I didn’t mean to do it, but it happened. I did not meet my mother’s expectations. The year was 1990 and I finally had an apartment all to myself. It was the first time I offered to host a Thanksgiving dinner for my family. My mother had been longing for the day when I would do all the work for the holiday. I thought I had it all figured out. I made a list of everything I could remember was traditionally served for Thanksgiving; butterball turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and my mother’s favorite, squash made extra sweet with lots of brown sugar! But I wasn’t the cook my mother was. I should have asked her for help. My exuberance to please my mother overtook my reason.
You would think I would have been a great cook. My mother’s side of the family is Austrian-German, a proud people who love to create feasts as much as they love to eat them. Every one of my grandmothers and aunts had their own specialties in the kitchen. I was expected to follow suit, of course. My mother was an expert at putting together fine dishes seemingly out of little to nothing. She had a special kind of magical talent that insured we’d never go hungry even on the slimmest of budgets, and our family often had to rely on charity and we even occasionally grew our own food to get by. I remember the days when we had to subsist on powdered milk, peanut butter, and mac and cheese without the milk to make it, but somehow Mom would figure out a way to make each meal taste better.
I never learned how she did it! Cooking never interested me much. I think my mother would have taught me better if she had the time. She was a busy lady, a single mother with several jobs, constantly on the move or on a mission, working at church and getting us kids involved with volunteering for charity (even when we were starving and broke ourselves). My talents lay in the arts and humanities pursuits. My nose and fingers were smudged with ink. I was never alone without a book to read, or a blank notebook to fill. I even made my own worlds and drew maps. I could barely boil water and toast bread!
The year I was 20 marked a significant time for my mother and I. Just months before Thanksgiving, I revealed to her that I was a Witch. I decided to never lie to her about my beliefs, however it was difficult to get her to understand my choice of religion. We were in a very delicate situation. I really needed to impress upon my mother that I loved her, that my religion had nothing to do with rejecting her. I was under a lot of pressure! I spent the night before Thanksgiving up til the wee hours figuring out the meal plan. I did everything right except for one very important thing:
I did not thaw out the turkey over night!
I started the thaw early in the morning at 6am, however, remembering just in time (or so I hoped) and went back to bed. I forgot to set my alarm, but it was no bother because my mother and brother arrived EARLY. I had expected them to come over in the late afternoon or early evening. No. Mom came at 10am! Most of what I had prepared was in the refrigerator, the turkey was thawing in the sink and still very frozen. I wasn’t dressed, the table was ready, but not set, and the look of disappointment on my mother’s face soon grew to rage when she quickly made her way into my kitchen to see if she could do anything to help.
“You haven’t thawed out the turkey yet?!” She cried, “Don’t you know by now how to do that?! Now we can’t have any turkey!” And when I say she cried, she really cried. Hot tears streamed down her face, she threatened to walk out and go home. My brother sweet talked her into staying for a little while. “C’mon, Mom,” he patted her shoulder, “it’s not that bad! We can watch a movie…”
“This is the FIRST Thanksgiving in this family WITHOUT A TURKEY!” Mom sobbed and my heart just sank. I tried to soothe her by saying that I didn’t expect she’d arrive until evening. She told me that I didn’t understand. “It’s still frozen, Val! What were you thinking?!” I began to cry at this point. My poor brother was now stuck with two upset women screaming at each other!
I don’t remember exactly what my brother did, but he managed to get my mother and I to laugh. He has always been good at being silly, silly to the point of painfully annoying. Soon my mother rolled up her sleeves and worked her magic in my kitchen. She took that pathetic still rock-solid frozen turkey, threw it in the oven, and got it to thaw completely in two hours. During those two hours we did watch a movie, came back home to really cook the turkey and warm the rest of the food, even made gravy (another thing I forgot to make!), and somehow Thanksgiving was saved.
Sad to say, I believe that was the last year my mother, brother, and I spent a home cooked Thanksgiving dinner together. The next few years would be spent volunteering at churches, feasting with friends and their families, and then the next decade we would spend Thanksgivings in the nursing home with Mom.
The last Thanksgiving I spent with my mother was, regretfully, rushed. My brother and I purchased pre-made dishes from a local grocery store to share with Mom. Yet in the last year of her life she no longer had teeth to chew, so much of her food had to be mushed. Later he and I spent the day watching movies. We don’t really have a tradition anymore and it has ceased to be a real holiday for us, yet not for any unforgiving or ungrateful reasons. We’re American Indian and favor more of a harvest celebration, yet we’re introverts, too, content to spend the holiday alone.
This year will be different. This year I’m reuniting with my cousins and starting a brand new tradition. I believe my mother would be very pleased, especially since they know how to cook and maybe, just maybe, that will finally rub off on this little Witch!
Hope your turkey is thawed and juicy. Yay.