I have the worst memory. I say this a lot, and I worry about it a lot. I forget meaningful details, or snippets of conversations I know are important. I forget to whom I’ve told something, and then I tell them again, and sometimes they look at me funny and I realize I’m repeating myself. I may think I remember something, and then I look at a photo associated with that memory, and realize I remember the composition of the photo, not necessarily the composition of the day. I have forgotten so much more than I know.
But, faulty though it may be, I have my memory. Today, someone very important to me no longer has hers. My great-aunt, who has been sort of an extra grandmother, is in a “nursing home.” Or a “long-term care facility,” a “memory-care center,” or whatever euphemism you might choose to describe a place where we silo our oldest loved ones, those who can no longer live independently.
She will be the third member of my extended family to slowly fade into this oblivion. Alzheimer’s. Her fade has not been very long, but it has been steep. Her son, a Catholic priest who lives across the continent, visited her this spring and she did not know him. Her daughter, who lives down the block from the “center,” visits every day and she barely knows her. Certainly, my great-aunt can no longer recall Thanksgivings gone by. She will not remember this Thanksgiving even as she is experiencing it. This is painful to think about, but it has forced me to reexamine my relationship with my memory. I am trying to stop calling it names. It may not be perfect, but it is mostly intact, and I can’t imagine a thing worse than losing it.
So this Thanksgiving I am grateful for my memories. I am grateful for the details I do remember, and the way they can sometimes conjure other details, painting fuller memories. I’m grateful for those flashes of scenes, even if I can’t tell if they’re real or if they have floated up from photographs, like a mist. My memory is not the best. But it is a gift I am beyond thankful to have.
Not to abruptly change the tone here, but that’s what I do.
Some people associate scents like baking pie crusts and buttery sweet potatoes with the fall holidays.
That would be nice. My scent memory is no less powerful, though not quite as pleasing.
Giblets. In a too-small pot of water that got an oily brown film on top during cooking, my mom would boil the bird’s innards—extracted happily from that cold Purdue cavity the day before our family feast. Three dashes of salt to start. The roiling water would occasionally push something unsightly to the surface; it would bob there like, I’m sorry, a turd. (Why did I look? I don’t know. I don’t know.) The gag-inducing neck-liver-gizzard combo might as well have included eye of newt and so on. It stunk up the house for hours. The smell was a taste, and the taste was disgusting.
They say animal organs are really healthy for us. Perhaps. But to absorb their nutrients one has to keep them down. That’s something I could never do.
My mom, on the other hand, stood over the pot inhaling the foul steam and jabbing the neck with a fork to test its tenderness. Sometimes she couldn’t wait and would nibble at a choice piece, her hip against the stove. Otherwise, the pieces would be strained out and poured into a bowl as a treat. So visually distressing. So rubbery. And yet, this was one of Mom’s great holiday delights, one that has stayed with me for better or worse. It fits neatly next to the memory of her wine-fueled whipped-cream attack (on my brother, me, and my rather straight-laced stepfather) at dessert one year.
I have to admit it: I’d give anything to suffer the smell of giblet soup one more time (and I can’t look at canned whipped cream without smiling). I’d even scrub the pot.
Lo and behold the pile of leftovers. Like a good chili, almost all of them are better on the second day, and the third, and the fourth. Really there is no end to how good Thanksgiving leftovers can be. Especially on a sandwich. There is the turkey, which may be a mite bit rubbery, but no mind. Just place on homemade sourdough toast and spread some cold gravy on there with a knife. Next, spoon on a schlorp of cranberry sauce. A schlorp of greenbean casserole. A schlorp of stuffing. A schlorp of whatever else you’ve got. Now, top it off with second slice of homemade sourdough toast. Squish leftover sandwich tower gently. Try to fit in a ziplock. When ziplock fails, press leftover sandwich tower lovingly into sandwich-sized tupperware. Put tupperware in backpack with an extra sweater and a raincoat. Hike into the woods — near-snow today — under a clatter of dry orange leaves and a steel-gray sky. In a couple of hours, you have ascended a mountain. And there, at the top, is a fire lookout where no one looks out anymore. You climb the switchbacking staircase until you soar above Vermont’s rolling mountains. Until you are as tall as a Thanksgiving leftover sandwich. And then you pull out the sandwich, and eat, and it is *so* good.
I have many Thanksgiving memories growing up that I cherish. But perhaps my favorite (behind maybe my mom’s stuffing recipe) is when my dad read the Prayer of St Francis, as he did every year.
Even as a kid I knew the words in the prayer were big things tied to big feelings. And I loved how they implicitly suggested that even those who have failed before can still do better next time. In my childhood religion of Christian Science, Thanksgiving is almost a religious holiday. And somehow this feels right to me – a religious holiday for people without a particular religion. Charity, forgiveness, hope, these are the things of real religion. Living in Mexico, we often have a big banquet at our house, where the pilgrims and Native Americans meet all over again to laugh and drink and eat turkey. And every year I read Dad’s blessing.
This is the first year since we moved here that we won’t be having the banquet and I’m a little sad because this year the world needs these big feelings more than ever. So many north of the border hate and fear those who live to the south. Rather than sitting down and breaking bread, we are jealously clutching at our little scraps of food and snarling at anyone who comes by.
So in lieu of my traditional forum, let me just pray that next year where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console. To be understood as to understand. To be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Happy Thanksgiving, all.
Image by Flickr user Danube66 under Creative Commons license