All of my life my favorite holiday has been Thanksgiving. I suppose the heart of the love of this holiday comes from my Aunt Mary (my grandmother’s baby sister) who traditionally held the Thanksgiving gathering in my childhood. It was always a pot luck–so everyone arrived having prepared a few things, but no one was exhausted from the preparations. Everyone was always so happy and the gatherings were always loud and funny–filled with teasing and hugs and laughter–and half-seriously jockeying for food.
One Thanksgiving more than 22 years ago my younger cousin–who has a seizure disorder which developed in early childhood–found the gathering to be too much for him. He was perhaps six years old and on a ketogenic diet to control his seizures. He couldn’t eat most of the food at the table and all the laughter and talking was too loud for him. So, he hid in my aunt and uncle–his grandparents’–room. I ate a plate of food quickly and then went in to play with him. We had a great time in the calm of their room playing in some imaginary world. And before I knew it, I realized that dessert had already been served and cleared.
I also knew that, in this crowd, that meant there would be nothing left of the pies.
When I walked out into the kitchen to see if there really was nothing left, I was feeling pretty disappointed, honestly, and beginning to feel a bit pouty about the whole thing. But my Aunt Mary saw me and gave me her crinkled smile as she gestured to me to join her by the fridge. “I saved you something Hillee,” she said as she reached up on top of the refrigerator…producing the most perfect slice of blueberry pie on a white ceramic plate. She looked at me almost sternly and said, “That was the right thing to do today. It means a lot.”
Before that day I never really cared all that much about blueberry pie, honestly. I liked pumpkin or apple much more. But that day, that blueberry pie was beyond delicious. It tasted like nothing I’d ever had before…or since.
Every year after she made a blueberry pie that was “for Hillee.” And every year she’d make sure I got a piece. The story of why she guarded the pie for me was never discussed. She’d just say, “We’re the babies. The babies have to look out for each other.” And then she’d wink at me. The fact that the babies of the families had to look out for each other was already a familial fact established by Mary and my father–so it all made perfect sense to everyone else, of course.
But she and I knew why.
Mary has been gone since 1998. And every Thanksgiving I feel I mourn her again in some ways–each year I wonder what it would be like to have known her as I became a woman, a wife, a mother… I wonder what she would have said to me at these milestones in life–what other lessons she might have taught me about being strong and independent and loyal and compassionate.
I wonder what she’d say about Esmé–about the struggle and the beauty in these last few years.
Since becoming Esmé’s mother I have thought so often of these few distant formative moments on Thanksgiving that year which changed how I saw the world…as I saw how things that look like a disappointment–like missing dessert on Thanksgiving–might yield the very best of surprises–like tasting the best serving of dessert in the world from a pie you’d never have chosen.
And, in some ways, what more is there to know?
Thank you Mary. And Happy Thanksgiving.