The past three nights I have had dreams of my mother. In each, I was the age I am now, living my current life. But her age changed—early 40s, then 80s, then some age in-between.
I know these dreams came to me because it is Thanksgiving and I will not see her. She and Dad live in a retirement community in another state, and for health reasons, no longer travel. We are staying here because it is my daughter’s first holiday from college. She needs some “home” time, and she will spend Thanksgiving day with her Dad and his family. Those grandparents, who face debilitating health challenges of their own, will be filled with joy to have her there. It is the right decision.
Nevertheless, my mother is heavy on my mind. My dreams mark that small, tight space in which I live, wedged between aging parents and maturing children. I want more time with both, and still the demands of our lives—mine, my mother’s, my daughter’s—pull us in three radically different directions.
Here is what the dreams were about. In some pretty obvious ways, and some veiled, the situations represented traditions my mother established when we were a family of six: Mom, Dad, my three brothers and me. These traditions crossed all seasons (in life and in the dreams) but the most vivid were, and are, holidays.
Thanksgiving at our house in Virginia was exactly the same every year. My grandmother lived next door, and my brothers rolled her wheelchair down the tiny hill that connected our yards to bring her to dinner. La-La wore fur in the cold mountain air and brought with her a green cut glass bowl of homemade cranberry sauce. She also made pineapple fritters, a treat reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas only. Mom roasted the turkey, always in a brown-n-bag (70s) which meant it could not be stuffed—a choice about which my father expressed disdain year after year after year. Still, he was the carver, and I can see him as clearly as if it were yesterday “testing” bite after juicy bite in that formica-countered, wood stain-cabineted kitchen while my mother instructed my oldest brother, Sutton, on the finer points of making giblet gravy. (“Stir like hell!”)
Once we were seated, and Mom complained once again about not making the dining room big enough when they built the house in 1965, my brother Randy would ask of the table:
I wonder if next year we’ll remember asking this year if we would remember asking if we would remember next year?
In my family today—the one in which I am the mother—we have no such traditions. Instead, Thanksgiving is a surprise every year. In the early days I made my way back to my mother’s house, first as a single girl, then married, then divorced with a small child in tow.
Then the small child learned to dance and Thanksgiving week was filled with an endless schedule of Nutcracker performances that kept us bridled to South Carolina.
I married again, bringing another branch to our beautiful, complicated family tree, and our celebrations diversified once more. I especially loved the years Tim’s mother, Dorothy, joined us for Thanksgiving. I can still see her in the kitchen, making the Monetti family’s traditional creamed onions—a novelty to me.
One year, just after a break with the ballet company, we found ourselves with no Thanksgiving plans at all. Along with our dear friends, the Coles, we hopped a plane for New York City and the Macy’s parade. I ate pumpkin ravioli for Thanksgiving dinner; it was divine.
And so, you see, my daughter has grown up rather traditionless. Instead, her life has been filled with a cornucopia (forgive me) of holiday celebrations. And now I ask myself why it is that I regret this? Why has this thought invaded my dreams?
I think it is that space that we find ourselves in, we Mothers Squeezed Between The Generations. Guilt lurks on either end. I regret that I haven’t established the traditions of my childhood in my own home, for my daughter; I feel guilty not abandoning all for the mere opportunity to be with my parents—a remarkable blessing in itself.
And so tomorrow will come, and Eliza will head out the door toward her Ellis family. I’ll pull the big turkey from the fridge, overstuff it with dressing, and load it on my Williams Sonoma roasting pan. Then while I watch my husband carve the big bird, sneaking bites every chance he gets—I will smile and stir the giblet gravy.
I will remember, Mom, to stir like hell.
I have had the same dream Cathy. Very thoughtfully written. I, too remember in vivid detail the preparations for the day. Going to bring La-La to the house, sometimes we would have to puch her wheel chair around the front of her house and go around Spring Street if the snow was falling, as was the cas some years. The fur coat was raccoon, although I always thought it was mink..I had forgotten the green dish with the cranberry sauce, but had not forgotten the fights over the pineapple fritters. Don’t forget Dad’s colorful rants concerning the sharpness of the knives. I STILL use the brown ‘n bag, and you CAN stuff a turkey and use the bag….been doing it for years. That was just Mom’s way of making sure no stuffing got in the bird. She didn’t like it.. I now make stuffing in a cassorole dish and in the turkey. Also the Kitchen Bouquet for the gravy……remember we always had a tough time trying to locate it…it was often hiding behind every other spice in the cabinet..and Dad with the dishcloth acros his shoulder…as he carved the bird..Don’t forget the cassorole which was always Randy’s favorite….the one with baby Lima Beans..and the cassorole with asparagus and green beans….it had to have the ……….what were they called? the one with the baby onions in the can? And the poppers, and other small gifts Mom would always have at the table…the blown glass Christmas ornaments…..and the reading of the Chinese riddles from the poppers…..which rarely made sense…
I could go on and on..as I know we all can, recreating the tiniest details of the day….that is what it was all about …….the love at that table…
Let’s go around the table and tell what we each are thankful for…………
That explains why I could not find Kitchen Bouquet ANYWHERE in my pantry this year.
So many great memories. Thanks for adding to my list, Sutton. Beautiful!
This was beautifully written. So vividly I recall those Thanksgivings at Gram’s, and how they were such a staple in our lives. I really miss those days. We are now in the process of deciding what the tradition in our newly growing family is going to be. Mom and Dad will be spending their Thanksgivings with Ben’s future in-laws as their new tradition, and I am thinking that we will celebrate the holiday within our family unit and try to spend time engaged in volunteer work helping those less fortunate. Traditions, in their many forms, do so much to shape our lives!:) Thank you so much for this!
You, too, grew up in a home filled with beautiful traditions—some Gram’s, some established by your Mom and Dad. I can’t wait to see what you and Hunter decide as you celebrate with your growing family. How lovely to be at the start of such a glorious journey. I love you, my beautiful niece!