Sunday, November 25, 2007


I've been thinking a lot about my mom this last week. Or maybe she's been thinking about me? Whatever, she's been on my mind with all the preparation for Thanksgiving. She passed on almost 24 years ago now. That's hard to get my brain around at times - that she's been gone from my life for that long. A massive stroke took her just a little over two years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's. But that's another story for another time.

Thanksgiving was Mom's time - her big show. She was upfront and center stage which was an uncomfortable place for her to be. Life for her revolved around Dad and me, you see. Mom was the support staff in the family - chef, housekeeper, secretary and accountant, decorator, maitre'd, event planner and activities director. All that wrapped up in a 5'2", plump, white-haired, smartly dressed and tidy package. She was much more comfortable working behind the scenes than having the lead role.

But at Thanksgiving, Dad and I were the go-fers to her Director status. It was her yearly grand production and her anxiety over it vibrated through the house and the two of us for the weeks ahead.

Depending on the year and who lived where, who was in town, who married, and who had passed away, we could be entertaining 20 to 30 people for Thanksgiving. This was how it was for the 22 years I lived with my parents. We also entertained on Christmas Eve, but that was a different show which revolved around a Swedish meal, complete with Lutfisk and Glogg, and was mostly for my father's side of the family. That was more a combined effort with Dad directing. Another story there, too. But that's Dad's story.

I don't remember the menu ever changing. Those in attendance expected and eagerly anticipated Mom's expert, Francios Pope trained, Thanksgiving cuisine.

Roast Turkey, (of course!) basted by strips of bacon
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy (cornstarch gravy, never flour)
Candied Sweet Potatoes
Mashed Turnips (loads of butter)
Green beans
Cranberries (made with fresh cranberries, but also the canned jellied ones for the lesser trained palates)
Mom's wondrous homemade Pumpkin and Mincemeat Pies with hardsauce (I've never managed her Mince, never!)
And her Piece d'Resistance, Stuffing
Fresh rolls, garnishes of veggies and olives filled out the table along with bottles of Champagne served and sparkling enticingly in Mom's prized crystal.

Dad would be in charge of vacuuming every square inch of the house (walls, curtains, furniture, and every nook and cranny) and scouting out enough chairs. I was bathroom cleaner and duster. The house had to sparkle. We knew it. We'd suffer mother's moaning agony of guilt afterward if it didn't.

On THE DAY Dad was charged with Bartender duty and had better have everyone's favorite liquor of choice and enough ice on hand or sleep in the family room later that night. (Or wish he had!)

I had the distinct and dubious honor, as daughter of the house, of table setting. As a child of eight or ten this was indeed an honor. I adored mother's exquisite Marshall Field's gold threaded table cloth and napkins. That thing was incredibly heavy and draped beautifully. I even loved the smell of it. I'm not sure what it smelled like, exactly. Maybe years of Thanksgiving dinners, Woolite soap and the blue tissue paper mom wrapped it in for storage, but it was a nose-treat for me each year. I'd wince with each drop of gravy or cranberry that our guests would later so blithely splatter on it. I knew what it would take mother to get those spots out! And how she'd agonize over them. I'd always feel somehow responsible, no matter who did it. After all, I was tablecloth proprietor.

I'd lovingly lay mother's Franciscan Bone China (Harvest Wheat pattern with gold inlay and platinum trim) at each place. Place the silver plated flatware from the inside out (right - knife edge towards plate/large spoon/small spoon, left - dinner fork/dessert fork on top of neatly folded napkin). Make sure matching silver plated salts and peppers were filled. And the most painful and harrying part - checking the crystal to make sure there were no chipped water goblets or champagne/sherbets. I dreaded this. If there was a chip my memory would be grilled by mother to find out the how, when, and who from the previous year. I had to be on crystal alert through the entire event.

When the family came, though, most of my duty was over. The aunts and women cousins would be Mom's arms and legs for the duration. I was freed to fend off my continually fighting boy cousins and keep them from murtelizing each other until they departed for home. Another dubious distinction that sometimes resulted in bruised ribs and split lips.

When all was readied for the table after Dad had carved the 20+ pound bird, the crew settled in for their yearly taste bud extravaganza. Grace was said, a Thanksgiving champagne toast was made, and we chowed down. In my experience, nothing has ever compared. Even sitting at the kid table, an ancient wooden card table battered from boy-cousin oxfords and laid with a garishly flowered, lesser tablecloth and our everyday china, my mother's cooking expertise quieted my monster cousins. The first couple of minutes of the meal were always spent in a meditative silence of appreciation. Then the "ooohs" and "aaahs" and "well done, Margarets" broke in and the voices and laughter of family together reverberated off the immaculately vacuumed walls and dusted furniture for the next hour and a half.

She'd done it again. And exceedingly well, as always. Applause!! Applause!!

I've resumed Thanksgiving cooking these last couple of years for my partner's clan after several years' hiatus. This last week as we shopped and cleaned, and as I planned and cooked, I felt Mom closely with me. Bacon draped turkey went into the oven. I made her unique stuffing and got rave reviews and requests for the recipe. I sweated timing and kept an eagle eye on the rolls, though the bottoms burned again, so I know it's the baking sheet and not me.

It's a totally different feeling, different people, and different era of my life, but Mom was there with me while I cooked, and it was good and right. And I am Thank-full. Mom, I love that you stepped out of yourself for one day a year and produced a memory, a lesson, and a charge in bringing family together through sitting at table and enjoying a special meal.

Thanks, Mom. I love you.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Brandy Shot

See that darling little puppy? That's Brandy, a Black Labrador Retreiver, at 10 weeks old. Brandy will be a year old December 1st. She now weighs around 80 lbs and thinks she owns my partner, the house, and everything in it, including two very disgruntled cats who beg to differ...often.

This, also, definitely does not agree with Dusty, our 6 year old Black Lab, who, until Brandy entered the scene on her cutesy over-sized paws, oversaw and protected this house very vigilantly. (How dare those vile felines and sinister squirrels set paw on the Boss's premises!) He still does for the most part, but is distracted from his duty by frequent efforts at putting Brandy in her proper place quite forcefully. But it gets more difficult everyday. And it takes its toll on the furniture, too.

Brandy still chews everything and anything, but mostly paper and tree branches. She shreds paper - any paper from toilet paper, newspapers, and paper towels to magazines, Dorito bags, and cigar wrappers. She usually walks around the house with a shred hanging from her mouth a la Jack Nicholson's toothpick. And for awhile this summer we called her Beaver. No branch that dropped or blew into the yard went without her toothy attention - and disappeared. She boldly tried to drag a six foot branch, leaves and all, back into the house one day, but I did put my foot down on that one.

We also found out she liked to wallow in mud puddles. Beaver changed to Pig for awhile. We kept a mop, bucket and towels handy by the back door.

This morning, though, my partner rose from his bed, blindly grabbed for his glasses on the bed stand. They weren't there. They were on the floor. Oh, thought he, the cat must have knocked them to the floor. Indeed, they were on the floor in front of the stand. He picked them up, put them on, and headed for the bathroom. Mid-hallway he stood stock still. Something was wrong with his left eye, he couldn't see from it. He panicked. Did I have a stroke? He fumbled his way, beginning to sweat, to the bathroom. He faced the mirror and peered, one-eyed, at himself to look for any tell-tale drooping of lid or mouth. Then he noticed it. There was no left lens in his glasses.

I heard the roar from the other end of the house. "Braannnndeeeeee!"

We spent about fifteen minutes shaking out bed linens, looking under bed and dressers with a flashlight. Finally, I shook out the comforter that had been tossed on the cedar chest and saw a glint of light as something fell to the floor - a tiny, piece of lens...gnawed at one end. The rest fell out in pieces as I opened the comforter fully.

Oh, well, my partner needed a new lens prescription anyway.

I just marvel that Brandy's digestive system takes on all this stuff! She seems to suffer no consequences. Her AKC pedigree is pure Labrador Retriever, but I swear there must be some Goat somewhere back there.

I can assure you, the Goat's in the Dog House right now.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Wedding Tears

Well, the wedding is long over now. It was an extraordinary weekend. I don't remember ever seeing more people high on LUUUVVV. Or maybe that was just me.

My own emotions are very difficult for me to express. However, I do latch on to others' emotions and run them through me. I am empathic. It's taken me many years to finally sort out that I actually do have emotions of my own and identify them when they happen. But it still is not easy for me to express them. It feels so odd to own them - very naked. I am often described as aloof and distant.

However, I also have what people term as an "animated face." Italians have expressive hands, for me, it's my face. In my long ago days of youth I was an actress. My face was a real plus for acting. But, when it comes to my own emotions I have to curb my expressions.

Didn't work during the wedding.

One of the bride's maids who I remember meeting first when my son was a freshman at Valpo some 13 years ago told me that she could not look at me during the wedding. The bride's maids were lined up in the front and facing sideways towards my son and his bride in the center. I was on the side opposite this bride's maid, so she could see me very plainly sitting in the front row. She told me that if she glanced at me she just knew she'd totally lose it and burst into tears. My face, it seems, belied the exquisite joy and pride I was feeling as I watched my son and his lovely bride exchange their vows. I was trying very hard not to cry. I was bursting with unshed joyful tears. I hate crying. I do look horrid in it. No sweet tears slowly meandering down a cheek for me. Nope. My whole face screws up like a troll's, my nose and lips swell and...well, who wants to look like that when you're the groom's mother? But, obviously, my facial contortions in working against those tears were more than this bride's maid could handle herself!

When I get the photos from the wedding - and, oh, what a wonderful job the folks at Twice Shy Design did! - I will post a couple. Beautiful pictures and artfully done. A huge thumbs up and many accolades for their fine work.