Every single year for Thanksgiving, all of my grown siblings and their gaggles of children would flood our house. Mom could cook. Her specialty, which she swore was no big deal, was her homemade lasagna. Somehow, over the years wihout her here, I have learned to make her lasagna. But anyway, Thanksgiving dinner…
Mom would have been slaving away in the kitchen, even in the years she was really sick, for days. It started with her having to take breaks. Then there was the grren-blue line of oxygen tubing stretching across the kitchen floor from her oygen concentrator, which was too large and heavy to be moved. Then we got to the point where she had to sit at the table and have me bring her stuff to peel, dice, slice, season. But still she insisted on the elaborate holiday meal, made completely from scratch. But there was one thing she would not make. Ever.
Nobody in my family liked it or even ate it just to be polite. But apparently it is required of Thanksgiving dinner. It simply had to be there on the table. So every year I can remember, Mom would buy the canned cranberry sauce that comes out in a gelatinous mold with the rings of the cans still tattooed on it. I know now that most people who cheat and use the canned stuff will at least slice or chop it so it is no longer in can-formation. But this is my mother we’re talking about. And by the time she had finished making yeast rolls from scratch, roasting the turkey, cooking the sweet potatoes/ mashed potatoes/ veggies/ homemade stuffing/ gravy/ from-scratch pumpkin pies (not even canned pumpkin in her recipes–she used the real thing), she really didn’t give a damn about something nobody ate. But yet it had to be there.
So she would get a standard cereal bowl–most likely Tupperware–and just thunk the can, upside down, into the bowl as the “sauce” slithered out. And rings and all, she would put it on the table amidst all of the dishes she would prepare from scratch, all artfully displayed. It was like the bastard child of the Thanksgiving meal, that ugly plastic bowl with the can-shaped mold. But it was there, per tradition.
The last Thanksgiving she was here, she forgot the sauce. And though I have never seen anyone so much as take a spoonful from the monstrosity, she fretted over its absence. Finally, one of my brothers-in-law went to the store and bought it so she could rest easy.
Most Thanksgivings, we go to John’s mom’s. She can cook, too. Her food is delicious, made from recipes passed down from her mother. But it has never been the same. And each year, I miss my mom. I keep waiting for the time that the memories fade and missing her isn’t so palpable. Somehow, that time never comes. I wish John could have met her. His mom makes homemade cranberry salad. He laughed when I told him the story of the canned sauce. Each year, as the cans take their prominent place on grocery store shelves for the holidays, he asks me to repeat the story for him, and he laughs like it is the first time hearing it. He would have loved her.
I could take or leave Thanksgiving dinner. It has never, ever had the same appeal for me since Mom’s death.
There’s more missing from the holiday than a Tupperware bowl with a can-shaped mold in it.