Friday, November 8

At the Table


     Just the other day, I was rifling through a slew of recipes that were ungraciously jammed inside my Pillsbury cookbook.  That cookbook had been my very first, obtained in my sophomore year of college, when four of us had abandoned the dorm for more sophisticated living in a two-bedroom townhouse.  The cookbook was a necessary item if we intended on not visiting fast food restaurants for every meal.
The four of us sat on Merilee’s bed, reading the choices offered to us through a book club which included a second book for free with the purchase of one.  Now, “free” is the most sacred word in a college student’s vocabulary.  Thus, we poured over the selections and opted for the two we figured we could use the most as life quickly propelled us out into adulthood.  We selected Pillsbury Kitchen’s Cookbook, and, naturally, The Joy of Sex.
​Those four years went by too quickly and somewhere between graduation, relationship separations, and moving on to higher expectations, “Joy” was lost in the shuffle, but, in one of life’s little ironies, the cookbook remained in my safekeeping.   So, the other day, I went searching through it, yet again, looking for the winning combination of dishes to be served at this year’s Thanksgiving.  Though the book itself is well-worn, it was the loosely stuffed recipes in the back of the book—those uncategorized, un-alphabetized, gravy-stained and faded recipes—that were really the golden ones I was after, because those are the ones that were handwritten by my loved ones who are no longer with me, except through a multitude of memories, photographs and recipes.
I pulled a couple of them out, smiling over them as if they were winning lottery tickets, and, without so much as lighting a burner on the stove, I could smell my grandmother’s corn pudding and Auntie’s (Grandma’s older sister), sweet potato casserole.  My grandmother’s writing for the corn pudding had quite a few abbreviations, which reminded me that she’d been a secretary ninety years ago, and had known short hand.  She had been my grandfather’s secretary before becoming his wife, making me think that her shorthand must have been beyond belief!  Auntie’s instructions for the sweet potato casserole were written in long, slanted cursive writing, like she had taken her time writing it.  She was a pious old thing in her later years, though not so much in her younger ones.  Auntie had been married five times—twice to the same man—though little was spoken about it, at least in her presence.  Then, finally, I came upon Mama’s recipe for cornbread dressing and I heard myself let out a little sigh.
Mama passed thirteen years ago, and the sting of it remains.  I guess it always does when you lose a parent, and, in my case, parentS, who were as wonderful as mine were.  Though the forcefulness of the pain eases over time, it never stops entirely. There are certain moments when it can knock the wind out of you again, especially when a memory of them catches you off guard, such as in the case of the dressing. Seeing my mother’s writing—quick, succinct, to the point—exactly like she was, started that tiny stinging in my heart once again.  So, I poured a lukewarm cup of coffee, sat down at my dining room table, and looked out at the fading-fall view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
When I was a kid, my entire family spent Thanksgiving and Christmas together.  We pushed tables together so that we could all sit close to one another.  Those gatherings looked like a Norman Rockwell painting, but how easily I took them for granted, never giving much thought to the fact that we would one day scatter off in different directions or be gone entirely, just like the autumn leaves.
My husband and I moved from Florida to North Carolina shortly after Mama’s death, leaving old friends behind.  This year, just as we have for more than a decade now, we’ll share Thanksgiving with newer friends who are treasured little blessings in our lives.  As we sit down with them at our candle-lit Thanksgiving table and begin passing around the different side dishes, I will once again think of Grandma, Auntie, and Mama, and my new and old worlds will join forces at that moment.  I will almost hear Auntie’s overly long blessing, followed by a bawdy joke being whispered from my beautiful grandmother’s mouth.  And I will almost be able to hear, feel and see Mama; taking charge, being in charge, but lovingly so, by making sure that everyone has what and all that they need.  They will all be there; in the memories, in the stories told about them, in the food that they made dozens of times for dozens of holidays, and I will whisper a quiet and humble “thank you” to them all when we bow our heads for the blessing.

6 comments:

  1. Thank you, Liz. All of it is so true. I'm very blessed.

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  2. I remember Christmases like that, with aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents eating in shifts because the table couldn't accommodate us all at once. They're very good memories. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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    1. Those memories are priceless, aren't they? You have a wonderful Thanksgiving, too, Jana.

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  3. I have a couple of recipes my grandmother wrote down--I never use them, lol, but I keep them to see her writing and to remember. One of them is for peanut brittle and I tried to make it but it was a horrible disaster. LOL

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    1. Thank God for the store-bought brittle, huh, Margie? Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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