With the very first sign of leaves turning to the colors of fall, I begin thinking of family, food and making great holiday memories. I can close my eyes and see plates of mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cornbread dressing and of course turkey and gravy.  Then my heart takes over and I am reminded of the holidays past. With each year, it seems that someone is missing at the table. Perhaps they are just traveling elsewhere, but too often they are missing due to loss. Revisiting the holidays of the past can bring a few tears, but remembering the traditions will continue long after the table is not as full can bring joy.

Family and Friends

Thanksgiving memories in my family focus on being grateful for what we had and all about FOOD. Then for Christmas, we celebrate our faith and the joy of giving. Although food is not the total focus in December, we still had our favorites. We knew who we hoped would make our favorite dish. Although the food was wonderful, being grateful for family and friends being together and giving thanks for our blessings and sharing with others is what made the holidays special.

The Food Preperation

In my house, my mother ruled when it came to food. It’s not surprising since she was the most beloved caterer in our town. Oh, my what a process took place every year. The planning began weeks before the feast. My mother felt the need to always delight her family and guests. She kept a journal of what she had cooked the year before. Heaven forbid she might serve the same appetizers.

Of course, the main show stoppers- turkey, dressing, sides etc. were a constant. The soup however MUST be checked annually. She had two crowd favorites: tomato/beef broth or corn chowder served with butter and herb toasted strips of bread, served around noon.  Surely it would be a disaster if she served the same soup two years in a row.

As I grew into a young adult, I finally realized the reason for the soup. It was simply to keep the anxious men and children busy and out of the kitchen asking every five minutes if lunch was ready. This yummy diversion gave the women uninterrupted time while we finished the dishes to be served promptly at 2:00 p.m. 

Time to Eat

Finally, 1:59 p.m. would arrive. Children were washed up from their game of raking leaves and jumping into them. The men were anxious to finish before the football game began. They lined up, waiting for the call for prayer. THEN suddenly my mother would say “Oh wait, I don’t have pictures of the food for my customer book.”

For several years, that meal began at 2:05 or 2:10 to allow for the wonderful photos with fall flowers gracing the table. After several years, as the customary schedule began, I notice my then 12-year-old son standing in the corner about 1:50 pm. I just assumed he was hungry and dismissed it. At 1:59 p.m. as everyone lined up, mother would say “oh wait, let me get my camera.” It was then my son, with a huge smile on his face, would announce, “I already took the photos Nana! Let’s eat.” From then on, my son provided the camera early so we could gather and eat at 2:00 p.m. 

Carrying On

In the summer of 1999, we lost mom. We knew Thanksgiving would be a bit harder. Knowing how much joy the holiday brought her, we dug in and carried on. The difference now was my granddaughters are now in the kitchen with me. After much fear of being able to make her dressing taste the same -she must have guided my hand when I added the spices- it was almost like hers. It felt like being home again. Time changes, people around the table change, but the memories and customs that were important can be carried on. Each year we will do this all again, a different menu, the table full of loved ones and of course pictures of our family, food and great holiday memories.

Thank you, Mom, I’ll meet you in the kitchen soon.

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