Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Mom, On Thanksgiving

Mom's prayer guide

As I’ve been thinking and writing about my mother this month, I’ve unearthed various letters and tidbits that bring her wit and wisdom roaring back… I published this as part of a post last week but it seemed somehow appropriate to bring this piece back in honor of our national holiday for gratitude…

A few days after my mother died, I found a book in her bedside table that contained 24 spiritual exercises “for healing life’s hurts.” I don’t remember taking it, but I must have, because I stumbled across it again this week, in a cupboard, forgotten. There was her first name in her careful right-leaning cursive, the top and bottom of the “E” of Eileen curling back upon itself, the “n” swooping east in a long, straight stroke. Other than the cover, only one page of the book bears her handwriting, the third lesson, entitled “The Healing Power of Gratitude.” She underlined this passage: “(S)ometimes just letting ourselves be loved can solve so many problems. When we let go and just soak up love from the Lord and others who care for us, we have a whole new power to go on again.” Next to this, in a slightly shaky hand, she wrote, “God doesn’t walk out on me — I walk out on him.”

Gratitude was a common theme in the letters we exchanged over the years. When we spoke by phone, living 800 miles apart, we often struck sparks off one another, but on paper we were forced to listen. (I say “we,” but more likely it was me who had the interrupting habit.) She almost always began with news of her church “doings,” good Episcopalian churchwoman that she was. A letter I received when I was single and working in Los Angeles — now bundled with others in a box — was written in her classic vein. She began by noting that she was “piddling around” getting some things done, including publicity about the United Thank Offering, which she lamented was rarely used as it was intended. One was supposed to put coins in the Blue Box as a personal spiritual discipline for acknowledging the good little things that happen every day. She wrote, “I admit that I frequently forget to use it but I do remember a lot of the time to say thank you, God, when I get a lovely letter such as yours which came yesterday, or Dad shows his appreciation for something — or maybe because I didn’t have a flat tire when I was in a hurry and late — this past week I have been grateful when there may have been a whole 24 hours this puppy of your brother’s didn’t dig something up in the yard — or managed to hit the papers during the night.” She ended that long train of thought paragraph by saying she just wished the timing of babysitting my brother’s dog was different so that she could get on with gardening.

Even that last bit is true to form. On the page, she just shrugs her shoulders and moves on. The dog digs. The garden will suffer. We shall overcome. I can think of dozens of examples when she took far bigger things in stride. Her anger worked the same way. She yelled, said her peace, gave as good as she got. But when the argument was over, she didn’t resurrect it. Her lexicon seemed nearly devoid of those negative emotions that require time to fester: blame, guilt, spite. She wasn’t one to let things marinate.

This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for so much, but, Mom, you are at the top of the list.

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Gratuituous Grace On Thanksgiving

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Eighteen days ago, one of my oldest friends was suddenly ripped away from all of us who love her. Five days later, her husband asked me contact a couple of her friends, friends that dated back to our college days. He closed our phone conversation with, “I love you.”

That wasn’t something he normally would have said to me. But a terrible loss like this one is a reminder of how dear people are to us, and how quickly things can change. We are shaken by the shoulders and reminded to notice things that hover just beyond our attention, people for whom we are grateful. Now.

I’ve been re-reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek this week. Yesterday I recorded this quote, “Seeing is of course very much a matter of verbalization. Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it.”

As Thanksgiving approaches, I look around me and see so much beauty. I see you, husband, my personal Mighty Mouse who continually saves (my) day by being so utterly reliable and unfailingly loving and who puts up with my Gemini self. I see you, daughter, not only for your talent, but your wisdom in being able to sense when people are going through difficult periods and your ability to be ready to support them even when they are not yet ready to accept help or support. I see you, son, your burgeoning talents, authenticity, sense of wonder and openness to all kinds of people.

I see you brothers, through our differences, for the loving, honorable and enduring presence that you are in my life. I see you, beloved nieces, nephews, and even great nephews, for the light in your eyes when we meet, which is nowhere near as often as I would wish. I see you, in-laws, for the umbrella of security and acceptance that you have created for my family, and for me. I see you, family who are more than family, Lynn, Louise and Mary, who always seem to reach out at just the right moment.

And I see you, friends. I’ve talked most about my female friends, who have been my pillars, but my guy friends have always been stalwart supports in my life. I see you, Howie, Bill, Pete, Jim and Mario.

And, yes, you female friends who always stand by: Ellen, Sandy, Lisa, Tammy, Cheryl, Collette, Wendi, Tracy, Sharon, Debbie O, Linda, Nancy, Judee, “Babes” (you know who you are) and probably more who I have inadvertently left off.

There is one name missing from that inventory of people I hold dear today, one who is gone from this world but smiling from the next. It is you, Deb, who is reminding me from afar to pay attention. I did not hold you close as I could have — should have — in recent years. Sure, I have decent excuses, but none of them seem good enough right now. I list you last, but not least.

Dillard wrote:

“Unless all ages and races of men have been deluded by the same mass hypnotist (who?), there seems to be such a thing as beauty, a grace wholly gratuitous… (B)eauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”

I am trying to be there and notice you all, you who I love.

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Taking Mom for Granted

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.

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