They say that seeing a cardinal signifies a visit from someone who has passed.
I find that capturing them on film is difficult. No matter how I hold my breath and try not to move, they seem to vanish into thin air. Much like hanging on to the image of a loved one when you see them in a dream, or hear their voice in your head.
I am not a good photographer, but occasionally I can surprise one, capturing the image before it flees.
Today, I am thinking of two people who departed our world last week.
An old friend I hadn’t seen in years – gone too soon – taken by cancer. And a dear friend’s father who lived a long, full 86-year life.
Perhaps the cardinal’s skittishness is a reminder to appreciate those we love while they are here. Before we know it, they too may take flight, leaving only memories of their vibrancy.
The room is crowded. I’m in some sort of receiving line, standing on a dais or stage. I greet people as they come by – shaking hands, placing a hand on a shoulder here, kissing a cheek there.
You walk up to me, next in line. I’ve never seen you here before. You don’t quite look like yourself, but there’s no doubt it’s you. You look like a cross between Sophia on Golden Girls and Granny Clampett. I chuckle at the realization that there really was a resemblance – a bit in looks, but mostly in feistiness.
I touch your wrinkled but soft cheek, and then wrap you in a tight embrace. You are thin and my arms go all the way around you with no trouble. I have to lean down a little. I’ve been taller than you since the 8th grade, but you’ve shrunken even more with age.
I hold onto you tightly but gently, feeling the ribs in your back and your boney shoulder under my chin. The feeling of your arms around me, as strong and as sure as ever.
We have so much catching up to do. There is so much to tell you. So much to ask.
Emotion wells up and tears fill my eyes. I’ve missed you so much.
“Mom!” I whisper.
You dissolve in my arms.
I roll over and look at the clock. 3:48.
I close my eyes, listening to the wind and my husband’s breathing.
I try to go back to sleep, willing myself to reenter the dream.
I have some very caring and kind reasons why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. You can read about them here. Now on to the reason we can all agree upon: A holiday that’s all about eating and not buying gifts? Yes, please!
I have memories of being awoken before dawn by the smell of onions being sautéed in butter coming from the kitchen. That meant that Mom was starting the stuffing that would fill the bird. Once the turkey was stuffed and in the oven, she’d go back to bed until breakfast time. The aromas would continue throughout the morning as she prepared the rest of the meal.
I never realized what a good cook my Mom was until I ate at other people’s houses. She was a master at roasting and our turkeys were always so juicy with the skin brown and crackly. She’d pull out her electric knife and carve it in the kitchen rather than at the dining room table. We couldn’t wait and would steal bits of meat while she threatened to amputate a finger or two.
It might just be me, but I swear that an electric knife’s motor actually has a faint, distinctive smell. Ok. I might be a weirdo – but that smell, coupled with the sound makes my mouth water. Kind of like the smell of our old plastic Christmas tree is more nostalgic for me than the smell of pine. Yes, I’m warped. It must be a result of being raised in the suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s.
Anyway, back to the food! The turkey was just the beginning. A few of Mom’s side dishes will be forever be my favorites. Her stuffing was very simple and she didn’t use a recipe: day-old bread, cubed and tossed with egg, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper and those sautéed onions and melted butter. No celery, no chestnuts, no oysters. She’d take her wedding ring off and place it by the sink and smoosh it all together with her hands. It was so basic, but so flavorful. It was so good that my sister and I would fight over it – especially the leftovers which we loved to eat cold. I’ve come close to recreating it a few times, but it’s never quite the same.
A am not a fan of sweet potatoes or yams, but I would eat the ones my mother made. I know most of America goes with marshmallows on top, but not us. Mom went with canned yams but then added pats of butter and huge scoops of brown sugar on top. They’d cook in the oven until the sugar and butter formed a gooey, caramelized mush that was absolutely divine. I’d mostly just put a spoonful of goo on my plate, but occasionally I’d end up eating part of an actual yam.
And last but not least, desert. I’ve never been much of a sweet eater, so the pecan or pumpkin pie didn’t interest me. No holiday meal would be complete at our house without Mom’s wine jello. The ingredients included these huge, juicy black cherries – canned, I think, and Mogen David wine. When she died last year, I took a box of her cookbooks and recipes. I need to find the recipe for this stuff.
Along with all of these goodies we’d have rolls, a relish tray of olives, pickles, and carrot sticks, cranberry sauce – both canned and “real,” and some vegetables. I actually remember the first time she tried out a new recipe for something called green bean casserole. It quickly became a fixture as it did in millions of other households, eventually referred to as simply “GBC” at our house.
My Mom was a great cook, but she liked to work alone. We were usually shooed out of the kitchen so we rarely saw the magic happen. We were only called upon when it was time to help plate things and put them on the table. And do the dishes of course.
Dinner would be at 1 or 2:00. We’d come out of our food comas at about 6 or 7:00 just long enough for cold turkey and Miracle Whip sandwiches on white bread for supper – with a lump of cold stuffing on the side. The best!
In the years before she died, my Mom developed dementia. Making some of those dishes was a muscle memory for her. We’d all pitch in to get them cooked and on the table. , it was still very much her meal.
Last year, less than a month before she died, my sister, brother, and I, along with our spouses, had dinner with my Mom and our Aunt Ruth at the assisted living center where they lived. This year, we’ll do the same thing again with our aunt. We’ll reminisce about our childhood holidays. There will even be a new traditions – Aunt Ruth will no doubt complain, as she and Mom did last year, that at least one dish isn’t cooked “right.”
It won’t be the same as the Thanksgivings of our childhoods, but we’ll be together. My sister and I will be sure to argue about leftover stuffing – and that’s something to be thankful for.
The song says “Over the river and though the woods – to grandmother’s house we go!” but when I was growing up, Thanksgiving was a holiday where we stayed put. I can probably count on one hand the number of times we spent the holiday at anyone else’s table. Occasionally Grandma and Grandpa would be in town, or an aunt and uncle would join us, but sometimes it was just the five of us. It didn’t matter to us, as long as Mom was cooking.
My birthday is on Halloween Eve, so I always loved that holiday for purely selfish reasons. Aside from that, Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Here are a three reasons why:
While the idea of gratitude is often tied to a person’s spirituality, it is not pigeonholed by any single belief. It doesn’t matter if you are devoutly religious or just go through the motions at church a few times a year. You can be of the “I’m not religious, but I am spiritual” ilk, or agnostic, or an atheist. At Thanksgiving it doesn’t matter. No one is left out. All you have to be is grateful – and no matter what your circumstances, you can always find something to be grateful for. It’s one of the few times a year that is only about being together with family and friends. Well, and turkey. But that’s another post.
And in case you weren’t aware it’s not strictly American either. Several other countries celebrate some sort of day of thanks and gratitude.
As I reached adulthood, I became really thankful that this holiday did not include shopping for a billion people, wrapping gifts, and loading up my car with those gifts. I was allowed to show up (maybe with a food item, maybe without), enjoy time with my family, eat way too much delicious food, and leave – with leftover delicious food!
The non-commercialism of the holiday is one of its greatest advantages. It’s only in recent years that people have ramped up the decorations with giant inflatable turkeys and pilgrims on their lawns, but for the most part it remains low key.
Black Friday shopping is another story. I do not partake in those shenanigans! The idea that some stores are open on Thanksgiving itself really bothers me. The workers should be home with their families.
Carrying on Traditions
On TV and in movies, Thanksgiving almost always includes the entire turkey being brought in on a platter and carved at the table, and an impossibly adorable football game on the front lawn. Does anybody really do this?! My family never did. Traditions are what make our family units what they are. Whether they involve Aunt Edna’s awful creamed corn recipe, or Uncle Roger’s belching the alphabet after dinner, it’s all good! The funny thing about some of these traditions is that they’re rarely appreciated until they begin to fade away. It’s why my sister and I still fight over which one of us will get to eat the cold, leftover stuffing, even if there is none. It’s a ritual that brings back cherished memories.
I am lucky to come from a drama-free family, so my memories are good. Since my Mom and Dad both passed away last year, they’re bittersweet. But I know the holidays can bring up not-so-cherished memories for some. There are a lot of dysfunctional families out there with angst and discord aplenty. The good news is that you can always create new traditions. Friendsgiving dinners are becoming popular. Do what makes you happy – but whatever you do, don’t forget to be thankful.
I have always been the unofficial historian of my family. As a child I would spend hours going through the big cardboard box of photos. I’d memorize the faces and the events that were captured on film long before I was born. Mom would tell stories and explain who each person was and how we were related. I listened intently and committed it all to memory.
Not surprisingly, since the death of my Dad, and less than two months later my Mom, my role as the archivist for our clan has become somewhat more official.
I am now the keeper of the cardboard box, along with the photo albums depicting my youth, and that of my parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents before me. These treasures currently sit in a large plastic tub in the corner of our spare bedroom. Continue reading →
My stepdaughter is a wedding photographer and shot a wedding in New York City over the weekend. Her husband tagged along and they made a mini vacation out of it. We got to dog-sit our “granddog,” Jubilee. When they came over Sunday for dinner and to pick up the dog, we started talking about coincidences. While doing some site-seeing on the Brooklyn Bridge they heard someone call out my son-in-law’s name. Lo and behold, friends from their college here in Illinois were also there on vacation. At the same time. In New York. On the Brooklyn Bridge. Nearly 1000 miles away.
There have been volumes written about the topic of coincidences. Chance? Fate? Luck? Or merely mathematical probability? Theories abound from people much smarter than I. All I know is that I am fascinated by them. I also feel like I’ve had more than my share of them in my life. Continue reading →
Welcome to the ninth and final installment of the Maid Goes to Maine. If you’ve been keeping track, you are no doubt thinking “it’s about damn time!” Other obligations have forced me to draw out this saga way longer than I intended. We could have walked to Maine and back in the time it has taken me to tell you about it. Anyway, we are at last at the end of the journey.