Thanksgiving has always been a family time and was traditionally celebrated at my parents’ house for as long as I can remember. There would be anywhere from 14 and 28 people stuffed around two dining room tables, which had been pushed together. The entire living/dining room area had to be re-arranged; the coffee table and living room chairs moved to other locations. It was always hectic, with lots of laughs and plenty of noise. At some point mom would start digging through drawers and cupboards a contained state of panic, searching for the Thanksgiving napkins she’d bought on sale at Big Buds. She liked to hide things, but she could never find them when they were needed. So, at Thanksgiving we’d end up with St Patrick ’s Day napkins (there's not a drop of Irish blood in the family), at Christmas the table would be decorated with Easter paraphernalia, and Easter inevitably meant candles with Thanksgiving turkeys on them. The amount of food was always outrageous and delicious. Once dinner was finished, dishes would be piled two feet high on the kitchen counter and the desserts would be brought out. Mom would have baked 3 or 4 pies, all with crusts edible only to a certain point, then impossible for me to eat. She worked for years in food services in the mess halls at Uplands so all veggie trays came decorated with radishes that looked like small mice, and carrots in the shape of party favors. Dessert squares were always presented on small red or green dollies, which we ate along with the dessert squares because they were impossible to remove. Mom was in her glory at this point in the meal, and her stories and reminisces would begin. We’d heard them a thousand times, but it didn’t matter. She had a stage, and we were her audience.
In 2006, we made the tough decision to move our parents out of their home and into a retirement facility. Dad had been diagnosed a few years before with Alzheimer’s disease. Mom had suffered a couple strokes which took their toll on her vision and comprehension, fallen down the stairs and fractured her spine and hip, and had been battling colon cancer. We had delayed the move as long as possible, even going so far as to install automatic stair climbers on both stairways so she could ride up the stairs instead of walk. She used them to transport laundry and out of date celebrity magazines, not herself. Dad was becoming more and more confused and thin.
Being at the retirement home obviously changed the dynamics for holiday family dinners. Instead we gathered at my home. Their small unit did not have an oven for safety reasons. It probably shouldn’t have had a stove top either. Lots of charred pots, but nothing Old Dutch or Javex, her two favourite products (unfortunately), couldn’t handle. Holiday dinners were especially tough on her.
Mom’s last Thanksgiving with us was one for the books. She wanted to participate so was assigned two activities, rice krispie squares and pie crust. The rice krispie squares she prepared at the retirement unit. She was an insanely messy cook, so I figured the best plan was to pick her up the night before Thanksgiving and bring her to my house where she had a lot more room to prepare the pie crust dough.I had all ingredients on hand as instructed. She washed her hands and got right to it. I stood by waiting to assist. I can cook, but I am no baker. She started adding flour, shortening etc. to a large bowl, then an egg and some water and started mixing it, then kneading it, and kneading it some more. I do not make pie crust, but I know kneading is not a good thing for pie crust. She stood covered in flour. My counters were a mess. She had a look of determination on her face, her eyebrows vexed, lips tight together. Finally, she laid the huge ball on the floured counter and started to roll it out with a rolling pin. It was impossible. Not only wouldn’t it roll, it wouldn’t extricate itself from the rolling pin. She persisted and it ended up as a ball in her hands again. Now she turned on the cold water and ran the dough under it. Then she tried the rolling pin again. My counters were covered in small cement like pieces of dough. She looked at me almost defeated. She still had it between her hands and was beating on it. She looked at me with an ‘ah-ha’ moment, smiled and told me she had forgotten to add the vinegar. Vinegar was poured over the dough, and the rolling pin came out for Round 3. Finally she admitted defeat, gave up and admitted to me that she couldn’t quite remember. I felt bad for her. It was after 10pm when I took her home. Once back at the house I frantically searched for a pie crust recipe that didn’t call for shortening or lard. I found one that used butter. So this time I made the pie crusts using two knives to combine the ingredients. I was thrilled when they actually turned out. Finally, I had made what looked to be perfect pie crusts.
Thanksgiving Day after the meal, the desserts were rolled out. Mom uncovered her pan of Rice Krispie squares. The top was sprinkled with ...parsley. It was for decoration, she said. When the family dug into the pies, the accolades began. What wonderful pie crust! Mom just nodded, smiled and thanked everyone.
Happy Thanksgiving !