“This would have been her big Thanksgiving, because she was always saying how, you know, when she was gone, if we all could do the holidays and not ‘eff’ it up, then that would mean she did right by us. She would not have said ‘eff’ it up, by the way, but she would have come right out and said it. That was how she talked. My mother had a mouth like a sailor. My father hated when women used profanity, so she used to do it all the time. I never talk like that, and I’d say, ‘Ma, your language,’ and she used to say, ‘You’re just like your father. I’m a grown woman. I’ll talk how I bleep-ing please. She was a hot ticket, my mother.”
Their family lives in the Mount Pleasant area of Providence, only a short walk away from Mount Pleasant High School and right on the North Providence line. The woman I’m speaking with is the eldest daughter. Her brother is two years younger and lives in Virginia. There’s another brother who lives in California and a younger sister who lives in Newport.
“We got people all over, and when Mom got sick, it happened very suddenly. She fell and from there it was boom boom boom. Couldn’t believe how fast it happened. She was at my — we have a video of her at my Memorial Day barbecue dancing around and acting just like herself, and then, she fell –around the 4th of July. By September, she was gone. A year ago we had our first Thanksgiving without her. I was a zombie. Just — just didn’t want to do it. Thanksgiving. None of it. My daughter called me up and she goes, ‘Ma, we gotta do Thanksgiving.’ I said, ‘I can’t do it. Not this year.’ She goes, ‘Okay, but what if we lose someone else next year and then we didn’t even get a last Thanksgiving with them?’ I said, ‘Oh my god, don’t talk like that,’ but, you know, she had a point. So I got out of bed. I’d never done Thanksgiving before — my mother always did it. This little woman who made food for all these people, and wouldn’t let anybody in her kitchen. It’s a week before Thanksgiving and my brother is calling me going, ‘Is it true you’re doing Thanksgiving?’ and I’m going, ‘Yes, I’m doing it’ and he says, ‘Oh boy, can’t wait to see that.’ He’s a real jerk, my brother. I had to look up on the internet how to do a turkey. I knew nothing. I mean nothing.”
Her brothers both flew in the day before the holiday, and her sister drove up and camped out in her basement the night before so the whole family could tackle the feast.
“First thing we start doing is screaming at each other, but that’s how we are. We scream a lot. Typical nutty family. My brother’s telling me how to do the turkey and I’m saying, ‘I looked it up on the internet, you jerk, stay out of it.’ He’s a real jerk. Just standing there laughing because he loves when he gets my goat. I’ve got my hand halfway up a turkey’s ass — no idea what I’m doing — and he’s saying, ‘You should be doing this first.’ I say, ‘Why don’t you make yourself useful and go jump in front of a bus?’ My husband went to see a movie. He said, ‘Call me when this is all over.’ He’s useless, too. All the men in my life are useless. I was standing there with a handful of turkey guts going, ‘My mom’s gone and all the men in my life are idiots. What the hell do I have to be grateful for?’”
Her little sister jumped into action and gave assignments to their two brothers. She was also looking things up on the internet, trying to figure out how to not only accomplish Thanksgiving, but how to make everything the way their mother did.
“We’re looking at recipes going, ‘Ma didn’t do it that way. It says put this in it, but Ma wouldn’t have put this or that in it. I texted my husband and told him to see the movie some other day, because I needed him to go to the market for me. I sent him a list. He brings all the stuff on the list. He’s halfway home and I’m texting him, ‘I think we need this, too.’ He goes back to the market, and it’s the day before Thanksgiving. He comes home. I say, ‘We need Worcestershire sauce.’ He goes ‘What the hell do you need Worcestershire sauce for? There is not one thing you make on Thanksgiving that has Worcestershire sauce in it.’ I tell him that I think Ma used it for the gravy, because we’re tasting the gravy we have on the stove, and it doesn’t take like Ma’s, and he says if I make him go back to the market one more time, he’s going to divorce me. So I tell him, ‘Go back to the market.’”
So much time and attention was put into the turkey that there was no way it wasn’t going to turn out stellar. Unfortunately, the side dishes were not as lucky.
“The mashed potatoes — Oooooh. How do you mess up mashed potatoes? My brother from California was in charge of the mashed potatoes, and I guess they don’t have mashed potatoes in California, because I go to put my spoon in them, and the spoon breaks in half. Not really, but they were inedible. You couldn’t eat them. I say to my brother, ‘What did you do to these potatoes?’ He goes, ‘I cooked them. What do you mean what did I do?’ I say, ‘You were supposed to mash them.’ He was so tired — He was still jet-lagged. He takes this spatula from the kitchen and starts whacking the potatoes with a spatula and I start laughing so hard I almost wet my pants. We were all exhausted. I was too tired to even eat, which is a good thing, because other than the turkey, you couldn’t eat any of it.”
The gravy was too runny — and they were wrong about the Worcestershire sauce. The stuffing was too salty. They made another stuffing as a back-up, and it tasted like scrambled eggs — a mystery since nobody remembered putting any eggs in it. It seemed likely that if they actually attempted eating too much of it, they’d be at risk for food poisoning. Thanksgiving that year consisted mainly of turkey sandwiches.
“But you know, we’re all there in the living room. My daughter goes, ‘I want to watch the video of Meema,’ she’s talking about the one we took of her at the barbecue, because we sent it all around, everybody loved it. My mother was a hoot. We put on the video — my nephew hooks up his phone to the tv, I don’t know how he did it. I really didn’t want to see the video, because I thought it was too soon. I couldn’t even look at photos of my mother without crying, and here we were, we’d messed up Thanksgiving. I’m thinking, ‘I’m so sorry, Ma. Turns out we can’t do it without you.’ But then she’s there on the television laughing and dancing, and everybody’s laughing. The whole room. My brothers and their families. My sister. My daughter is there, and she’s holding my new grandson. I was sad and happy at the same time, you know? I think that’s most of how life is — sad and happy. All at the same time. I miss my mom every day. I’m doing Thanksgiving again this year and I still wish she was here to do it for me, but I want my grandson to have the Thanksgivings that I had and not have some sad grandma who can’t get out of bed. My brother says he’s grateful we had her as long as we did, which was a long time. I try to think of it that way. Some days I can, some days I can’t, but I try. Last year my house was full of people all screaming at each other, and a lot of people don’t have any of that, so you have to think of it as: There’s still so much to be happy about and grateful for even when things are bad, and Mom would’ve kicked my butt if all I did was cry about everything. She never stayed in bed a day in her life.”
I ask her if she thinks Thanksgiving will be a little easier this year, and she says–
“As long as my brother doesn’t try making the mashed potatoes again, I think we’ll be all right.”