December 12, 2013 6:42am

Last ThanksgivingHave you ever spent weeks putting together a jigsaw puzzle? Carefully sorting the pieces by edge or color? Organizing and arranging the puzzle so that the blue of the sky  separates from the blue green of the lake.  Placing and fitting pieces carefully, building a beautiful picture from thousands of different cardboard pieces, only to finally finish and discover that one or two pieces are missing. Arrrrgh. You gnash your teeth, crying in frustration. Each time you walk past your masterpiece instead of lovingly gazing at the finished product, you groan. Wistfully fingering the missing pieces, desperately wanting to fill the hole that lingers there, haunting you in it’s incompleteness. And that’s what  Thanksgiving was this year, really fun to put together but incomplete, not fully formed, never whole.

My first holiday without anyone in the family from an older generation. No aunts, no uncles, no parents, no grandparents, no Momma. A few older cousins, one so sweet  she came with enough rolls for five families. “This is as close to a tobacco farm as I’ll get this year,” I thought, “close as I will ever get again.”

Thank goodness we overcooked the stuffing and turkey and smushed the green beans. Momma would have said, “Woo, this turkey tastes like parchment.” Momma was a supreme cook and food manager. Her meticulous attention to detail was unsurpassed. Her turkey glistened, her gravy flavorful, never lumpy and her dressing-you could cut her dressing out of the pan like you do brownies, so moist. She added celery, onion and hard boiled eggs. What a combination!  I have her recipe for ice box cookies, pound cake, peanut butter balls and date nut balls but not dressing because she didn’t have one. Funny how much more important things like recipes become when they don’t exist anymore. How you long for them when you know you’ll never receive again.

In a way I’m glad we spoiled our dinner by messing up the timing. It made the beauty of her life and her gift of cooking for others more felt. It’s not hard to cook but it is hard to get your timing right, especially when you are cooking for ten folks and sixteen are in the house. Some throwing the football, others talking by the fire, some playing music on his new stereo system. He was walking around the yard with my cousin, the landscape specialist showing our many species of trees and shrubs. “Isn’t this creek filled with new hope beautiful?” I heard him say. I was in and out of the kitchen. It was both our faults that the timing went caflooey. We were both in charge and I had warned him that might be a problem. Either one of us can do it correctly but together to do it is another trick.

We failed but had a good time anyway. No one even noticed except me. Having lived with the best cook in North Carolina for so many years, I am discerning if not capable. And I didn’t mind because it made me appreciate her even more, miss her food so much that I couldn’t even eat ours. It wasn’t a conscious missing, “a I’m crying and sad  because I’m without her for the first holiday.” It was more like as I noted in the beginning, that the puzzle wasn’t finished because all the pieces weren’t there.

More like I had guests in my house and was cooking a lot of food and serving drinks but that Thanksgiving couldn’t come to pass without her. Fun and entertaining to be together but not a holiday. More like It was happening and at the same time not. I know this would disappoint her but I couldn’t help it. I was doing the best I could.

I didn’t even notice the sadness until after the football game on Saturday. I was pretty angry that my team, the Tarheels had stormed down the field at the end of the 4th quarter in a haphazard manner without calling a timeout. It was 25 to 27 and a field goal would have won it for us. Even our coach, with his hurry up and no huddle offense should know that with one minute and two time outs left that our team needed to stop, reflect on their blessings and calmly carry the ball to the twenty so we could kick a field goal, not throw an interception. Can you really call it an interception when the pass hits the defensemen right in the numbers? I don’t think so but after the game, I saw someone and she asked, “It was hard, wasn’t? Thanksgiving without your Mom?” So I assured her that it wasn’t hard. That we had fun but that a piece of the puzzle had been missing. And that’s when I noticed how sad I was, how much I missed her and how much I wished that conversation had never taken place.

I only miss her when folks talk about her like she’s dead. She’s not dead. She’s alive, alive in me and my children, in my husband’s cooking, in my sister’s long laugh. She walked with me after dinner and I sang in the garden to her again. She loved it and so did I. So let’s not talk about the dead as if they aren’t here with us. They are here with us and with God too. She cares about everything I do and especially the things I don’t do that I should. She longs for my hugs as much as I long for her turkey. We are at the same time together forever Amen.

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