The air smelled clean, like fresh laundry that got caught outside playing in the wind.
The leaves were a delightful tangle of gold and tangerine, and the sky was a clear, crisp blue.
It had arrived on the heels of a long, hot summer and, no doubt, stopped for a moment at winter’s doorstep.
I allowed myself the quick luxury of drinking in the scene outside my dining room window, before smoothing down my apron, the pretty blue one decorated with yellow daisies, and tucking a stray stand of misbehaving hair behind my ear.
I was ready. Almost.
Queen of the kitchen. That would be me.
Wonderbar! I silently congratulated myself, mentally checking off my ‘to do’ list.
Table set. Best china. Matching linens.
Spotless wine glasses. Real leaves, pressed and strategically placed among the best china, matching linen and spotless wine glasses.
Four pies; two pumpkin, one lemon and one apple rest on the counter.
I open the oven to check on the turkey and my senses are immediately assaulted with a smell so heavenly it could have came straight out of my dog-eared Better Homes and Garden cookbook, if the recipes had such a scent.
As a finishing touch, I set the CD player with some relaxing background dinner music, turn down the volume a touch and light the tall pale gold candles.
Right on cue, the doorbell rings. My guests have arrived.
It was such a dinner party. So much fun. We ate. We drank. We laughed. And, then we did it all again because it was so much fun the first time..
And, somewhere in between the mashed potatoes and the pie and the coffee, we reminisced.
“Remember, mom, remember when you didn’t know how to actually cook and Aunt Shirley came and you guys got to talking and you completely forgot about the turkey.”
“Remember when Uncle Bruce came and got so drunk and kept wanting you to sing with him and so you did, finally, and the carrots burned and when you threw them in the sink it got all plugged up and you tried to get a plumber, but you couldn’t because it was Thanksgiving.”
I take a sip of wine and a slow smile plays across my lips. “I remember,” I say, planting a kiss on the silky head of my youngest grandchild. “I remember it well.”
And I do. And if my memory fails to serve me correctly, I have a picture to prove it happened..
There were 32 of us in that picture.
And I had them all for Thanksgiving dinner.
There, among a backdrop of tangled gold and tangerine leaves, they all are. The aunts, the uncles, the brothers, the sisters, the kids.
And me. Queen of the house.
I was in my 20s at that time, an age when all things seem possible. For me, it was also an age when hospitality and optimism had a tendency to overrule common sense.
“Come,” I told them all. “Come,” It will be good.”
I had, of course, no idea if it would be good. No idea how much food that many people ate. No idea what I was in for.
But, I certainly found out.
I remember being so happy to see my sister whom I hadn’t seen for a very long time. And, it is true that that happiness spilled over into a conversation where time stood still and I forgot all about the turkey.
And, I remember my somewhat inebriated brother wanting to sing with me because that’s what we did when we got together.
Of course, with all the singing and talking, the meal I produced left much to be desired.
The turkey was overdone and dry. The gravy was lumpy. And the carrots, burned beyond recognition, were not worth mentioning.
We did have lots of bread, however, because my brother, the bread man, happened to have extra loaves in his truck.
I take another sip of wine and try to remember dessert.
I can’t, so maybe it didn’t happen.
But, what I do remember, however, in the midst of all the chaos and turmoil and imperfection, hovering about kind of like the dust particles that get caught in the rays of sunshine that filter in through unsuspecting cracks and windows, is an indescribable feeling of something.
What is it?
I put my wine down, pat my mouth with a snowy white napkin and gently ask for everyone’s attention.
“Because it is Thanksgiving I would like everyone to take a turn and tell us what they are thankful for,” I say. They pause, and I know they are thinking, “There goes grandma again, with her thankful, grateful list. Geez, why do we always have to do this?
But, even though they are somewhat embarrassed and a little shy about saying such things out loud, they oblige.
Good food. Being together. Family and friends. A new baby on the way. A job promotion.
The list goes on.
Finally it’s my turn. I look around at their dear faces reflected in the candlelight’s glow and I smile.
“I am grateful that one Thanksgiving a long time ago, 32 people gathered at my house even though it was no bigger than a minute and one of them wanted to sing with me and one of them wanted to have a conversation with me and when I did, time stood still.
And I’m grateful that happiness doesn’t lie in Suzy homemaker meals and matched linens.
And I’m thankful that I have figured out what the feeling was that hung around on that long ago Thanksgiving when I burned the carrots and forgot about the turkey.
It was joy!
— On The Other Side