(In loving memory of all the Moms and holiday cooks whose chairs are empty at our tables)
For many years my mother and aunts hosted all the holiday dinners. We gathered on a more or less rotating basis at the table of whoever was cooking, my young cousins and I never giving it much thought except to agree that the day was always delicious.
Somewhere along a not very clearly drawn line, the torch was passed and my generation became the dinner doers. The graying and slightly fragile women took a well deserved backseat to the hubbub, appearing with a baked offering and memories to be shared from a comfortable seat out of the kitchen. I accepted my torch willingly and held the holiday Olympics at my table for 20 years or so.
Last year, my daughter married and moved into her new home. She reminded my mother that she had long ago promised her Great Grandma’s dining room furniture. Moving day found it in her dining room with my daughter excitedly promising that the next holiday, Thanksgiving, would be at her house. I held my breath a little. Could the next relay of the torch be commencing?
In early November, the discussions began. “Mom, you are going to bring the stuffed mushrooms?” my daughter asked. “You know they’re my favorite and nobody makes them like you do.”
“Of course,” I told her. How easy, I thought. Just make the mushrooms. I’ll finally get to watch the parade on Thanksgiving morning. I could see myself lounging on the sofa, sipping coffee and watching the balloons float past Macys.
“How about making the stuffing?” My daughter asked a few days later. “You make the best stuffing, “ she went on, “It’s the only kind we like.” Well okay, mushrooms and stuffing. Still pretty easy. I can do it the night before and still relax all morning. “No problem,” I agreed.
Then the matter of the old oven in her new house and its unreliability surfaced. They were going to try to replace it after the holiday, my daughter explained. It wasn’t working quite right. I envisioned a half-cooked turkey or dinner eaten at midnight after waiting hours for the bird to brown. “Since I’m already making the stuffing, why don’t I just cook the turkey at my house and bring it over?” I said. “Fine, “ she said. “Oh, and could you make the gravy? Mine never tastes as good as yours.”
“Well, I guess I’ll make it at your house while you’re getting everything else together,” I told her, making a mental note to add the necessary ingredients to my shopping list.
My son asked if I would please make the candied yams. “I don’t think Lorraine know how to make them,” he said, frowning at the thought of his favorite part of the meal tasting any different. “And you’re making the pumpkin pie, right? Yours is the best.” I nodded and added it all to the list.
I bought the ingredients and located the baking dish for the green bean casserole before I was asked.
Wednesday afternoon the aromas in my house teased of the next day’s feast. All requests were finally completed and stowed in the refrigerator sometime after midnight. I roused myself at 3 a.m. to get the 20 pound turkey stuffed and in the oven, having calculated extra cooling, wrapping and transporting time into the usual minutes per pound rule. This of course was after my earlier nightgown clad run to the backyard trash can to retrieve the turkey wrapper that stated exactly how Tom weighed in.
Later that morning I packed up the hot turkey and it’s trimmings. On the fifth or sixth trip to the car I caught a glimpse of the Macy’s Parade Santa as the credits rolled, continuing my personal 20 year tradition. Heaven knows that I’d hardly recognize him without the words scrolling over his beard and button nose.
My daughter was setting the table and opening cans of olives when we arrived. Hunks of cheese and marinated mushrooms straight from the jar gave off a lovely aroma from the wedding gift serving dishes being used for the first time. “I made a chocolate pie,” she told me. “You know, instant pudding in a graham cracker crust.” “Uh huh,” I said as I handed her two pumpkin pies and the apple pie I knew my brother liked.
I heated and stirred and concocted the gravy from my arsenal of mobile ingredients. She boiled potatoes so I could mash them but I was relieved of that task when she accidentally dumped them down the drain.
We finally gathered around Great Grandma’s table sparkling with the new china and crystal on it’s maiden voyage. Satisfied looks and groans assured that dinner was just as expected. As always, food and conversation were savored far into the evening.
Much later when the dishes were done and the leftover packed up for journey home with their perspective takers, I eased myself into the corner of the sofa and relaxed. My middle-aged muscles ached and I gave into the overwhelming urge to close my eyes. I was just drifting off comfortably when my daughter plopped down beside me. Leaning against me she exhaled a long sigh.
“I’m exhausted,” she exclaimed. “This sure was a lot of work.” She paused and I felt her nodding her head with conviction. “I think we should have Thanksgiving at your house next year,” she said firmly.
I pretended to be asleep.
Linda Radice 2003
(Note: This article was previously published in the Westfield Leader Newspaper, November 17,2003.)