Thanksgiving, way back when

I have many memories of Thanksgiving, spreading out over my 55 years of life.  All of them include too much food, so many intoxicating smells, lots of relatives, and an enduring sense of family love.

Some memories are annual; the smell of the turkey with its crisp golden skin, the taste of dates and figs after dinner, the special pleasure of a bowl of my Mom’s hamburg stuffing with a big dollop of cranberry sauce on top, hours after the guests have gone home.

Some memories are tied to specific periods of my life.  The high school football games of my adolescence, filled with red and black pompoms, victory dances (even when we lost) and the school spirit song.   High school football games of my middle age, when my sons were either in the band or on the field, complete with local color, anxious moments and the sweet sound of the National Anthem in gorgeous four part harmony.

I remember Thanksgivings as a child, with ravioli on the table, chestnuts roasting, and conversations veering from English to Italian and back again. I remember the Thanksgivings of my teen years, with the pancake breakfast in the morning, helping in the kitchen at noon, and a dance at the High School to end the evening.

I can clearly remember the early Thanksgivings when my children were babies. I recall sitting in fear at the dinner table with my toddler in front of an expensive china plate. Rushing through dinner to nurse a cranky baby and defending my desire to hold him as he slept, rather than leaving him in his portacrib in another room.  I recall the years when I spent the day before the holiday at the pediatrician’s office, filling prescriptions to deal with the ear infections and bronchitis.

I remember the years with little children; dressing up in our best, and heading off to Grandma’s. I remember packing up my squash and my pies, and getting on the road with my children in the back of the car.

I remember Grampa cracking walnuts in his strong hands.  And Nana telling stories at the table, before a game of Ganju.  I remember little turkey’s made by my own hands, my siblings hands, my children’s loving hands.  I remember the feeling of peace and contentment that came from my very full belly, my over filled dessert plate, my packed dining room table.

And I remember, so well, the years when I became the hostess.  The kids and I would clean the house, brine the bird, make some pies. They’d help their Dad to clean up the yard, straighten the deck, bring up the serving dishes.  We would have our special time together before the house filled up with friends and relatives.  We would have each other to look at and laugh with throughout the holiday.

I remember the inexplicable joy of having my oldest child home from college that first year.  She seemed so exotic, so grown up, so familiar, so dear to me.  I can bring myself to tears just remembering how she stood in the doorway with her hair swept over her shoulder, her smile as wide and as bright at the sea.

I remember it all.  I remember too much.

This year is a new year.  No children live here. No one is asking for that special pie.  I will not go to a football game or take a child to the doctor. The china is safe from tiny, active hands.

So many people from my past are gone.

My Grampa is gone, and his walnut cracking magic has gone with him.

My Nana is gone, so the card game after dinner has gone, too.

My Dad is gone, so the political debates over brandy are finished, too.

My babies are gone, so the games and the laughs and the special mincemeat pies are gone now too.

I have so many memories of Thanksgivings past.


Timing is everything

There is something supremely unsettling about weather which hits at the absolutely wrong time.  I guess that weather is the background of our lives in many ways.  For me, the weather, and the natural world around me, seem to keep me grounded in time and place. Although they are usually only part of my subconscious, I guess I rely on temperature, daylight, the look of the trees to tell me where and when I am moving through my life.

Don’t you think that if you somehow fell asleep for weeks or months, you would immediately recognize the time of year when you woke up?  Don’t you think you’d breathe in that hot, moist, green grassy smell and think “July!”?  Or you’d look at the clear deep blue sky, pull in a lungful of burning cold dry air, and say, “January.”, with a shiver?

One look at the golden brown grass and slightly burnished leaves, and you’d recognize September in New England.  The spring has its own set of smells and sounds, from the “peeper frogs” to the smell of rain on the newly thawed earth.   No matter what happens, you can’t get lost in time or place as long as nature cooperates and sticks to the script.

Which is why the past 48 hours have been so disorienting.

The grass was still green 48 hours ago.  The garden still held some red and gold flowers, and I hadn’t had time to cut back the dying stalks of the lillies and foxtails.  The oak and maple and beech leaves were still on the trees, glowing bright red and yellow in the October sun.  It was pumpkin season!  The candles that I lit after dinner had names like “Warm Apple Pie” and “Spiced Cinnamon.”  It was time for candy corn, dried gourds, apple picking, orange and black decorations.

Then Mother Nature gave a hiccup, and the snow began to fall.  And fall.  And fall.  Two full feet of snow, swirling in the wind and stacking up on the deck. The air was cold, and crisp.  The sky was leaden gray.  When we looked out quickly, we felt the full affect of “December”.  Until the red and gold of the leaves began to peek out from that icy frosting.

We shovelled and scraped, and spent the day thinking about ice melt and boots.  Candy canes and evergreen boughs.  And pumpkin pie.

Today is Halloween.  I am home from school on a snow day.

Wait, what?

I am totally dislocated in time.  The bad news: I will most likely never get my bulbs planted this fall.  The good news: I started my Christmas shopping yesterday.

I think I’ll go have some candy corn and hot chocolate.

Friday night

There is something about Friday night that makes me just a little bit mournful.  I remember so well the years when Friday night meant a Disney movie and some pizza.   I remember leaving work, loaded down with reports and test scores to fill the weekend.  I remember throwing everything into the backseat, and heading out for the long ride home.

As I left school behind, and got closer to my town and my house and my children, I would begin to relax, begin to let the pressure fade, begin to think about what I wanted to ask and tell my children.  I remember the long ride over the highway, the quiet ride through the small town streets. I remember letting go of the week before and letting myself embrace the days ahead.

I remember movies on the living room rug, dinner on the coffee table, pillows arranged around the table.  I remember take out Chinese, homemade pasta, delivery pizza.

I remember all five of us, linked by love and laughs and a movie screen, lying on the “pull out bed” in the living room.  I remember us waiting all week to talk about the actors in a TV series, afraid that we would give something up by discussing the mystery too soon.

As I come home now, in the dawn of my “empty nesting” life, I realize that along with my memories of events gone by, I carry a memory of reconnection, of getting to know you again, of sharing a meal and a plan and love story.

As I come home now, on cold and rainy Friday nights, I remember how lovely it was to have my children at home when I pulled into the driveway.  As I come home now, I remember how sad it is to come home to a house that hasn’t seen children for more years than I want to even consider.


When I was in the first grade, I think it was, we learned a song about the fall. The words said,

“The wind blew out of the North one day,

and cried ‘September’s begun!’.

Then swiftly, mournfully sped away

To whisper that summer was done.”

Ever since that time, the coming of September has brought with it a sweet sadness as I get ready to say goodbye to the warmth and light of summer.  When I was a young mother, raising my babies, the onset of September meant the tearing separation of our return to school, when I would have to rush away every morning and rush home at night to squeeze in a few precious hours with my babies before bed.

Ten years ago, of course, September was marked forever by the terrorist attacks that stole our innocence and introduced a new sense of wariness and loss.  September 11 rolls around every year, and we shed new tears for the victims, the heroes, the family member left behind to grieve.  Some of us mourn, too, the simple days before that one, when we somehow believed in our national invincibility.

As my children grew up, September became known as “move in” month, when my young adult kids would move out of my house and into campus housing.  September became, for me, the “empty nest” month.  It was a month for letting go, for waving goodbye, for staying up late to worry about smoke alarms and dining hall meals.  September became my goodbye to motherhood month.

And three years ago, on September 15, 2008, my father lost his battle against melanoma. His death is the saddest and most difficult event in my largely charmed and hugely blessed life.  I miss him every single day, multiple times each day. I hear his voice when I hammer a nail, fix chipped paint, mow the grass. I hear his laugh when I pour the wine or serve the pasta.  I see his face when I look in the mirror at mine.  I think of him with a special sweet pain on his birthday, on Christmas, and of course in September.

This year has been particularly poignant.  This is the tenth anniversary of the terrible attacks in 2001.  The whole country is mourning again. I have been in tears over and over as I have compulsively watched the footage of those terrible hours.  I can’t stop crying, but I can’t look away.

Today my family gathered to remember my Dad and to mark the anniversary of his death.  We shared food, and wine and stories, as we always do.  I have dreamed of Dad every night for the past three nights. I felt him beside me as I washed dishes in his kitchen, or threw the trash in his garage.  I remembered our last family gathering with Dad in our presence.  We played music, we ate pasta, we touched his lips with red wine.  We said, “I love you.” over and over again.

September comes every year.  It brings memories of loss and of sorrow.  It brings the end of warmth and the voice of the North wind.

But I am a teacher.  For me, in spite of the sadness and melancholy of the month, September also brings new pencils, new clean notebooks and new school shoes.  Most importantly, September brings a whole new group of children to show me yet again that life is about the future and that every day is a new and exciting day.