A day when memory serves

November 25, 1993|By Sandra Crockett

Few Thanksgiving holidays actually resemble those magazine portraits of elegantly set tables, fond glances and turkeys basted in glory. The following thoughts and tales of our lifestyles writers demonstrate that holidays are often as much about those who aren't present as those who are, that they usually carry lessons of how we could all so better, and that they are rich in the humor that comes from trying to please everyone.

2 But the sound of his voice is still beyond me.

Rob Hiaasen The house in Carney was sold this month. As I stood in the dining room on the shiny hardwood floor after the movers cleared out everything but memories, my thoughts went back a year. When the green and white Oriental rug lay on the floor, when the corner cabinets stood gleaming, when the oval table was set for dinner under the brass chandelier, this was the place of my most memorable Thanksgiving, and my last in this house.

The Edel family had 37 Thanksgiving dinners here and I was present for 24 of them.

In early 1992, Dorothy Edel, my wife's mother, developed severe headaches and balance problems. An MRI found the inoperable cancer.

The rest of 1992 became a tumble of emotions -- sadness, tears, hope, acceptance, a lingering sense of impending loss.

Home health aides tended Mrs. Edel around the clock as Thanksgiving neared. In the past, this is when Mrs. Edel would be spending days preparing food and getting the house ready. My wife, an only child, worried about how to handle this year's holiday, wanting it to be a good one for her mother.

Then, my wife got a phone call.

"We're going to have Thanksgiving dinner here," her mother announced. "I've already called Bowman's restaurant. I ordered four turkey dinners to go. All you have to do is pick them up."

She had decided. She was in control of the holiday preparations, even if she couldn't cook.

When we arrived, Mrs. Edel had left her sickbed and was sitting in a favored chair. Rachel Stevens, one of her home health aides, had helped with her hair and makeup.

As daylight faded, the four of us had dinner around the dark cherry dining room table, moving turkey and dressing from Styrofoam containers to blue and white china. My mother-in-law smiled more than she had in weeks. So did we.

Afterward, Mrs. Edel insisted on giving my wife and me our anniversary gift a month early. "I want you to have it now," she said quietly.

She died Dec. 19. She was buried Dec. 23, our 25th wedding anniversary.

Wayne Hardin We are very different from one another.

Most of the time, it matters.

However, we have gathered together in this dining room whorled with remnants of other Thanksgivings: Familiar remarks, the scent of silver polish and stale tobacco. Over the years, some of the faces have begun to crinkle like crepe. Expressive, you might say, expressive.

And transparent.

The children are fidgeting in their seats: Restless, fresh, soft -- as soft as the cotton batting used to wrap brittle things.

Before us lies the good tablecloth, revealing its highly interpretive history of stains. And here comes the rest of the Thanksgiving fleet: Two gravy boats followed by several barges of food.

Harbored, we await transformation through the joyful act of eating.

It's not clear how we achieve that holy state, that losing of our differences through the ritual of feeding. Perhaps a blessed wind blows through the world and lifts our forks.

Ready, set:

The wine glasses are raised, the words are said. No more time to contemplate the mission, no room for the reluctant or the disengaged. We have joined together. Let nothing come between us.

Here we go:

A quick rustling followed by chewing, swallowing. Comforting barn sounds. We are in communion, incommunicado.

Then, just as suddenly, we return slightly dazed and refreshed. Heaping hosannas upon the slightly dry turkey, acting charitably toward the candied yams.

Pass the butter, please. Heard your back's been bothering you again. Who made these rolls? So what's the latest from the salt mine? More gravy down this way. It's been crazy, absolutely crazy. Put something different in the stuffing this year? No, you can't be excused yet.

Someone tells a stupid joke, someone dabs at a stain. An old spill, once humiliating, it is temporarily beyond judgment.

These are our jokes, our stains.

Give thanks.

Linell Smith It's always hard to tell a story on yourself. In fact, until I hearmy wife Katherine first tell this one, I never quite realized it was about me. I'd always thought it was about her. Or the dog. Or the turkey. It's sad when you're the last one on your block to get it.

But it happened in Denver, in the mid '70s, when my mother and father flew out from Syracuse for a Thanksgiving visit. Naturally, we planned a home-cooked dinner of turkey with all the trimmings. That was the way Mom had always done it, and in those days ignoring the Mom Way of Life was a felony.

To prepare, we divided the duties this way: Katherine would cook the turkey and all the trimmings and I would eat it.

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