What traditions make the holiday for you? – A Thanksgiving story

Thanksgiving is a time laden with tradition as family and friends gather to share food, fellowship, and fond memories. As I texted my nieces this year, sharing our plans for turkey and all the fixings, I couldn’t help but remember one particular Thanksgiving. I share this story written a decade ago and published in The Iowan magazine as my Thanksgiving gift to you.

A Holiday Story

I have always believed that Thanksgiving dinner is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult meal to make. Easiest because there is no wondering what will be on the menu. At least at our house, the meal is always exactly the same, from homemade pumpkin and mincemeat pies to cranberry sauce cooked up and cooled in an aluminum mold used only for that purpose to the dinner rolls my aunt bakes on Thanksgiving morning. A turkey with sage dressing is the centerpiece.

A new, young cook takes to the kitchen, continuing old traditions and creating new.

A new, young cook takes to the kitchen, continuing old traditions and creating new.

At the same time, the meal is difficult because of the high level of expectation attached to all holiday family gatherings. For me, sage dressing is the food I desire most. I can pass on potatoes and gravy, forgo cranberries, even skip the turkey. Fill my plate with the sage dressing that I wait all year to taste.

So it was with more than casual interest that I listened to the phone conversation my mom was having with her granddaughter in Pennsylvania about Thanksgiving dressing.

“Say, Clorinda,” Mom said. “Your mom says you do a great job making dressing. If you want to make it when you’re here for Thanksgiving, I’ll get everything around so it’s ready when you are.”

Mom cradled the telephone between her shoulder and ear as she reached for a pencil and paper. “Okay, I’m ready,” she said, pencil poised to write. I knew she anticipated a list beginning with dried bread and progressing through sage seasoning.

Watching from across the table, I could see the list as Mom wrote down the ingredients Clorinda detailed: Stove … Top … Stuffing. Mom hesitated as she took in the words and glanced up at me. I couldn’t stifle a laugh.

For nearly 60 years, my mother had put three square meals a day on the table, all made from scratch, mostly using produce grown in her own garden. The very idea of making a Thanksgiving dish so basic and so traditional as dressing out of a box nearly made her go into shock.

But she’s quick on her feet, my mother. “How many boxes do you think we need?” she asked Clorinda.

Though Mom takes justifiable pride in the meals she prepares, she has her priorities in order. If her granddaughter wants to help make the meal, and that help comes out of a box, she won’t bat an eye. But don’t underestimate what a mental shift that took.

From the time my sisters and I were 10 years old. Mom taught us not only to grow the food we’d eat but also to cook it. She guided us through the basics of growing and canning peas and beans, tomatoes and corn. From there we explored the complexities of meal planning and cooking. Mom made cooking easy, measuring out ingredients before we knew what we needed, cleaning up every drip and spill as we made it. We knew no failures in her kitchen.

When 15-year-old Clorinda arrived in Iowa that November, Mom swept her granddaughter off into the kitchen as her newest apprentice. Some lessons were a snap. To make eggs over easy without flipping them, for instance, Mom shared the trick of putting a lid on the frying pan, drizzling a few drops of water at the edge, and letting steam cook the egg top. Some lessons were more challenging. Gravy without lumps took two tries. These cooking experiences continued throughout the week up until Thanksgiving Day.

By 5 a.m. the kitchen was a hive of activity directed by Mom and guaranteed to deliver the traditional Thanksgiving meal we all knew and loved. As noon approached, I watched in amusement as Clorinda opened the Stove Top stuffing mix and under Mom’s watchful eye completed a cooking task in five minutes that done in the traditional way would have taken a good two hours.

When the turkey came out of the oven at precisely 11:30 a.m. and a parade of heaping dishes made it to the dining room table at exactly noon, among them was a large bowl of Stove Top Stuffing. We all ate it. And it was good. Grandma agreed.

Would stuffing from a box ever replace homemade sage dressing and become the new tradition at our holiday table? Probably not. But Mom keeps Stove Top stuffing mix on her pantry shelf, ready for the day her granddaughter comes for another holiday visit.

Much has changed since this story was written, but much stays the same. Our tables will be surrounded with love, and I wish the same for you.

I’m thankful – Today and everyday

Thanksgiving Day gives us a reason to say thanks. It’s a little sad we may need a reason, though I understand how it happens. We’re busy. Too much to do. Not enough time.

Because I sometimes have a tendency to get wrapped up in doing rather than being, I have made an effort of late to purposely, intentionally, mindfully be thankful.

Here are some of the things I’m thankful for today and always.

Our home and the trees that surround it.

Maple tree & House

 

 

 

 

 

My granddaughters who show me what true joy looks like.

Making Cookies

 

 

 

 

 

The prairie where I revel in the beauty of nature and practice mindful patience.

Prairie Flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My husband who still surprises me.

David & Carol Anniversary

 

 

 

 

 

Women friends who encourage me to greater heights and prop me up when I’m low.

Friends in hats

 

 

 

 

 

Readers who buy my books and then take time to tell me they enjoyed reading the stories.

Go Away Home Review

 

 

My son who is a fine man and a great dad.

Lance & Girls

 

 

 

 

 

My feet are thankful they get to spend a week on a warm beach when Iowa is bitterly and prematurely cold this winter.

feet

 

 

 

 

 

My sister. My nieces and their families. My neighbors. People like you who read my blog. Good health. The good fortune to have been born in America.

I could go on. And on. And on. I’m one lucky person, and I know it. My cup overflows. So on Thanksgiving Day, I am purposefully, intentionally, mindfully thankful as I join with so many others in saying thanks. Thanks!

We will not grow old together

Finding perspective and gratitude after suicide.

When I thought about my senior years, I imagined spending a good deal of time with my older sister, Jane. Though she lived in Pennsylvania and I in Iowa, we found increasing time together as we grew into our retirement years.

We both enjoyed gardening, reading, travel. She doted on her grandchildren and I looked forward to grandchildren of my own. I felt relaxed and pampered in her home, which she opened as a bed and breakfast so that she could share her gifts of hospitality and cooking. She enjoyed coming to Iowa to re-connect with her rural roots.

Sisters enjoying moments together

Sisters enjoying moments together

My image of those golden years shattered when Jane died by suicide in 2008. Until then, my personal experiences with death included my parents and grandparents. Those deaths were difficult to absorb but they happened in the natural order of things. Jane’s did not.

Grieving Jane’s death unbalanced me in a way I often described as feeling as though the universe was out of kilter. This lack of balance manifested itself in car accidents. I had at least 13 accidents, ranging from scrapes to collisions, in three years. Thankfully, no one was killed.

It was three years before a friend who’d also lost her sister to suicide took me to the Survivors of Suicide annual conference in 2011. What a blessing it was to learn about the healing power of ceremony in addressing grief and to do so in the company of others who shared this unique kind of loss. After that conference, I performed a “letting go” ceremony for Jane that helped me tremendously.

I thought that ceremony made me okay, and in many ways it did. But when a friend lost her son to suicide earlier this year and we attended the Survivors of Suicide conference this past weekend, I realized my grief journey is ongoing.

During a breakout session when I joined others who lost siblings to suicide, the moderator asked each of us to answer this question: “What do you think your sibling would wish for you now?”

My first thought was flippant — Jane would want me not to cry so much! Upon reflection, though, I believe Jane would urge me to do what makes me happy and not to wait. She’d urge me to appreciate, be thankful for, and find joy in each moment, since each moment is precious and we don’t know how many moments we will have.

It’s no accident, I’m sure, that the Survivors of Suicide conferences are held worldwide on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. In the face of horrible loss, we may need help remembering to be thankful. We may need help putting the loss in perspective.

As a result of the conference, I’m consciously adjusting my focus from what I don’t have and won’t have since Jane died, to what I can be thankful for because of Jane’s life. I’m focusing on the positives of the past and the future.

No, Jane and I won’t grow old together, but I am lucky to have enjoyed life with her for 60 years. Jane modeled love and compassion and hospitality for me every day. She graciously shared gentle wisdom learned in her years as a nurse. She left a legacy of love in her daughters and grandchildren.

I honor her and help myself heal by recognizing this and sharing the beauty of her life with others.

** If you or someone you know is struggling with suicide, find help at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention