This Thanksgiving, as with others, a lot of us will reminisce about our last big Thanksgiving soirée, at home, with immediate family. My last big family gathering came in 1977, two years before the death of my beloved great-grandmother. ‘Ma’ raised five generations of my family before she died in 1979, leaving us with memories that will last forever. Thanksgiving mornings, she opened the bottom door on the buffet cabinet ( she called it a sideboard) and checked one of her prized possessions, the “Thanksgiving-ware.” My younger sister and I called it that because we saw it only once a year.
Included in the ritual was a set of Japanese dishes that was the centerpiece of the dining room. Ironically, they were stored in a veneered mahogany China cabinet. The adults were the only members allowed to caress, bathe, and dry them before being placed on the table. Family lore states, the dishes were from Japan and brought back by one of her sons after World War II. A chamois polishing cloth covered the silverware, and when my sister and I were old enough, we got to polish her precious forks, knives, and spoons until they gleamed—it was an honor. I would carefully replace each piece after polishing. I would put them into the individual green felt-lined slots that pinched them as tightly as my Ma would pinch my cheeks. Ma did all the cooking except for an occasional call to my aunt or great-uncle, who served as makeshift sous chefs.
The sounds emanating from the tv as the football game leading up to dinner at 4 grew louder. I remember thinking, I hope dinner is late so that I could see the kickoff. The Washington/Dallas game was a big-big deal, and if I ate quickly, I could slip off to my best friend Albert’s house so we could watch the second half together. Ma had a strange quirk, children under sixteen were never allowed to drink coffee, but you could have tea after twelve years old. My cousin Angie was to have her first cup of tea. I remember my first Thanksgiving cup. I felt grown-up and nervous. I would be managing one of the family heirlooms, a teacup, and a saucer from World War II. I did not want to stir too hard with my highly polished teaspoon and crack the rim. For heaven’s sake,–that could lead to a return to melamine dishes, one step up from paper plates.
Time passed, and I married and began establishing my own family rituals; my sister joined the military and spent too many holidays serving her country. My cousin Angie, unfortunately, had many more years at home without Ma. The memory of my last Thanksgiving with great granny seated at the head of the table, in the chair with arms, still brings tears to my eyes. Two years later, she was gone. In the intervening year, she had become confined to her bed, unable to maneuver the stairs or cook big family dinners. Her hearing had failed to the point that I had to yell at her, to be heard. My family never had another full Thanksgiving after her passing. We talked about it, but we realized it would never be the same; Ma’s roasted turkey, glazed ham, mac, and cheese, canned (the best kind) cranberry sauce, rolls, sweet potato pie, and hot tea in a Japanese tea set.
Then, as I am now, I am Thankful, but that last big meal with Ma was special,
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, TO EVERYONE, CHERISH THE MEMORY.