Pumpkin Pie and Aunt Mary

Adapted from a chapter in my book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns.”Thank_01.png.jpeg

I love Thanksgiving. Growing up, I looked forward to the quiet holiday tucked between my birthday and Christmas because I could eat all I wanted — an unusual occurrence when competing on a daily basis with six hungry and determined siblings. I discovered Thanksgiving meant more to me than abundant food, however, when I celebrated it with a college friend and her family.

I remember sitting with careful posture at a crowded table, wondering what I would talk about with these people who didn’t ask a blessing on the food and argued about the Viet Nam war while passing the gravy. I felt like a water balloon, full of bottled-up tears, ready to burst.

Then, unannounced, Aunt Mary, whom I adored, danced into my head. I smelled her perfume and saw her flushed cheeks as she kicked off her shoes after Thanksgiving dinner and performed a Charleston to music on my cousin’s transistor radio. Just a flash of memory, then she was gone; and the truth hit me: I was homesick.

Every Thanksgiving my family drove from Lake Shore to Provo in a bulging sedan, balancing foil-covered pans of dinner rolls and newspaper-wrapped casseroles, to gather in a church recreation hall with Mom’s family.

It was a large and raucous group: grandma, aunts, uncles, and too many cousins to count, ranging from college students striving to appear intellectual to babies being passed around. Grandma, Mom and my aunts ruled the kitchen, laughing and working in a precise choreography only they understood and shooing away interlopers looking for a taste of turkey.

A volleyball game with fluid teams ebbed and flowed at one end of the gym. Toddlers, playing tag, ran through the court, disrupting play, dodging between the legs of the players. Uncle Norley’s laugh boomed as he and Dad swapped hunting stories; Mr. Potato Head pieces crunched underfoot; and marbles from the Chinese checkers game bounced off the board. In a corner, teenagers clustered to pose and share insider information, banning younger siblings from their circle.

When Aunt Arlene didn’t finish lining the tables with butcher paper and later wondered why anyone would put walnuts in fruit salad, we noticed. But we reserved judgment; she was from Oregon, after all, and new to the clan.

During the meal, familiar stories were repeated; cousins compared ballooning bellies; and the cooks were applauded. Everyone agreed it was the best meal yet and that Grandpa would have loved it. Then Grandma prepared packets of food for each family to take home and hugged us to her as we left.

Being thankful is easily done when surrounded by loved ones.

Over the years, my definition of family has  expanded and now includes the dear friends and new relatives who have brightened my favorite holiday.

Still, at some point during the happiness of Thanksgiving, a moment arrives when my mind rushes back to a family-filled gym where I see the smile of my still-young mom and enjoy the antics of her kin.

Lesser Blessings

Cornucopia border

One year during Thanksgiving dinner, between the blessing on the food and the passing of the turkey, Mom asked us to express gratitude: “Mention something meaningful,” she said with a stern look at Dad, “Don’t talk about pumpkin pie or being grateful your belt expands.”

We started strong. We talked about good health, our grandparents, and Lawrence home from Korea; then Blaine piped up: “At this moment, I’m most thankful I didn’t have to sit by JL.”

In memory of Blaine’s mettle, I’ve devoted this column to an appreciation of my lesser blessings:

I’m thankful I no longer wear pantyhose. In my twenties I endured run-prone nylons held up by the garters of a girdle so tight it discouraged breathing. For the next several decades I waddled around with the waistband of poorly fit pantyhose bisecting my hips. When I tried elastic-topped thigh-highs, they lost their grip, slipped, and bunched attractively around my ankles. Happiness is retirement and wool socks.

Next, I’m glad to see cursive writing go the way of the Edsel. I used to ponder the alphabet charts demonstrating perfect cursive formation that marched around my grade-school classrooms; and I practiced their outlined moves diligently during daily handwriting drills—parades of capital Q’s that wobbled and grew increasingly misshapen. But I never mastered the proportions, loops, and slants necessary to earn a penmanship star. Computers saved me. Since their advent, I rarely have to clutch a pen in a thumb-numbing grip to scratch out text I can’t decipher two minutes later.

I’m also thankful for the many napping experiences of my past: marvelous minutes stretching out in a recliner, curling up on a couch, squashing my face against a car window, or bobbing my head about in an airplane. I’m no longer able to casually drift into a nap, so such memories are precious. These days, when I grow drowsy after lunch and lie down for a snooze, I twitch with anxiety until I force myself to leap up and dash about doing something — anything— because I know if I give in, I’ll be up at night, ranting about my inability to sleep.

Coffee deserves my gratitude. No matter what time I get out of bed, it’s too early. I breathe a sigh of relief when I manage to force my feet to the floor, because I know I’ve accomplished the most difficult task I’ll face all day. Such courage should be rewarded by fifteen to thirty minutes of silent staring, but Joel, a chirping morning lark, doesn’t get it. Coffee helps.

Finally, I’m thankful for a plucky rose we inherited when we bought our house. We’ve transplanted it numerous times, and each time we do, it rallies to produce a single bud that is destroyed by deer looking for a snack before it blooms. The next year, it tries again.

Each spring, I watch for life in this rose, and my heart sings when I see it.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Some Smaller Joys

In honor of Thanksgiving, Aunt Beulah celebrates lesser blessings to illustrate the importance of indulging in laughter and small pleasures as we age. This post is excerpted from columns written for the Craig Daily Press in 2010 and 2011.

Thank_01.png.jpegDuring the Thanksgiving season, when others mention the blessings for which they’re grateful, I never mention Press ‘n Seal plastic wrap.

But I could.

The struggle to decently cover leftovers has plagued me for decades: I’ve balanced plates atop half-full serving dishes, hurled plastic tubs and lids here and there searching for a matched pair, stretched elasticized bonnets until they snapped, and rued the wastefulness of discarding aluminum foil after one use.

Since the advent of Press’n Seal, I casually unroll a sticky length of film, stretch it across a bowl of dinner remains, smooth it down the container’s sides, and do a happy dance.

I’m also thankful for the trees in our yard that prevent direct sunlight from lingering on the house. Since the windows are shadowed most of the day, I think they’re clean.

I’m grateful I’m tall, though I didn’t think so during junior high dances when I swayed above a sea of bobbing heads like a heron stalking minnows. Now I know the advantages: I rarely have an obstructed view and can reach the highest shelves in supermarkets. I’m easy to find when wandering lost and will never, ever, be called a little old lady.

Praises be for Post-its. I find them indispensable for the thirty-two lists I make each day: calls to make, tasks to complete, books to read, groceries to buy, items to pack, gardening to do, and, for future reference, all the past places I’ve found my glasses. I’ve stopped short of writing a list of behaviors in need of correction to attach to my husband, Joel, but if you see him wearing a neon-green post-it, you’ll know I succumbed.

My gratitude goes out to friends and kindly strangers who tell me when I leave home with curlers in my hair, sales-tags attached to my clothing, or shoes of differing styles on my feet. Please, never hesitate.

I’m thankful that I no longer attempt to fold fitted sheets. I once saw Martha Stewart demonstrate a procedure for bundling the limply resistant objects into respectability, so I know it’s possible. I just can’t do it. So I’ve stopped trying; instead, I roll the sheets into a lump and squash it flat. Good Job!

Mentioning Ms Stewart reminds me of another blessing I enjoy: I’m not Martha.

I have better things to do than making a whimsical turkey from old Clorox containers for the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving table and surrounding it with placemats I wove from recycled panty hose.

I don’t want to bake cornbread from scratch and cut it into precise cubes, which I’ll toast, to use in a stuffing recipe that also requires portabella mushrooms, candied pecans, and fresh figs.

But I do want a Thanksgiving surrounded by loved ones and filled with laughter—and I wish the same for all of you.

Have some thoughts
about small blessings you enjoy?
I’d like to hear.

Recap of Comments from Use It or Lose It
Jacke exercises her mind with SUDOKU puzzles, and Janice, who admits to struggles with technology that rival mine, recommends not giving up, but finding an expert to rescue you when necessary. Mercy points out that the Internet allows the disabled and the elderly to access the world and stay connected with their loved ones. She wishes there were more avenues available to help these groups enjoy the fun of the Internet.