My mother died on November 1, so this is our first Thanksgiving without her. To make the occasion less painful, I’ve decided to think of funny things she used to do before dementia took her away. For space constraints, the long list has been pruned to only six memories.
- Turkey pudding. My mother overcooked the Thanksgiving turkey for two days. For some reason, she thought she was a pilgrim doing a slow-roast over a pit behind the covered wagon so she set the bird in the oven before midnight on low heat and basted it every hour. As a result, she was tired by dinner the next day and the turkey had lost all its shape as the butterball morphed into turkey pudding hanging off the carcass.
- Sinking the gravy boat. Because the turkey took all the space in the oven, she cooked the green bean casserole, the potatoes, the gravy, and the stuffing on the stove – all at the same time. She wrapped bread rolls in tin foil and stuffed them around the turkey until they hardened into crusty dough balls. When the gravy was thick enough to stand on its own without a pan, it was time to eat.
- Death by sugar. Mom thought there should be a dessert per person. If a dozen guests were coming for dinner, there would be at least four pies, four cakes, and four platters of fudge. Pants and belts were adjusted accordingly.
- Cutest cook ever. She required real whipped cream on the pies, so she would aggressively operate her trusty hand mixer like a frantic high-speed drill until the cream was two seconds shy of becoming real butter. She wore a festive, handmade apron over her best holiday sweatshirt, so she resembled a jolly, plump elf scurrying about the kitchen.
- Pilfering the pie. My mom loved my aunt’s sweet potato pie and assumed it was a healthy dish because it used a vegetable, despite the butter, brown sugar, pecans, and marshmallow sauce. She would sneak a bowl for herself and hide it behind the pickles in the back of the refrigerator. She later grinned with delight about her sneaky accomplishment.
- Her signature dishes. Like a dutiful drill sergeant, she organized the girls and women-folk to hand-wash all the dishes after the meal while the men meandered to the living room to pat their bellies and watch football. She took great pride in dividing leftovers into equal portions and filling Tupperware containers and Corningware dishes for guests to take home. To insure her items were identified and returned, she used fingernail polish to paint her initials on all the containers. I now have stacks of dishes sporting faded red initials “LA.”
This Thanksgiving, the family will come together to toast the holiday and give thanks for our abundant blessings. Some things will remain the same: commotion will come from the children’s table, the men will wrestle for the last turkey leg, and I will declare that red wine goes with turkey – and everything else. The most noticeable difference will be the empty chair at the table. Happy Thanksgiving, Mom. Maybe I’ll sneak a bowl of sweet potatoes for you. Thanks for the funny memories.