Although my mother died in 1999, she lives on in my mind. In not a few of my mental pictures, she is busy in the kitchen in her quilted satin pink bathrobe — the one Dad bought her on one of his last minute Christmas Eve shopping expeditions. She’s sweating slightly and occasionally barking orders like the domestic commander that she was.
My brother and I huddle around a giant stainless steel bowl “picking the bread,” a chore that involved plucking slightly stale sandwich bread into suitably-sized increments for the sage and onion stuffing. We cooperated but were none too happy about it. I am sure I had been told – repeatedly – to get out of my luxurious four poster bed in the dark corner basement room where I would easily sleep until noon, given half the chance. But I wasn’t given the chance as (alas) Mom needs help.
The bread picked, my chores continue, or I should say, “chore.” The only other standing task I remember on holidays was setting the table. Holidays, of course, called for the household’s finest: Grandmother’s heavy silver place settings, Mom’s “Golden Wreath” china, Waterford “Lismore” crystal and lots of silver serving dishes that invariably needed polishing. I’m sure I emitted my share of heavy sighs while getting everything up to Mom’s standards, which is to say the standards of a Marine Corps officer’s wife.
In the meantime, my Mom finished the stuffing, got it in the bird, “jounced” the turkey up and down with Dad’s help to maximize room for the stuffing, stitched up the gaping maw of the turkey’s innards, and started the long, slow process of babysitting and basting the turkey to its golden, roasted peak. Somewhere along the line she prepared the side dishes, although turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing were all anyone ever cared about.
When it came time to gather ’round the table for grace, a toast, and the ceremonial carving of the bird, we thanked Mom. Or at least I think we did. To be honest, I’m not sure.
I took our delicious holiday meals for granted. I took our lovely home and table setting for granted. I took my mother for granted.
And, as strange as it sounds, I am grateful that I could be so oblivious in my security. One of my mother’s greatest gifts was that she was utterly reliable and predictable in her role as mother. I never had to question whether she loved me, or how she would respond if I did something she approved of, or disapproved of. She was the same, day in and day out. An immutable force of nature.
As I look forward to the holiday tomorrow, I expect that I will be taken for granted. I hope those who I love don’t have to think about who I am, what to expect of me, and how I feel about them.
So, go ahead. Take me for granted. It’s one of the nicest compliments you could pay me as a legacy from my mother.