Every year when I start Thanksgiving preparations these are the two key elements: a cookbook Stella gave me at some point in the late 90’s, and a turkey recipe Marisa scribbled down after calling her dad in a moment of culinary crisis in November of 2002.
The book and the recipe have travelled with me from country to country, suffering splatters and hand notations as I converted units of measure and heat. When I started cooking I needed both of them, but over the years I have progressed to the point where they are more like props, or pep talks. I know how to cook a turkey now, but I still consult the directions from Marisa’s dad (RIP). When Stella isn’t here, the book acts as her surrogate, encouraging me to follow my instincts.
My kitchen was built in 1890 and updated no later than 1938. I use old equipment with signs of both love and abuse, much of it from the family homestead in Poulsbo. This year I’m cooking on a table we bought at a thrift store in Tacoma in 1995, when we lived in a shotgun shack with James. I’m serving on plates my Grandma Vi collected with grocery coupons in the 1960’s. When the guests arrive I’ll pull out the pickle dishes Grandma Lavender used, though I’ll probably fill them with olives.
Byron will pour wine for guests in glasses once owned by a beloved friend he knew growing up in a church in Denver in the 1970’s. When Ann died we inherited her wine glasses and a set of blue glass dessert plates, now in regular rotation in my dining room. They are stored in a Jackson Press, a family heirloom from Tennessee, in a room filled with photographs of my dead grandmothers.
Everything in this house holds a memory, and touching each item brings back lost time — and lost people.
It has been three years since my mother died. This is what I wrote when I picked up her ashes:
I miss her, every minute of every day, but the grief is more diffuse, shot through with flashes of regret and bewilderment. I don’t know why she died, but she would say: why do you care? Knowing won’t change anything.
Nevertheless, I wish she had remained alive long enough to visit Ireland, even if she resented my efforts to make her dreams come true. I wish she could see my kids graduate from college, although she officially did not approve of higher education. I wish that she could be here for even just a little while, making fun of me, telling scary stories and drinking Diet Coke.
More than anything, I wish that I could hear her voice again. But although she had a towering personality, she was shy of the camera. There are no film or video recordings, and only a few snapshots of us together.
On her last visit to New York she wanted to go through the box of family photographs. She wanted to tell me the names and stories, promised that I could write it all down. But we ran out of time. Now she is just another face in that box. The people in the photographs are all gone.
I’m the only living person who remembers this day at Point Defiance: