We're back from our Thanksgiving travels and down to the final bag of left-over turkey. I've been rationing the last of the pumpkin cheesecake so that I can savor each bite a little longer. We've been feeding the decorative pumpkins to the chickens, and their eggs have a beautiful dark orange yolk because of it.
I've also been feeding aspirin to my old dog Boone, because holiday traveling makes him cripple up. When we drive down to see my family, he spends 4 hours standing in the back of the truck with a furrowed brow, paws on the wheel-well, and the wind in his fur. He looks to the horizon like the captain of a ship. He won't lay down and rest like little Chigger does. He's afraid he'll miss something. Then he pays for it dearly the next day when he can't stand up on his own.
He's become a real thorn in my fanny when we travel. I don't know if he's got dog Alzheimers or dementia but he's started this embarrassing chatter in the back of the truck when we reach the city. At every stop light he makes the strangest noises...like Chewbacca from Star Wars. It's loud, and every car around us starts cracking up with all eyes on my crazy old- fart of a dog. And don't even get me started about the bicyclists that he barks at. I used to be able to yell at him from the cab when he started acting like a hooligan, but now that he's deaf, it's no use.
I can't take that dog anywhere!
I guess I'm writing all of this nonsense to avoid writing about the real issue.
The truth is, Thanksgiving has become a tough holiday for me to get through the last few years. It's not the hours spent baking, and preparing for the feast that bother me. I really enjoy cooking.
It's not the fact that I spend several days in my mom's kitchen. I grew up in that kitchen, and it's comforting to be surrounded by my mom's old, familiar bowls and spoons.
At the heart of it, I'm just homesick for that nostalgic era when many generations of women in my family all gathered in the kitchen to prepare the Thanksgiving meal. I have the fondest memories of the chitter-chatter of ladies in the kitchen. The hours passed by quickly as they talked about everything and nothing while stirring the gravy, and mashing the potatoes. I had small jobs back then, like setting the table, pouring the drinks, and putting out the appetizers, but I felt thankful to be a part of the action. My Granny would delegate the jobs, and kept things flowing like clock-work. She knew exactly when to start cooking things. Her kitchen crew was like a well- oiled machine, chopping, and dicing, and stirring in unison, moving about the kitchen like dancers in a ballroom.
Apart from the occasional basting of the turkey, the men-folk stayed away from the kitchen. That was the ladies' territory. After the meal was finished and the bellies were full, the women would gather in the kitchen once again to do the dishes, and clean up the mess. Many hands made light work, and the cleaning seemed to go by quickly.
But one by one, the matriarchs of the family have all gone.
And last year, at the age of 33, I found myself thrust into a position I didn't plan on being in for many years to come. With the death of my mom, I had now become the sole female in the kitchen.
There is no more ladies' chitter-chatter, no more sharing of recipes, no more taste-testing and laughter. Now I work steadily, side-by-side with my dad to prepare the meal. The other gals come just before serving time, dressed elegantly with perfectly styled hair and a casserole dish from home. I greet them with my gravy stained apron, and sweaty clothes. We say the grace and then eat.
Afterward, they are content to sit and visit while I do the dishes with the help of my husband who takes pity on me. There's no-one else who seems to enjoy cooking, is willing to throw on an apron and get messy, or pull up their sleeves and help with dishes.
When my mom died, it felt like the death of an era.
But then, like shining little beacons of hope, my own little girls asked to help me prepare the Thanksgiving meal this year. In an instant, my whole outlook changed.
Instead of looking back, wishing for things to be like they were in days gone by, I've decided to look ahead to all of the possibilities that lie in front of me.
As my girls grow older, I hope to instill in them a love of the kitchen. I hope to share recipes with them, and teach them how to make good gravy. I hope that as they grow into young women, we can chit-chat about boys and jobs and life while we mash the potatoes. Perhaps some day, I'll share the kitchen not only with my own girls, but maybe with a daughter-in-law, and grand-daughters, too.
I'll pass down my mom's famous Coconut Cream pie recipe, and my grandma's date pudding. I'll teach them how to make a beautiful pie crust, and tell them that the secret's in the way you pinch it. And even though the matriarchs of yesterday aren't with us in the kitchen, their knowledge will be passed from generation to generation.
The one thing that seems to be constant, is that nothing stays the same. No matter how much I fight it, change is inevitable. But I'll hold on to the wonderful memories and traditions of the past, while making new memories today.