Friday, November 25, 2011

More than I could have expected...

Thanksgiving like no other    As Thanksgiving approached, probably like siblings in many families, my brother, then my sister, speculated about the dynamics of that Thursday holiday. For the first time, our Dad wouldn’t be there. 
In a sense, we’d confronted similar hard to grasp emotions more than two weeks earlier. Our parents’ anniversary had come without the normal celebration, with flowers instead that dressed the silence never experienced before on that day.  Unlike Thanksgiving, we hadn’t planned to gather then.
In a month filled with a novel’s twists, days later, on November 12, my mother greeted me, when I came to visit her, with wonderful news.
“I’m a great-grandmother!” She beamed as she relayed the news that my niece and nephew had a 7 1/2 pound baby girl. “She’s Joelle,” Mom continued, “and her birthday is the same as your Cara’s!”
Her joyful announcement of that coincidence was the highlight of both birthdays. However, seeing either of the girls was impossible. My daughter, Cara, was with her husband in Jerusalem; Joelle was with her parents in Colorado. Still, Mom and I cheered in faraway Virginia.
Thanksgiving was different. As soon as my sister arrived the Wednesday before, she joined my younger daughter, Mary Brett, then took over Mom’s kitchen. Hours later, when I walked into Mom’s house, I could smell Thanksgiving before I saw its busy stove, its stack of recipes, and its piles of vegetable and fruit peelings. As a supervisor, Mom sat nearby at the kitchen table, impressed with her daughter and granddaughter who were doing what she had done for so many years.
Energy derived from their enthusiasm led all of us to focus on one question: when should our 24 pound turkey be placed in the oven the next day? That served as a banner of distraction; it worked well until the next afternoon.
On Thanksgiving Day, just before the turkey departed the oven, my sister’s oldest son, Adam, arrived. Bright and personable, Adam’s presence made the warm kitchen even warmer. After hugs for everyone else, he knelt beside Mom. 
“Where should we put these brussel sprouts?” 
“Anyone want wine?”
“I need a container for the extra turkey.”
Final preparations mixed with quick short bursts of questions and commands. Until I noticed Mom. Still in her chair next to Adam, she was wiping away tears.
I knelt in front of her, listened as she mentioned Dad, and, in the same quiet breathless voice,  apologized for her tears. Mary Brett turned from the frenzy of preparation to put her arm around Mom. She stood opposite Adam. With me in front of her, we surrounded Mom with loving words and tears of our own.
For a while, we served as a Kleenex brigade for Mom. Her tears did not diminish that bright Thanksgiving afternoon. Indeed, she helped all of us release our sadness we’d been holding too close.
“Today was his birthday,” Mom said. We hadn’t talked about that either. Now we could.
Minutes later, we crossed into the dining room. In the place of Thanksgiving’s glossy patina, a softer glow filled the room. My sister asked that each of us speak about something we were thankful for, just one thing.
I thanked Mom for her tears, how they spoke more about that day than any words I could say. Then I had to stop; I could feel my tears coming. Again.
Wonderful comments connected all of us at Mom’s oval table, a table that had held so many of our Thanksgiving meals.
When it was time for dessert, Mom insisted on slicing the cobbler she had made, and the pies that Mary Brett had baked, her first ever, she’d told us.
Our Thanksgiving was finally coming to a close, our first without Dad. No one mentioned the birthday cake we didn’t need that day. About the time desserts were being eaten, the phone rang.
It was a call from a Skype phone.
My daughter, Cara, and her husband, Yishai, were on the line from Jerusalem. “How was Thanksgiving?” they wanted to know.
                                                          B. Koplen 11/25/11
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