I haven't really written about Thanksgiving because, let's face it, we all had turkey. Mom was in the kitchen making gravy with Kate, the turkey was hacked with an electric carving knife, the children had gravy dripping down their oily chins.
My house, your house. They're all the same.
The old folks were too sedate to get a good fight started. I was too tired to take offence at much. It's a family meal! Let's say the blessing and let the bones fall where they will!
What set me off Sunday was the table setting. I've inherited my mother's china and most of her linens. She needs little of her treasures in the assisted living place we've both taken to calling the Departure Lounge (after the book of the same name).
When she comes over, I try to use some of her stuff, never sure if she'll notice what I've done. I reached into the linen closet, which always looks like monkeys have put things away according to smell, and pulled out her fall table cloth.
It's woven in strands of orange and yellow and has at least 12 matching napkins.
There was a time when I would have had napkin rings that were perfect accompaniments but those days, thank the Lord, are gone. I pulled out the cloth and the napkins and felt as though I'd been punched in the stomach.
I missed my mother desperately. She's still alive but I was mourning. There is something wrong, something profoundly sad, about using items you have inherited when the original owner is still there. Maybe I'm fearing the next step.
Her teak dining room table (sold for a pittance when we cleaned out the house) was oval. Her table clothes are too. Ours is an ugly square EQ3 table, most often decorated with mismatched plastic place mats. My stepkids are all in their mid to upper teens. I still set the table as though they eat with their fingers.
(Because sometimes they do).
She noticed. She ran her gnarled hands over the fabric, mused on having bought it in Florida years ago, knew how much she paid.
My father noticed nothing.
His stroke stole so much from all of us. We piece together family routines and traditions, cook the meals we remember and take photos at the table. But it's the wrong table in the wrong house with a cast of characters so changed as to be foreign.
This is someone else's life. These are someone else's recipes.
I long to get on an airplane, to fly anywhere, to eat in neighbourhood bistros and to send back postcards to the people I remember and mourn.