I remember all of the women in the family bustling about the crowded kitchen. Wearing Sunday best, they scurried about each providing their contribution to the feast. As a young girl I remember watching the last minute Lemon Meringue Pie making and the deft manipulation of too many side dishes to heat in limited oven space. I remember the apologies for the less than perfect outcomes, which always looked fine to me.
Thanksgiving started well before our Meal. Our appetizers were always a high-point; we usually filled up on the relish and vegetable tray goodies as well as the cookies, fudge and desserts that were out for all to enjoy prior to the real meal.
The men-folk sat around in their khakis and sweaters telling mildly crude jokes, watching sports, or flirting shamelessly with women other than their wives. It was all part of the ritual. As children, we never quite understood why we were forced into our church clothes just to eat a big fancy meal. The clothes did though, remind us that the day was "special." We were willing to endure the starchy collars and lacy tights -- because seeing all of the cousins was surely the highlight of our day.
We always had a Matriarch and Patriarch. They never seemed to age or look any differently during our youth. When the great-grandparents finally passed away, our grandparents gracefully assumed the role. The grandparents were always adored - and they loved-back unconditionally. They seemed to perfectly embrace their place as our family leaders. Their presence surely created a spirit of love and nurture that could never be replicated. Through the food, stories and constant ribbing, the day passed with satisfaction and security. Something about this annual scene left me with feeling of warmth and tradition.
Now the grandparents are gone... and, my mother is gone -- but those women taught me more than they will ever know. For years I watched the regimen of table-setting and food preparation. I smelled the fragrances of home-baked pies and the wafting aroma of turkey. I learned through experience. I never thought I would be adept enough to prepare Thanksgiving for extended family once I grew up. But, for years in a row now, I have almost single-handedly replicated the scenes from my youth. The turkey and stuffing, yams, molded layered salads and mashed potatoes. My short-coming? I don't have the time or talent for pie making -- except of course my specialty: chocolate angel pie with meringue and pecan crust.
Gone are the days of my youth where I was the recipient of these cherished memories, but I will always remember the beautiful young mothers who worked for days to bring us this Rockwellian snapshot. They did well. Each new generation takes family tradition and adds a personal and contemporary twist. I pray that I am providing my family with at least a little bit of what I enjoyed in my youth.
As I bowed my head to give thanks over the meal this Thanksgiving Day, I felt the warm embrace of Thanksgivings past. And, for just a moment the veil felt very thin. I could almost feel the women of my past approving the table setting and the savory dishes I lovingly prepared with them in mind. It's as if they were smiling with pride knowing that their traditions did not go with them to the grave. It's as if they were saying, "Well done, good and faithful child." I smile to myself and say, Amen.