Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday with my family. We love to cook. Cooking, to me, is a release of my pent-up creativity. I spend hours thinking of the menu and the recipes; combing cooking magazines and websites. But, somehow, I always return to our traditional menu for the big holiday.
I would have to say my favorite time during Thanksgiving Day is being in the kitchen with my daughters. Both of them have picked up my love for cooking and it is a common bond we share. Some families discuss politics, some sports, my daughters and I talk recipes. It brings me great pleasure to watch as they find a new recipe and tweak it to make it their own. Cooking together is a tradition that goes back to my mother and me side by side in the kitchen. One of my first memories is standing on a chair, stirring tomato soup, as my mother made grilled cheese sandwiches for the family. It is no wonder that combination is still one of my favorite comfort foods.
My mother was an amazing cook. Many times, when money was scarce she could still make an incredible pot of chicken noodle soup or my favorite, beef vegetable. Her forte was fried chicken or round steak with heaping batches of mashed potatoes oozing butter. Later in life, when I tried to duplicate her recipes for the chicken and steak, I realized she pretty much deep-fried them in butter. No wonder they tasted so good. It took me many years to modify her dishes to more healthy servings. Still, from my mother I learned a love of creating in the kitchen. The joy it brings to serve a nutritious, delicious, meal to family and friends. The feeling of giving a part of yourself; a creation sent from the heart.
This is my first Thanksgiving without my mother’s physical presence here on earth. I say it that way because my mother passed away last February of dementia. However, for the last few years she was alive she did not truly participate in the rituals of the holiday. The final time she came to my house for the big meal, she was anxious about not being in the routine of her assisted living home. She did not enjoy the loud laughter of the many guests and family that mingled throughout the kitchen and family room. She would not take her eyes off me because my face was the only one she recognized. Just as we were carving the turkey and placing the food on the table, she demanded to be taken home. No attempts at persuading her otherwise worked. So we wrapped the turkey in foil, placed dishes back in the oven and my daughter and her cousin drove Mom home while the remainder of us waited with another glass of wine. As my mother walked out the door, I felt in my being she would not spend another holiday with me in my home. It was too much for her.
There is sadness in knowing she and my father are no longer with me. Thanksgiving 2000 was the last time both my parents were at my house. Dad passed away the following February. In my mind I remember the holiday as being perfect and that is the way I like to leave it. Mom watched as I bustled around the kitchen, Dad helped set the table and clean up. The ritualistic routines Mom and I had established so many years before in my mother’s kitchen became mine. That final holiday together Mom and Dad were content to pass on the family traditions to me and my budding family. And so, I hope that with this Thanksgiving and many more to come I will be able to establish old and new traditions with my girls and create perfect memories.