“Onions, melted butter and celery” a wide grin spreading across my still sleepy face as I tugged at the thick comforter and wiggled out from under the covers, eyes squinting in the morning sun as I dug my toes into the thick bedroom carpet. Whenever I recall my mother’s somewhat elusive but captivating smile, I will forever think of onions, melted butter and celery because when I woke smelling those three things, it meant only two things, it was Thanksgiving and my mother was going to be genuinely happy. That was her holiday, the only one that didn’t point out how much we didn’t have or what she couldn’t afford to give us. A day devoted to two things she loved, cooking for her family and eating.
I woke Thanksgiving morning thinking of her, or thinking of onions, melted butter and celery and no longer that sleepy faced 8 year old wiggling out from under the sheets on the bed that she and I shared, it still filled my heart and in truth, brought a quick flood of tears to my eyes. Just as quickly as that tiny storm of missing took hold of me it left and I was there alone in my bed, my gown up bed that I have shared with my husband for 45 years, (okay, maybe a few less but some days….feels like at least that long) alive and thriving in this life I could never have even begun to imagine. A mother, a wife, a wine specialist, a friend, a sometimes writer and the thing that might have made her most proud, a pretty damn good cook who may have just found a bit of her passion for food and cooking over a pile of diced aromatics, a pan of milky and sweet smelling liquid, the steadying shreds and soothing feeling of thick carpet between my toes while my tummy bounced about at the very idea of an entire day of genuine smiles, mouthwatering aromas and plunging my three tined fork into that perfectly fluffy pile of boiled and beaten potatoes.
Thanksgiving. A day of reflection, indulgence, reverie, patience and deep breaths. Long, slow cooking, hours of enticement and interaction, laughter and annoyance. A day once dedicated to bounty and thanks but now, sadly, simmered down to the obligatory family dinner and rushing out to trample people just hours after professing your gratitude for the things you have. Weird holiday that, but one that thankfully fills me with the sweetest of memories. The shuffling into the kitchen in the “big ugly house” helping my mother set the thick and icy bird into the sink as she cursed, (um, ever wonder where I got my potty mouth?) and hissed that the “fucking thing won’t be thawed in time” knowing that the second she drifted off I would be pushing one of the tall backed chairs from the dining room into the kitchen, lifting and huffing, making sure not to have the sturdy legs scratch or scrape the floor too loudly, my toes digging into the sides of the decorative and puffy fabric as I balanced myself reaching for the knobs on the faucet as I enticed our familial turkey into readiness for the oven with a slow stream of just-warm water. Hours, I would stand there for hours, slow trickle of water my soundtrack, fingers shriveled and forearms weary as I flipped the giant bird this way and that, trying to ensure that the second she shuffled to the sink in the morning, heavy flannel nightgown brushing against her dry skin…(another aromatic memory), pudgy fingers poking, judging and deeming the bird suitable for stuffing and that smile…it would start there and get wider with each one of her little kitchen victories. In her kitchen, when she truly felt like it was hers, that woman was my hero and to this day I am not only in awe of what she was able to do, with so little, she was and will forever be my hero, one that smelled of chopped onions, celery and melted butter when she smiled.
Of course she was with me the second I woke Thanksgiving morning, which is as it should be right? We reflect and remember on a day dedicated to being grateful and revolving around food, how could I not think of my buttery smelling, nightgown wearing grinner? Had to, she was there but it was the smell of my own sheets, the coffee that had brewed and was beckoning, and my jammies redolent with my aromatics that flipped those covers off my sleepy frame and drew me to my kitchen. The pans cold, my chosen red color, no bird resting in the sink, the eyebrow over my left eye raised as I pulled the butcher paper wrapped bacon and Styrofoam housed eggs from the fridge, the smells from my Thanksgiving kitchen as my son slept in his room for the first time, on that day, in four years. I knew how he would feel waking up, the way his toes would sink into the carpet as the wisps of bacon and toasted bread pulled him from his slumber, beckoned him to the woman in the kitchen in jammies, holding a plate of proudly prepared food, bearing a grin that can only come with the pride that is being his mother….of what I was able to make to satiate him. Never understood my mother’s Thanksgiving grin until she was long gone, there are very few things that I regret but not telling her how magnificent, (and I just typed mag-nis-a-fent which was how I said that as a kid, always made her laugh and just now, made me tear up a little….fuck I miss her) her Thanksgiving was. How she made me ache to be like her, do what she did, create and inspire, bring joy and absolute peace with something as simple as onions, melted butter, celery and a genuine smile…