For a limited time, you can get my book for free! Download NowGet My Book!

My Mother’s Back

Remembering Thanksgiving Past and embracing Thanksgiving Present

What I remember most about Thanksgivings over the years is seeing my mother’s back. I have few memories of my mother relaxing on Thanksgiving, maybe none. It was all about meal preparation and making sure everyone got enough to eat. And so, she’d be hard at work in the kitchen, pots bubbling, turkey basting, biscuits baking. And oh, so many dishes to wash. When the food was ready, she’d boss around her chosen helpers (always the girls, never the boys) to set the table and put out the lazy susan of pickles, olives, and cranberry sauce. The anointed man of the house had one job, the carving.

It’s been four years now since our last Thanksgiving together. I admit I have mostly avoided the holiday since then. In 2017, when my mother had been gone for just a few months, I gathered with my sister and brother for a meal. It was good, but not the same. In 2018, we were on the road, traveling in our RV to our winter destination. Thanksgiving was spent in a campground in (maybe) Arkansas. Our meal was simple. In 2019, we were staying at a friend’s house with limited kitchen facilities. Again, it was a simple  meal. I enjoyed that simplicity. It acted as a wall between me and my grief, my memories of Thanksgiving Past.

This year, I asked my husband what he wanted to do for Thanksgiving. It’s our first year in our new house, with a full kitchen, no less. He proceeded to list out what seemed to be a rather traditional Thanksgiving meal. I surprised myself by saying, “Sure!”

As I worked on the menu, shopped for ingredients, and prepped food, I wondered at my change of heart. Why now? I think it’s that I’m far enough beyond the worst of the grief to be able to face a Thanksgiving. Or maybe it’s because the pandemic has allowed a respite from the busyness that inflicts our society. Or it could be just the natural turning of the wheel of life. I pondered this while I made cranberry sauce.

It really hit me though when I started making biscuits and pumpkin pie. My mother made good biscuits. “From scratch” biscuits in the olden days when we were young. As we got older (and she got tireder) she started buying biscuits in a can. I started to laugh as I was making the biscuits because I remembered her reaction every time she popped open one of those cans. She’d let out a yelp. Every. Time. She knew it was coming, and it would still startle her. Funny stuff.

While I was rolling out the pie crust, I remembered how my mother never made the pie crust for our holiday pies. That was my father’s job. I’ve never understood why it was his job. I think it was something he enjoyed. That, and making rye bread. He made the best rye bread I’ve ever had. But, I don’t understand how it became his job. Was it something that happened early in their marriage that led him to being the official pie crust maker? Or, was Mom an opportunist who said, “Hey, if he wants to do it, I’ll go put my feet up for five minutes.” I’ll never know because I never thought to ask.

I grew up thinking making pie crust was so complicated that my mother, who could make bread, biscuits, apple butter, and anything else you could think of, couldn’t do the job. It was so complicated that she had to “wait until your father gets home.”

Once the oh-so-difficult pie crust was made, my mother took over again. She’d finish the pie crust edges with her signature crimps, crimps I can never get right. Magically, when my parents divorced, my mother took over the making of the pie crust and did just fine at it. I wonder now if that was a symbolic moment for her. Was she nervous about the pie crust making or was she confident or was she thankful she was finally allowed to do it herself? I don’t know. But, I remember that Thanksgiving in the old farmhouse, watching my mother’s back as she stood at the counter rolling the pie crust.

As I rolled my own pie crust, I realized why I’m ready for a more traditional Thanksgiving meal again. It is the tie that binds me to my mother. As I stood in my own kitchen, preparing the feast, my back to the rest of the house, I felt my mother with me. I heard her voice saying, “I never did THAT when I made biscuits.” “That’s not the way I made my pie filling.” And of course, our meal will always be different from hers since ours is always vegan, something she struggled to understand. But as I worked, I felt the strength of her, and I felt her weariness after the meal was done. I felt her satisfaction that all her hard work was appreciated by those who surrounded her at the table. And I felt her relief as she sat down to rest her weary bones, her family around her, and laughter ringing out from all corners.

At long last, Thanksgiving has returned, and with it the joy of remembering my mother’s back and the mountains of food she cooked over the years in times of want and plenty. My wish for you is that the memories of yesterday, and the blessings of today, surround you and hold you in warmth and peace. Happy Thanksgiving.


1 Comment

  1. Mickey Meyer says:

    Loved this and could almost picture it. Brought back a lot of memories for me as well, only with my dad. My mom died when I was very young so my dad, who raised 3 girls & 1 boy by himself, did all the cooking! I can still picture Thanksgiving ❤️

Leave a reply