For over 20 years we spent Thanksgiving at my parents-in-law’s home on Greenwood Road. We arrived early. The big, old house itself held endless fascinations with its two staircases, water tower and the tea house that looked over an apricot orchard out back. Twila, my mother-in-law and the matriarch of the family, loved to entertain. She attended to every holiday detail with perfection, even as she fretted each year that she hadn’t made enough mashed potatoes for her large clan.
As the family grew bigger with spouses and grandkids, she added more tables to the already long one in the dining room until it extended way out into the living room near the crackling fire in the hearth.
We fed on turkey, Ozark pudding and everything in between. The meal usually ended with two of her grown children writhing and groaning on the floor from over-stuffing themselves, while the rest of us argued about art, music, literature and politics. I can still see the delight and sparkle in Twila’s eyes during the lively after-dinner discussions.
When she died of cancer in 1997 we were all devastated. We loved her so dearly and depended on her for so much.
That first Thanksgiving without her came far too soon. We cobbled an uninspired pot-luck meal together with sad hearts and unskilled hands. I don’t know how we made it through that first year without her.
Although Thanksgiving will never be the same, we continue to hold the memory of those wonderful years with a Thanksgiving Day full of love, commitment and the best intentions.
Pot luck style, where everyone contributes pieces of the meal works best for us. Each of the many cooks adds their own creative touches to traditional dishes. From the turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes to the spicy zucchini soup with homemade bread, stuffed pumpkin and brown sugar, corn-cheddar casserole, pecaned-Brussels sprouts, all topped off with olallieberry and pumpkin pies and fresh whipped cream, we’ve learned to create a Thanksgiving meal, together, in a way that honors Twila’s devotion to family.
Every year, after the meal is over and the last of the whipped cream has been licked off the spoon, we take our turns around the table to say what we are grateful for. My brother-in-laws still and groan and writhe on the floor and other family members still try to get out of doing the dishes, but all of us agree that Twila put us on the right course, and we’ve come a long way.