A few weeks ago, my sister gave me a bear pendant, laden with turquoise, black onyx and stones orange, red and white for which I don’t know the names. I gave this necklace to my mother years ago. For the past 15 years, she wore it more than any other piece of jewelry. If you knew my mother, you knew the bear.
When my family and I went through my mom’s jewelry upon her death two years ago, I insisted my sister take the bear. I couldn’t imagine wearing the necklace. My style’s curved far away from Native American pieces lately, but there was something more than that. I couldn’t imagine wearing my mother around my neck.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my mother. My mother seeded my sense of humor, love of art, food and music. But the final five years of her life almost erased the forty-five years prior. Mom, stubborn as hell, refused to adjust her life to her failing body. Mom preferred to blame others for their bad decisions than make her own.
In that vacuum, my siblings and I had to force decisions upon her. I grabbed her car keys from her hands to a venomous cry of “I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!” I felt a strange karmic payback for my rebellious adolescence. We made these decisions as a family, my siblings were supportive, but Mom saved an extra dose of vitriol for me. Perhaps she knew that I, her child who battles depression, would find the silver lining that didn’t cut. This Thanksgiving, I did.
I spent several days in the kitchen, chopping, baking, brining, and basting. I hear my mother’s voice in my kitchen, the clink of ice in her glass, her laughter, and her quick-wit stories with racy finishes. I played the music from Camelot as I crushed the pecans for a Chocolate Pecan Kahlua pie and remembered how my mother (and everyone else) said I looked like Jackie Kennedy. Mom stuffed with bread, poultry seasoning, butter, carroway and baked in a brown paper bag. I brine in apple cider and stuff with butter, green apples, sage and parsnip and baste. We’re different, but unlike many parents, Mom allowed for differences. Ours was a cacophonous household, five kids, five directions, now spread to five different states. My father present, but often silent, showed his love through a bear-like hug.
Thanksgiving day morning, I held the bear pendant in my hand. I put it on, bright colors against black. I wore Mom while I basted and prepared for dinner. I set her silver goblets for wine and water at each place with the help of my daughter and her friend. The girls and I crafted a centerpiece from roses from the garden and leaves from a Japanese maple.
A good friend brought the bounty from her kitchen, three mushroom dressing, roasted brussels sprouts, coconut-crusted sweet potatoes, homemade noodles, cheesecake, pumpkin pie. The turkey, moist with a hint of apple held together a wide range of tastes. My mother would have loved that meal.
Several glasses of wine into dinner, and after a number of Grandma Joan (my mother) stories, we toasted my mother using her silver goblets from Spain. Thirteen of us, including four teens and a twenty year old, lingered around the table, one tall tale topping the next. I made a blunt comment and someone said, “You sound just like your mother!” We all laughed, me harder than most. Sometimes the truth hits a vein of joy that runs deep.
I held the pendant from my chest and said, “I’m channeling Mom.” I’d like to say we toasted again, but that’s my writer’s brain chiming in for a perfect ending. My family’s never been Norman Rockwell. No one’s is. My family of origin carved my taste for diversity, and my mother, by far, had the sharpest knife.
With enough time and care, however, the negative edge to her blade has worn. This Thanksgiving, with laughter, stories, and a pendant of bright stones, I held the core of the mother I love. For the first time in a long time, channeling Mom felt like a good thing.
At the request of several readers - I have added links for the recipes - enjoy