Saturday, November 26, 2011

It's the memory that matters

     It's not the meal, it's the memory that matters, the family moments that you remember and that make holidays like Thanksgiving so special. I could have slapped a platter of turkey sandwiches, a bowl of chips, and a pile of limp pickles on the table and it would still have been memorable, a celebration, a feast, a glorious repast, simply because family and friends had gathered round and the air was festive. It was the occasion of working together for a common cause, of last-minute frantic phone calls begging "Can you pick up some more eggs and butter at the store?", of lists of a thousand chores and things that must be done, of rushing and running and planning and preparing,  of cooking and chopping and stirring and baking, of holding hands and bowing our heads in prayer, of sitting together at the table with no cell phones chirping, no television blaring,  and finally, partaking of a meal  rich with conversation and laughter and family and friends.
      Of course, I cooked like a maniac for two whole days, working myself into a frenzy brining a twenty-four pound turkey, mashing mounds of  potatoes, peeling piles of apples, stirring gravy until it was golden brown and smooth as molasses, popping pumpkin and pecan and coconut pies into the oven one after the other, whipping up cheese sauces and cream sauces and casseroles, preparing a crown roast, a cake, a pan of biscuits. On top of that, silver had to be polished, crystal and china washed to a sparkle, the table set, the linens pressed, the flowers arranged, and the house fluffed and brushed and squeezed into order; but it was the atmosphere of the day, the anticipation, the waiting for the grand finale, everyone gathering together for a splendid repast, that permeated the air and lifted our spirits. We were ready, and waiting, and eager for Thursday to dawn, our day of feasting and giving thanks.
    On Wednesday,  I stayed awake until 2 a.m., thanking God above for the Gone With The Wind marathon that kept me awake, albeit sobbing, as I sat up in bed in the dark, angry with Scarlett, angry with Rhett, still hoping they could work things out,  appeasing my frustration  with them by waiting for the designated hour when the ceremonial bird could be lifted into the pre-heating fire.  As I crept in the dark down the hall and silently lifted the massive turkey into the oven, the rest of the household slept, a peaceful sleep of children home from college, dogs once again claiming familial beds that had previously been empty, a feeling of wholeness and completeness settling over the house.  I shut the door of the oven and climbed back into bed, exhausted, knowing that in a few short hours the mad rush would begin, but  feeling peaceful and joyful in anticipation of the day.
      Thanksgiving Day dawned brilliant and blue and clear and glorious.  Family and friends arrived in a steady stream. Jim brought his usual gourmand fare, in years past it had been oysters Rockefeller and barbecued shrimp and quail ravioli,  this year a smoked rock fish nestled beneath a creamy sauce of lemon and dill.  The golden bird sat perched on a platter, waiting in all its glory to be carved into moist slices of creamy, succulent meat, while the rich, brown roast rested nearby, ready also for the blade. We carried plates and bowls of asparagus, beans, roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, dressing,  rice, gravy, cranberries, and apples to the waiting table, keenly aware that our over-abundant meal was in stark contrast to the original repast of the near-starving Pilgrims. We gathered in a circle round the groaning table, held hands, bowed our heads, and thanked a gracious God for His goodness, His abundant love, His generosity towards a belligerent nation.
    And then, we ate. And ate, and ate, and ate.   Ate until our bellies ached and our eyes grew heavy with sleep, ate  until even the hot, steaming cups of coffee we consumed with our pie could not keep us from begging for a nap and a break from the gluttonous grazing at the indulgent table.
     But even in the midst of all the gluttony, the over-indulgence, the abundance of food, it was not the meal that mattered. It was the gathering of family, of friends, of loved ones. That was the memory that will last, and long after we're gone and only the young ones remain, they will hold near to their hearts the remembrance of the day when we gathered together and laughed and talked and loved at a common table. They may not remember the mashed potatoes or the pumpkin pie, the turkey that I woke in the dark of night to cook,  the smoked rock fish, the polished silver, or the sparkling crystal, but they will remember the day when we came together with family and friends to laugh and love and commune as one.   
      And that is what makes a holiday special. It's the memory that matters, the traditions and the gatherings, the family and friends. It's why we exhaust ourselves in preparation, why we spend days and hours planning and preparing for a meal that we could just as easily have ordered from the local deli. It's teaching my son how to brine and carve a turkey, teaching my daughter how to make a cream sauce and a pie, teaching them how to set a table and then carry a conversation around that same setting, teaching them how to serve others and still be thankful, teaching them that family matters, friends are important, and traditions are what bind us.  That is what matters, that is why we work so hard for these holiday moments.
      I have much to be thankful for. It is not the best of times, it is not the safest of worlds, it is not the easiest of generations in which we live. Yet there is still much to rejoice over, to be thankful for, to praise God for, and I am thankful.

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