everything has to be just right when the two families are coming together for Feast Day. But it wouldn’t be right without the odd dysfunction — the cat has to get out when he’s not supposed to, the dog rolls in cow pats and then takes off after you give her a bath and you can’t catch her. You didn’t quite buy all the things you were supposed to, but it’s all fantabulous.
Nothing in life is perfect, and Thanksgiving Day has a way of reminding you of that. Like life itself, it wouldn’t be right if there were not some hiccups along the way.
We arrived early to be helpful to our hosts and calm their nerves. We organized the snack table and made sure everything was on track for when the other half of the clan arrived. The sun was shining, chairs were situated, cushions were turned upside down to give an air of cleanliness and lack of dog hair to the gathering. And, in the end, it was all lovely; it always is.
“Aren’t you so proud of them?” I asked the other side, as the meal with all its parts came together. He said he was. Grandma and grandpa were there too from Montana, so now we had multi-generations gathering together. Summer sausage, townhouse crackers and cheese balls were served at the snack table in case any of us might forget where we came from. Memories sometimes come from the funniest places. Too bad our granddaughter couldn’t have made the melee from Sacramento to add an 8-year-old buzz to the mix, but it had to be amazing just as it was.
All the food came out amazingly well, the conversation was fun and engaged and I saw lots of happy faces that day. Early Christmas gifts came out in plastic bags, and I just had to have a really good giggle at that.
When everyone left and it was time to watch the 49er game on the big screen outside on the patio under the stars, I just had to invent a new tradition of my very own. If my daughter was going to be hosting Thanksgiving at her place, then I would be staying right there with her. Give a woman some borrowed jammies and the loan of a toothbrush and you’ve created something new. And how perfect was that! We even managed to sneak in some “National Lampoon’s Christmas Family Vacation” to put the Dysfunctional back into the Functional on a holiday that will live on in our memories, even though we forgot to take any pictures.
Our memories will just have to stay framed in those special moments the way some memories are.