She was sleeping when I began slicing onions and celery and a Granny Smith apple; when I crumbled one tube of maple-flavored sausage into my heavy black skillet, and stirred, and watched the heat rising in savory wisps.
She didn’t see the coming together of a fresh batch of homemade poultry seasoning — all those spice containers gathered in a huddle around my mortar and pestle, and the careful measurements of half-, and quarter-, and eighths of a teaspoonful of rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, pepper, and nutmeg. She didn’t get to see the turn of the pestle as it crushed those herbs into one pungent, indistinguishable spice.
She missed all the rest of the stuffing-making steps, too — the chicken broth poured slowly over that mound of seasoned bread crumbs, the three cubes of melted butter spilled in golden dribbles over the mixture, the last dash of salt, and the final twist of freshly ground peppercorn.
But she is there when I stuff the turkey, and oil him up, and lift him to the pan. And I’m glad. For at the last second, I need her extra pair of hands to widen the opening of the cooking bag.
Bag closed and bird in the oven, she asks, “What do you need me to do next?”
I love having a daughter. As weeks become months and months disappear into years, she is slowly becoming my second self. On days like today, I can give her a general suggestion and she knows how to carry it straight on to finish.
“We need to set the tables,” I say. And without asking any further instructions, Tera wipes first one, and then the other table, covers them both with tablecloths, and begins to carefully set out the china from its rest-of-the-year hiding place.
While folding whipped cream into a big bowl of marshmallow-flecked fruit salad, I watch from the kitchen as she arranges the candles on each table. She moves the tall, glass-enclosed pillar an inch to the right, then two inches to the left. After a few long seconds of thought, she brings a votive to join the pillar. As a final touch, she sets a tiny pilgrim man in front of one arrangement, and a tiny pilgrim woman in front of the other.
“Will you put on some music?” I ask. She sorts through the CDs piled near the player and selects one. I’m glad when I hear Fernando Ortega’s voice.
I cut an inch from a head of garlic, nestle the tangerine-sized orb on a square of foil, and drizzle olive oil over the exposed cloves. Tera watches me twist the edges of the foil upwards and curl the tip, and set the packet in the oven for roasting.
“Did your Grandma teach you how to do all this?” she asks.
I think of all the recipes my grandmother passed on to me: Poor Soup, breaded tomatoes, red beans … The list goes on, each memory more homey, more bacon-grease enhanced than the last. Kalamata Aioli isn’t on the list. That one I figured out for myself. The stuffing recipe is my own concoction, too.
“No,” I say. “But Grandma taught me to love the kitchen.”
Tera leans against the counter, resting her pretty face in her hands. “When I get married, I’m going to have you come over and make our Thanksgiving dinner.”
I look at her, and just as I do, Fernando Ortega’s voice rises from the living room.
Out of time
We’re running out of time
How old was I? I try to remember the first time Grandma handed me the spoon and began to transfer her love of cooking. Was I Tera’s age? Younger?
“No, you won’t do that,” I say. “Because you’re going to do the cooking yourself.”
Tera laughs. “No way. It’s too much.”
“No, it’s not. You’re going to be a great cook.”
Out of time
We’re running out of time
I glance at the counter. What’s left to make? Green bean casserole.
“Wash your hands,” I tell her. “You’re about to make your first Thanksgiving dish.”
Her eyes widen. “What am I making?”
“Green bean casserole.”
She draws in her breath. “No! Not today. I’ll make it some other time. Not on Thanksgiving.”
But I’m looking at that hourglass. “Some other time” won’t happen. And next year, she might not want to stand here in the kitchen with me. If I wait, I might miss my chance.
“Today,” I tell her. “You’re making it today, and it will be wonderful, and everyone will love it.”
She did … and it was … and everyone loved it.
Tears! You brought me to tears! I used to try to study and memorize their little faces. I can remember their little hands wrapping around the measuring cup and struggling to lift it ever so carefully so as not to lose a drop. Time goes by and now my babies are 30, 27 and 25. A few years ago they gave me a card with a picture of them all baking in my kitchen. Tiny little girls, adorned in little red aprons each with their own very serious and important duty. I treasured those days and I count that card as one of my most treasured gifts.
I have the same thoughts when I think of my mom. She had the softest hands, wrinkled and worn by work and lots of love. She would spend hours in the kitchen getting Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner together. And she would whistle. She could whistle anything. Perfect pitch. Not me. Not my gift. To this day I hear her whistling when I make those same foods that she taught me how to make.
I wonder at times what my girls will remember of me.
Happy Thanksgiving dear friend,
I love that, Dot! All of it! Especially your soft-handed, whistling mother, and how the sound of her joy lives on … that was beautiful.
Your daughters will remember what a lovely, loving, funny mother they had. I know it.
Have a wonderful day, Dot! We still need to get together!!!