You guys, I know the holidays are upon us. No more pretending we have plenty of time to dust windowsills or shop for those weird onion things we only use on the Green Bean Bake. We need to get ‘er done, now. But also Be Thankful! And think about Christmas! And don’t screw up the Pecan Pie!
I’ve been thinking about what I want to say about Thanksgiving. There is much to be afraid of, in our world today. There are politicians to rally behind or wish plagues upon. There are racist, homophobic, ignorant people (some of whom are likely to be with you at dinner tomorrow). There is murder and heartache and terrorism… And of course there is wonderfulness and lightness and happy bloggers and lovely vintage dishes to find at thrift stores if you just had an hour to your self. I know. It’s a lot.
I tell you what, though: when both your parents have died and your divorce is final, Thanksgiving is a lot more low-key. So mostly lately I think about what I wish I had known, the last Thanksgiving with my mama, or Thanksgiving of 1985, less than 2 months before my dad’s stroke.
Just to be clear, I hope this is NOT your last Thanksgiving with your mama, and I hope your dad doesn’t go and have a massive stroke that leaves him with aphasia and hemiplegia and a seizure disorder for good measure. Lord, I hope that so much.
But maybe, just thinking about it being possible, even just a little bit, will help you overlook some of the more grating parts of family gatherings. Maybe instead you can talk about your favorite Thanksgiving memories, or take time tomorrow to get your favorite recipes: your dad’s chocolate cake, for example, or in my case, Myra’s vegetable beef-dumpling soup.
My first fall without my mama, I suddenly realized I never got her recipe for soup. I’d gotten the banana bread recipe, and Grandma Beulah’s frosting, and the potato dumpling recipe. But somehow I never thought to get the soup. I was devastated: for me, there was nothing better when I was sick than Mom bringing fresh soup with fluffy white egg dumplings. She made some for me after V was born that seriously boosted my milk production and made me strong again. It was magic soup.
I called my sister, half-panicked. “Do you know how to make Mom’s soup?”
“Sure,” she said. “A knuckle bone, some vegetables…it’s not that hard.”
“Yeah, but did she WRITE IT DOWN FOR YOU?”
I almost hyperventilated.
A few days later, through a happy, coincidental exchange on Facebook, out of the blue one of Myra’s good friends said “Say, girls, I have a couple of knuckle bones in my freezer that your mom liked to use for soup. Do you want them?”
I thought, Want them?? WANT THEM?? You just saved my life! Instead I said, “Yes, please. Do you know how to make the soup?”
“No,” she said. “Didn’t she tell you?”
You could hear my heart break from 27 miles away.
Then, through some crazy twist of fate, my Aunt Barbie, who only seems to be on Facebook about once every three months, joined in. “The vegetable soup with the egg dumplings? I know how to make that. Grandma Beulah taught us all.”
Relief flooded me. I sat and cried. It’s a year later, and I still haven’t made the soup, but knowing now that I actually can do it, from an authentic recipe, brought me so much peace. I am so grateful it’s not lost.
Tenessa had a dear friend a few months ago whose mother was given just a few weeks to live. It was devastating news, and my only suggestion was “Get the soup recipe. Right now.” It seems crazy, but trust me. In the midst of all the heartache and awfulness, it will seem like it doesn’t matter. But it does. The food we give each other is magical.
You don’t have to tell your family it’s because you’re afraid they’ll die soon, if you don’t want to. But instead of the usual fighting over the last piece of lefse, consider what it is from tomorrow, or from years past, that you want to remember always.
NPR is on board, and has a project going for just this purpose (well, not so much the soup purpose, but you know what I mean). There’s literally an App for that! Check out NPR’s Listening Project here. Download the app, look at their suggestions, and please, whatever you do, get the soup recipe if you can.
When the time comes for grieving, hopefully many years from now, you’ll have one less loss to ache over.