Mary Helen Darah
My mom, our beloved, Noni, died unexpectedly on Thanksgiving morning, 2019 while in Florida where we were all gathered to share the holiday. I continually fight the urge to not celebrate the fourth Thursday in November but I believe I would be doing a disservice to my family. Erasing the day would mean eradicating the memories of years gone by. Mind you, my family’s celebration is far from that of the Pilgrims in 1621 or of many families of today who gather to partake in traditional dishes with polite conversation and relaxed dining. For my family, normalcy is a moving target which often leads to what others may call chaos but we refer to as “memory-making moments,” aka MMM.
One of my favorite Thanksgivings was the result of a highly creative middle child and my belief that it is best to encourage your children to go with their strengths. Therefore, when Helena suggested we have a REAL Thanksgiving and break out the Pilgrim and Native American attire complete with face paint, we were on board. We had a great feast but we did have to tell Helena, who is not only creative but highly sensitive, that just like the critters hanging on the walls of Cabela’s, “Mr. Turkey” had died of natural causes and it would be a shame to have him go to waste. There we were at the dining room table, my dad dressed as a chief, the rest of us as an assorted crew of Pilgrims and Native American guests and my poor cousin Tom, who was last in line to go through our dress-up chest, sporting a fake fur and loin cloth wrapped around his Levis. We could not recreate this politically incorrect day if we tried but thankfully it is forever stored in the temporal lobe of my cerebrum.
My all-time favorite MMM is of a certain family member who thought “take pie out of container” meant taking the frozen pie out of not only the box, but the tin as well. After baking it, the end result was something that looked like it was steamrolled on the baking sheet.
None of these holidays however could ever top the “Cranberry Thanksgiving” of my youth.
Comparing my parents’ families is like comparing apples to oranges. Actually, avocados and kumquats would be more accurate. On that fateful Thanksgiving day, my mom was informed by my Grandmother Scheib (highly educated, pillar of society, surgeon’s wife) that she had a more pressing engagement to attend to before gracing us with her presence. We were to wait for her before eating. We waited and waited, and waited some more. It was then that my grandfather, A.K.A. Pops, took matters into his own hands. Pops, who had just enough beverage skills to make him handy and very popular at parties, whipped up his famous cranberry punch. The punch is a secret family recipe that consists of one cup ginger ale, a bottle of bourbon and one happy little cranberry floating on the surface. The unsuspecting older members of our gathering began to imbibe. It wasn’t long before my mother was found in the kitchen, apron off kilter, talking to the turkey. Her mother, my Gram, revealed to me that she always thought she would be a grand ballerina and proceeded to show me some moves in the family room. She wasn’t half bad for an octogenarian.
My Grandmother finally arrived! We were already seated at the dining room table giving a cheer for the turkey as if we were at a Big 10 game when she joined us. My poor dad and aunt tried to maintain decorum but to no avail. My cousin Don, who had been told numerous times that the gravy bowl was not attached to the plate it was placed upon, tossed it in my direction with a “Here Mar!” It toppled, causing gravy to ooze slowly down the middle of the table as if it were the “blob” in a horror flick. My mom, still “cranberried,” jumped up, got a big spoon and returned to scoop up the mess. She couldn’t figure out why the gravy was splattering all over when she tried to pick it up. It was then my appalled Grandmother Scheib said, “I believe it would be more advantageous to use a non-slotted spoon.”
After dinner my dad informed us we were going to take a walk around the neighborhood to get some fresh air. “Fresh air” was and still is my family’s remedy for pretty much everything.
In honor of mom, who was always the head catalyst of chaos and fun, we will forge through the day. We will gather, we will attempt to count the countless blessings that have been bestowed upon us, create memory-making moments and give thanks.