Giving Thanks

I was standing over my sister’s stove, stirring the onions and the celery in a pool of melted butter.  My mother was standing next to me, coaching me.  It was the night before Thanksgiving, 1992.

My mother had been released from the hospital today, having spent ten days in first the critical care unit before being moved to a private room.  The doctors at Harper had immediately sent her to our local hospital for admission upon her examination that grey, November afternoon a few weeks prior.

The doctors were befuddled as to how to stabilize my mother’s condition.  Her initial exam had shown an elevated resting heart rate (“It’s like her body thinks she’s doing aerobics now even though she’s not doing anything,” I explained to everyone as I called them with the news) and low oxygen saturation levels, likely because her heart was working too hard but ineffciently.  The first order of business was to watch her like a hawk to see how serious her condition was, hence her admission into critical care.  She was constantly monitored to see the patterns of her heart rate and oxygen levels, and it became clear that any exertion at all, even just reaching across to her bedside table, would send her heart into dangerously high levels of activity.

Once they had found the right cocktail of drugs to bring her heart rate into safer territory, they moved her into a private room to start working on the cause.  They weaned her from the oxygen, and after a week or so, the doctors sent her home with some new medications but no real plan as to how to attack the real cause of the problem.  So she was released to us, thankfully, on this day before Thanksgiving.

We decided with so much involved in hosting a holiday, we would spend it at my sister’s house rather than ours.  But, my mother promised us, she would coach us as to how to make everything that we always shared as a family, from the cranberry sherbet appetizer to the stuffing to the mashed potatoes that we all loved so much.

“Now you add the bread crumbs.  Did she get the kind that have the sage seasoning in them?  Always get the kind that have the seasoning.  Otherwise it’s too bland.  OK, and pour the water in there.  You can use chicken broth too, but I never seem to remember that until I’m standing there pouring water in it.  And there’s so much seasoning in there already that it doesn’t really seem to matter.”

I followed her instructions, trying to remember them.  I’d seen my mother do all of this at least a dozen times.  Why did it feel different this time?

“Now you want it really soft, so if there are still some crumbs that are hard, you need more water.  Press down on it.  See?  You need more water.  Use warm water, that will get absorbed faster.”

I realized why it felt different.  Before, my mother was always going about her business, and not trying to teach me how to make the recipe.  She was just making it herself, as she’d done many times before and as she knew she would many times again.  But this time, she was trying to be sure I’d remember what she was saying, how she would do it.

“Good.  Now we’ll put this in the fridge overnight.  Your sister only bought a breast, so we won’t be stuffing it in a bird.  You can do it that way, you can cook it in a buttered pan.  I usually do that with the overflow, but I prefer to have the stuffing cook in the bird.  I know people say it can be a problem, but there’s just nothing like the way it absorbs the bird’s juices and takes on the flavor of the turkey.  Plus all the seasoning in it gives the bird some flavor too.  Either way is good.”

I looked at her, blinking fast.  She was trying to teach me how to make the stuffing because she wasn’t sure she’d be here next year to show me.

She hugged my shoulders as I stirred.  “It’s OK.  It’ll be OK,” she whispered.


2 Responses

  1. […] sister generally spent Thanksgiving with her husband’s family (except for last year, when my mother was sick).   My mother and I had always gone to her friends’ house.  The thought of going to my […]

  2. […] a table where she would have made this exact same stuffing.   I couldn’t tell if he was comparing my efforts to my mother’s or not; I certainly was.    I breathed deeply in and out a few times, trying not to think of my sadness when suddenly, my […]

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