One FOF recounts her first time hosting Thanksgiving dinner, which was her mother’s last.
[Editor’s note: The essay below, by FOF Deborah Parker, is part of a series of personal blogs from our readers. Have your own story to tell? Email your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Gratitude is the heart’s memory. — French proverb
It was time. I’d never done it. I’d gotten used to going somewhere else on this food-happy holiday to eat my big turkey dinner. However, Thanksgiving of 2009 was different. My mother was very ill with Leukemia. This looked to be her last earthly celebration of this holiday of gratefulness. Neither my sister nor I had ever hosted the “big meal,” normally we went to mom’s. Taking all of these realities into consideration, I decided to invite my extended family to my house (a three-hour trip) for Thanksgiving dinner.
Details such as planning the menu, shopping for food, and organizing my kitchen for my dinner guests consumed me for a few weeks. I watched Martha and Rachael for tips on my table. I coordinated with my sister on who had what serving dishes. We gradually envisioned what the table layout would be. Keeping my mother involved was essential to her well-being and our sense of tradition. Working around her treatment schedule and doctor’s appointments, she managed to bring collard greens and sweet potato pies—two items she really loved to prepare (and we loved to eat).
One Thanksgiving Eve the “cooking crew” arrived. My sister-in-law drove my mother and my two nieces to Leesburg, Virginia, straight from one of her many doctors appointments. Tired from her medical condition and the drive, my mother went to bed. The rest of us readied what could be prepared that evening–potatoes peeled, ingredients checked, and birds soaked. My stoves would be busier than ever the next day.
We went to bed once we had done what was reasonable to ensure a hot and fresh Thanksgiving meal. At around 3 a.m. I was woken when I heard my mother stirring in my guest room. I noticed she had the light on and I opened the door. She said, “I’m ready to cook. Where’s that turkey?” We came downstairs and she went to work. I watched her—she taught, and that’s how I came to learn more about cooking the big one!
As the day went on, the feast came together. My three uncles and my youngest brother arrived, along with a few friends. Prayers were said, eating commenced and then it was over–a grand occasion for all of us.
My mother passed away five months later. I am so grateful she had that experience of food, love, and teaching in my home–for her last Thanksgiving.
Every so often stopping to focus, reflect and say thanks gives us the strength to realize what was and what is—and in that gap resides a lot of blessings.
Thanksgiving is not just the fourth Thursday in November; it’s a continuous exercise in gratitude. Designating a place or space, to retreat to on our journey, allowing us to express thanks for the bounty we’ve accumulated can set us right in our soul.
What are you thankful for?
This story is excerpted from Deborah L. Parker’s autobiography: Navigating Life’s Roadways, Stories of Insight from My Odyssey and Inspiration for Your Journey.