After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.
Thanksgiving has always been a troubling day for me. It’s probably the same for a lot of people. Fulsome promise usually crumbling to grinding disappointment. So it seems fitting last year’s Thanksgiving Day is a bittersweet memory.
Mom was alive on Thanksgiving day last year. She had been invited to different family dinners with her children, but she wasn’t up to going out. I spent the day at her house, just the two of us. Nothing special; we just sat and talked as always. Fortunately, we agreed on most things, at least things of any import. Disagreements were things like Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels. While I acknowledge that he’s a better than average pitcher I don’t much respect him. She worshiped him.
Turkey wasn’t really on the menu for last year’s Thanksgiving Day. Mom’s turkey roasting days were well behind her, and I was not inclined to put on the chef’s hat. It was easier to get a take-out turkey dinner from a local diner. It was all-inclusive, salad to pumpkin pie, and none of it was very good. It never occurred to me they would serve something other than freshly roasted turkey — but there it was, turkey that looked like it came from a deli slicer covered with a pale, gelatinous liquid posing as gravy. I feel bad her last Thanksgiving had come down to such a disappointment. Later in the evening my sister Kathy stopped by with some leftovers from her real turkey dinner, so at least there was that. A few months later I did try to make up for it with a real fresh, hot roasted turkey breast from the local supermarket, a can of cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, etc. She really enjoyed it. But on her last Thanksgiving Day she deserved better, and that weighs on my soul.
Given that experience I felt pretty lousy about Thanksgiving this year. It wasn’t like I could conjure up a great turkey dinner and bring Mom back. So, I wasn’t much in the mood for spending the day with family. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Finally, I decided to just spend the day alone; maybe it felt like a proper penance. Sometimes however, fate has something else in mind.
I went outside to talk with a neighbor in the morning. Sunny and warm, such weather was nothing like a day you’d expect in late November. In shirtsleeves we discussed the melancholy of Thanksgivings past. His children are raised and gone and far away. Only he and his wife for Thanksgiving this year. Another neighbor sat alone with a bottle, already drunk on his porch; I declined an offer to join him. Getting out and away was my solution. I eased into Mom’s car and drove without destination in mind. Probably no surprise by mid-afternoon I ended up at the cemetery. No way family there can disappoint, I guess.
First I visited with my Aunt Edwyna who died two years ago. [We Lost Our Darlin’] Last Tuesday I visited with her husband, my Uncle Basil in Wilmington, DE. At 87, he has some dementia and sometimes sees what we do not. He told me he has been talking with my Mom and Dad and his wife, Edwyna; these were the major people of his entire life, and he misses them desperately. He told me they report heaven isn’t quite as great as they expected it to be. The rooms are small, and the beds take up most of the room. This was the most precious thing I’ve heard, maybe this whole year. It makes me smile every time I remember it.
Next I wandered over to the grave of my maternal grandmother, Catherine Cullinan. She was the love of my life and died age 92 in 1991. She is buried in a grave with Jacob Bielarski, a man her daughter Florence was married to. I had a very close relationship with him when I was a teen. He would drop by our house at 1 AM, get me out of bed and take me surf fishing on Long Beach Island on cold November nights. The “Striper Derby” for the best striped bass catch was something he dreamed of winning. He and I would argue philosophy (Like me, he had also at one time been in a seminary.), and he took my thoughts seriously. I was reading Thoreau at one time, and he tried to convince me it was all youthful idealism. He died suddenly around age 35 while installing insulation in his attic; he shot a staple gun into an electrical wire, and he was electrocuted. A truck driver, he was a deeply spiritual man of great charity. He and Florence at one time had taken an old homeless man in to share their home. That’s a gravesite where I always leave with fewer tears than I came with.
It’s a short walk from there to my Mom’s grave. She’s with Dad and his Mom. There are six names on the tombstone. Until this year there were five, and I always stared at the empty space knowing Mom’s name would be there before long. Now that empty space is in my heart. Maybe Uncle Basil’s story got me going, but I decided if he could talk with them, I could get into the act too. Since last year’s Thanksgiving dinner was so disappointing, I decided I’d take Mom out for a dinner this year. So I invited her to sit next to me in her car where she always sat when I took her places.
Not quite dinner time, we went over to the river and watched river traffic and birds for a while. The little riverfront park in Gloucester City was eerie. Normally there are at least a few people around; this day not a single one. A recreational pier extends out into the river, and we sat on a bench enjoying the mild air and moving water. Not much traffic on the river; the Spirit of Philadelphia did come by. It was probably a Thanksgiving dinner cruise, and there were a lot of people aboard. I took a few pictures as I always do, boats, planes, etc.
At sunset I knew it was dinner time. We decided on the Brooklawn Diner. Mom, Dad, Basil and Edwyna used to love the place. It closed a couple of years ago, but over the last year or so it was entirely rebuilt and now looks great. I’d never been there, but given Mom’s recommendation…. I didn’t feel compelled to have the turkey dinner they offered; Mom would surely want me to have what I’d really want. So I ordered an omelet, and it was excellent. Our pregnant waitress remarked that she was eating for two these days; I didn’t tell her I was too. Since she was away from home and serving people she didn’t know, I figured the waitress deserved special attention. We left a 90% tip, and Mom heartily approved.
Mom enjoyed her Thanksgiving dinner this year, and I feel good about that. I also feel good that the troubling notion of Thanksgiving has now been solved. Every year from now on, Mom and I will have Thanksgiving dinner together at the diner. Drop by if you’d like to say hello. Mom would enjoy seeing you.