Growing up, every year I spent Thanksgiving in Lakeland, FL with my parents, my brother, and my grandparents. Every year but one. I don’t remember why we didn’t go that one year. I’m sure I didn’t care. This only serves as proof that my kids really don’t care what we do from year to year, either. They probably won’t remember.
Every year, there was a big meal around my grandmother’s cherry-wood, clawfoot dining room table. Every year I sat at that table and ate it. I don’t remember a bite of it.
Not one bite.
What I do remember is the breakfasts. My parents and grandparents made as big a production over a breakfast table as they did over Thanksgiving. The sausage was cooked first so that the scrambled eggs could take a leisurely swim in the sausage grease as my grandmother rolled them around the skillet. Those eggs took time. We were willing to wait for them.
I always slept on a pull-out couch, less than 5 feet from the oven in that concrete block house on Belvedere Street. I shared the bed with the bar that protruded up through the tissue paper mattress. But I never minded because I loved being that close to the operational center of so much good smelling food. Waking up to the clanking of pots as they were pressed into service by hands that knew exactly what to do with them became one of the most comforting zones for me. Those mornings I teetered peacefully between sleep and wakefulness with 0% responsibility and 100% hope.
I loved being close to my family, in house so small we had to flatten against the wall to pass each other in the hallway. I loved taking walks along a road canopied with camphor trees, while listening to U2 through the Walkman I saved up for on my own. I loved hearing stories about the life they lived in Kentucky before they moved to central Florida. I loved watching college football with the entire intense extended family. I didn’t care as much as they did then, so it was fun to watch them freak out.
I haven’t been to Lakeland for Thanksgiving in more than 20 years. There’s no one there now. My grandmother died in 2008, 2 weeks before my fourth child was born. My grandfather died in 2011, just shy of his 96th birthday. Their daughter—my mother—died 6 short years later. How strange.
Two holidays ago, we brought my ailing mother over to my brother’s house to eat Thanksgiving dinner. It didn’t go well. She was too sick to be there. And last Thanksgiving, she ate in the dining room of her assisted living facility, with my dad feeding her, and with her assigned tablemates that, to her, were strangers.
She didn’t care about that meal. She couldn’t care that we came to visit that night. She was no longer with us.
She had her eyes on a heavenly country.
We had our eyes on her.
I am writing this from a plane to Austin, sitting in the midst of two rows of the people I love most on this earth. We are days away from gathering around yet another dining room table, with more people I love dearly. There will be no slow scrambled eggs. There will be turkey and dressing and everything quintessential to the holiday. There will be a Macy’s parade in the living room and a staggering pie-to-people ratio. And I know without question that there will be laughter that comes from the stories that fly around the table as we eat. Not one of us is normal, which makes for some pretty colorful tales about catastrophes gone by.
I am eager to get started.
I am thankful.
But I have to acknowledge that this is the first Thanksgiving without my mom. Without the opportunity to call the her she was toward the end and hear her try to speak back to me. Without even her shell on this earth with me. I have to turn my face to it and wear my memories like a warm fleece around my shoulders.
I’m not sad– just solemn.
Not melancholy—only reflective.
Not wistful—absolutely thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Wherever you are this week, whomever you are with, embrace, enjoy, appreciate.
And eat pie.