We didn't eat in the dining room very often, but on holidays our mother brought out her good dishes and china, the cloth napkins and matching tablecloth and a beautiful centerpiece. Sometimes my grandma and aunt came out from town to join us, but even if we had no company, she made it special for us there in the dining room.
One year my youngest brother was going to the kitchen to bring in the dessert, pumpkin pie piled high with whipped cream. He carried two pie plates at a time and made a grand entrance, placing one at my mom's place and one at my dad's. Then he went back to bring the next two plates and, once again, with great ceremony placed them in front of his two oldest sisters. By the time he brought the plates for my younger sister and me, he wasn't taking quite so much time. Then he scurried back to the kitchen, no doubt eager to get at eating his own dessert. Mother had just said something like: part of the fun of eating good food is the way it is presented. That's when the serving brother came dashing through the door making engine sounds as he came to an abrupt stop at the table in front of the final two places at the table. The two pieces of pie slid off the plates and landed upside down on the table. So much for the wonderful presentation| The rest of us shared a laugh at their expense but it didn't bother my brothers. They just flipped the pie back onto the plates and scraped up the whipped cream before digging in and enjoying the end of their meal.
Another memorable Thanksgiving was the year we had spent the three weeks prior to the holiday at the hospital with our son. He was in his mid-twenties with a wife and a little girl of two and a baby when he had a horrific accident at the service station where he worked. We considered it not only a miracle that he survived, but also that he was well enough to leave the hospital in time for the holiday celebration.
He has always said Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday.
His reasons: no presents to buy; no packaging to clean up; no songs sung aimed at an individual (he has never liked having us sing Happy Birthday to him); lots of good company, wonderful food and great football afterward. In his opinion, there is no way you can improve a menu that includes turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy. He tolerates the presence of cranberries in any form for the sake of his mother. Nothing can take away from the sight of that platter piled high with turkey meat.
But the Thanksgiving following his accident was entirely different for him. The rest of us had hearts filled with gratitude for his presence with us but he was suffering a different sort of torture than he had endured at the hospital. Here it was, his favorite meal of the year, and here he was with his jaw wired shut and both arms in casts, a couple of his more minor injuries. He couldn't lift a fork to his mouth and even if he could have, nothing could get past the wires that held his broken jaw in place. Whatever food he was going to be able to consume would have to come through a straw we had pinched until it fit through the wires that held his jaws together. We soon found out there is no way to make mashed potatoes and gravy thin enough to allow them to be sucked through a pinched straw.
We cut turkey into very tiny strips and tried tucking it through the wires. It was hopeless. His Thanksgiving dinner that year was the same as every meal he was fed since arriving home, a watery energy drink.
Memories of that Thanksgiving twenty years ago have served to make every Thanksgiving meal since then twice as grand. And if it isn't served with elegance and grace, it makes no difference to him. He'll take his pumpkin pie upside down if that's the way it comes, and there will be no complaint. He has two good arms and a jaw that allows him to chew. He'll make good use of them, not only during the meal but afterward. When he has had his fill he gets up to lead the gang in clearing tables and washing dishes while at the same time he works those jaws as he tells tall tales and entertains us with his wit.