Thanksgiving for Memories

As Alzheimer’s progressed, Mom forgot what she had taught her children, but we remember.  From the point of her diagnosis until she left this world, made whole again in the presence of Jesus, we remembered for her and used her recipes and her decorations and her creations to recreate moments to make her smile.   Now we remember and use her recipes and her decorations and her creations to bring smiles to our families: her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren.  

Memi loved to cook–and she especially loved cooking for holidays.  I think Thanksgiving stands as my favorite time with Mom over the years.  Virtually every year of my life until 2018, I spent the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the morning of Thanksgiving with Mom preparing food–amazing food–while Christmas music played just a bit too loud.  As a little girl, I remember helping her make pies and candy and dressing and deviled eggs.  My jobs most often were minor but felt so important–from peeling boiled eggs when I was just old enough to reach the sink to dicing vegetables when I could be trusted not to cut myself to stirring a pot of  liquified sugar and Karo syrup at a “rolling boil” that she magically turned into the lightest, yummy divinity.  I peeled and diced and stirred and mixed and cooked beside her for decades. 

One Wednesday before Thanksgiving, when I was around 19, mom called home to tell me she would not be back in time to make the dressing.  Mom was  staying with my grandmother who was in the hospital and would not be released until Thanksgiving morning.

“You’ll have to make the turkey and dressing by yourself this year,” she told me.  In my memory, there was a long silence while the portent of the moment sank in for both us.   I don’t remember either of us being too worried about pies since my older sister Tammy and sister-in-law Daina would be bringing scrumptious desserts, and we weren’t too concerned about side dishes since I had been living on my own and knew how to cook the basics,  but the idea of making mom’s turkey, dressing & gravy by myself seemed daunting.  

Mom didn’t rely on recipes.  She relied on her instincts–pulling together dishes by memory– for almost everything.  At one point many years ago, Tammy made Mom create a few of her favorite dishes while Tammy stopped her between each step to measure the amounts so that she could write out legitimate, and now very much  prized, recipes.  

I know Mom coached me through the steps on that call more than 3 decades ago, but the only thing I vividly remember is her telling me to be sure to get dad to taste the dressing to be sure it had enough sage but not to let him push it too far.  How’s that for clarity?!  

She made it home for Thanksgiving lunch, and I treasure the way she bragged on the dressing.  I’m pretty sure dad and I overdid the sage that year, but Mom said it was perfect.  I can’t even write that sentence without a bit of a-little-embarrassed-goofy-pleased-with -myself grin, just  like the one I had when she tasted the dressing for the first time that day and pronounced it perfect.

I have made mom’s turkey, dressing & gravy every year since then.  And, every year, I feel a bit daunted by the task; and every year, I think I should write down the recipe as I make it; and every year, I make it from memory because that is the way Mom did it.  

During the last decade of mom’s life, her memory faded and life changed.  The huge gatherings at her house downsized and eventually shifted to my siblings’ homes.  My immediate family still traveled to Mom’s almost every Thanksgiving.  Mike and I still stayed with mom.  She and I still cooked in her kitchen, but we gradually switched roles.  She stirred.  She prepped vegetables.  She peeled boiled eggs.  She eventually just watched.  

Then, in 2018, she was made whole but we were left without her at Thanksgiving. I made her turkey, dressing and gravy that year and cried through almost the entire process. Last year, we were able to spend Thanksgiving with two of my sisters, Kathy and Karol, and their families. While Christmas music played a bit too loudly, my brother-in-law Mark made the turkeys, my sisters made incredible desserts and side dishes, and I made the dressing and gravy. Kathy and Karol told me it tasted just like mom’s. I cried. Then we cried. Then we laughed. Mom would have loved it.

This year, we are staying home and celebrating a bit smaller because of the concerns with the pandemic. It has seemed a bit less like the holidays. But today, I turned on the Christmas music a bit too loudly and started the preparations for turkey, dressing, and gravy.

Just a few moments ago, I peeled the seal off a new bottle of sage. The smell took me back to mom’s kitchen for just a moment, a sweet, sweet moment, reminding me of the reasons I love Thanksgiving, especially the time to focus on enjoying †His moment.

May your Thanksgiving be sweet and full of gratitude for all the blessings–past and present.

Enjoy †His moment.

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