Holidays are good for three things, kids, nostalgia, and stuffing your face. Some would argue family, and I’d say that falls somewhere in the realm of nostalgia and kids. An in-between world of sorts where you catch yourself looking back on fondly but don’t always enjoy the experience in the moment (as an adult). You always remember vividly, however, the little faces alight with joy at all the excitement. Kids can do that, I think, and I’m sure I’m stepping on some toes here by saying this, but I think that holidays would be meaningless without children. They would for me, at least.
In many ways, I would not participate in any holiday at all if it weren’t for my children. As much as I enjoy food and drink and getting together with people I like, the sheer effort of shopping, preparing, cooking, timing, and cleaning up everything is undeniably exhausting, and let’s not forget that I will always choose lazy first. 😉
Would I skip out on cooking this Thanksgiving meal if I could this year? Probably. If we were capable of going back to the snowy tundra for this holiday break, we’d be there, enjoying the fruits of other peoples’ labor. Yeah, I know. I’m shameless :). But, alas, we are here. We know no one well enough to spend this intimate of all holidays with them, and so I am cooking the turkey day meal for only the second time in history.
I had a sort of cheat this year. A precursor to the thing. A what-have-I-gotten-myself-into late night melodramatic turkey cooking and carving session. Basically, I cooked an eighteen-pound bird for my kid’s first grade school feast and wondered where my youth had gone. I did all the things. I thawed it in my bathtub. I pulled out all the organs (without throwing up). I cleaned it out. I massaged it in butter. I rubbed it with seasoning. And I mourned the death of my innocence.
I also, marinating in the mouthwatering smell of roasted bird, was transported back to the years of Thanksgivings spent at my grandparents. Who knew a bird could smell like tryptophan and memories? Who knew it could stir up new perspectives lost on hungry, excited children, awakening respect and awe and admiration?
My grandmother was a damned hero. She cooked like a professional. Hell, she was a professional in terms of experience and skill. She was born at the end of the Great Depression, when women were still expected to have a role, a time and place to speak, weren’t supposed to attend college, weren’t even supposed to drive. She prepared a meal for a hundred for every major holiday just so everyone could take home leftovers. And we did. We all did despite buttons popping off of pants and arteries clogged with butter. Half the time she’d have nothing left of this impressive meal for herself and my grandpa, but she didn’t complain. She simply wanted us to be happy. To come together under one roof. To get along.
Even in childhood, I think I realized what a feat that was. To get everyone talking, existing in the same place, not arguing, not causing conflict. For holidays, for events, for anything she said, did, or requested, she was Switzerland, and everyone respected the Peace Agreement.
This was on my mind as I burned my fingers trying to get this bird onto the carving board at 10:30 p.m.–my grandma and her tenacity. Her ballsiness. Her ridiculous ability to turn every complicated obstacle into a seamless transition. To plan and execute meals. To sew together family members who would have rather been anywhere but in the same room as one another. But they did it for her. They did it for Bonnie because she had that effect. And now, she’s gone. And in the way a small child throws a tantrum, body splayed, feet kicking, I want to scream at the top of my lungs about how unfair that is. How unfair that she left when I was merely twelve, before she had time to teach me things I needed to learn from her. Before I could get to know her as a woman rather than just a maternal figure. Before I graduated high school. Before she met her grand-babies. How unfair it is that the family I knew in childhood is not the family I know today. That I don’t have a great big gathering to attend. That there won’t be fights over football, the family business, or cousins running out of control. The truth is, most of us don’t even talk to each other anymore.
These are thoughts I try not to dwell on anymore. I’ve grown a lot. I’ve let a lot of things go.
I used to mourn for her twice. Once for her passing and then again for the disintegration of her self-built family. But I see now the inevitability. Everything that occurred would have still occurred. The fact that she was able to hold us all together for so long is a miracle in itself. She was a hero for that, too.
Her legacy, her poise, her utter badassery, and the fact that she could contain so much class and so much attitude within her beautiful soul is one of the great mysteries of the world to me. That woman feared nothing, it seemed. She came from an era where she was told what to do, but in time, she gave everyone the figurative middle finger. She told them how she’d dress, how she’d talk, how she’d act, who she’d be.
She was gorgeous and she was adventurous and she was sophisticated. She drank her liquor straight and she wore her hair short and she was undeniably brave. I know if she were here today that she’d be proud of me, of who I am, of the family I’ve made. She might even appreciate the way I carved the turkey.
I miss her.