Just the word sends a flood of memories over me.
My earliest memories take me back to Valley Forge Drive. That distinct smell of the heater coming on for the first time after Houston’s long hot summers, is forefront in my mind. I don’t know why, but I love that smell. Our home had central heat and I remember hearing the slight rumble of the pilot light igniting the heater. Our home was suddenly filled with that smell. I’m not sure what it was, maybe dust burning, or maybe simply waking up from it’s long summer hiatus.
Every fall when I turn on my heat, that first time smell takes me back through all the years of my life. It fills me with warmth and comfort, like wrapping myself in my favorite, old, well-worn cashmere robe, I settle in to all that is familiar.
I think of my Mother and Minnie Mama in the kitchen on Thanksgiving mornings, each working side by side. What a gift that they were able to share this experience. Minnie Mama’s job was always the dressing. My grandmother was an East Texas farm girl and she could make dressing and gravy like no one in the world. Cornbread dressing, the kind where it’s crunchy on the outside, but soft and full of flavors on the inside, made Thanksgiving simply delicious.
My mother would stand by her side and watch Minnie Mama concoct her dressing. Putting in a pinch of this and a dab of that, there was no written recipe. It was all handed down from generation to generation. Mother would watch Minnie Mama’s hands as she stirred, tasted, added a bit more salt, pepper, sage. My mother perfected that recipe by watching and learning from her mother. After Minnie Mama died, Mother picked up the mantle and her cornbread dressing became legendary with all her grandchildren. The legacy continues and it fills me with that warmth and comfort.
I wished I had paid more attention as a child, learning from my grandmother and then my mother. I didn’t realize that someday I would be the family matriarch. I long for those Thanksgiving mornings when I could call mother questioning her about how many eggs, how many onions, celery, bell peppers to sauté. I miss my mother and Minnie Mama at Thanksgiving, but my memories are as vivid as that heater smell. I am again wrapped in my well-worn, cherished memories of them, much like the comfort I feel in my well-worn robe.
I was a freshman in collage. I had come home for Thanksgiving week and had my wisdom teeth removed early that week. My family celebrated Thanksgiving before this procedure, fearing I wouldn’t be able to eat after the surgery. Thanksgiving Day rolled around and I was good to go, but all that was left to eat were scraps from the leftover turkey and dressing. The Boswell’s, yep, that’s right the Boswell’s asked me to their Thanksgiving family dinner. Remember, Ann and I had become good friends in high school and I knew their family well, so they just pulled up a chair and I munched away.
This Thanksgiving seems to be key in my life. You see sitting across the table from me was Ann’s older brother. Steve and his wife and adorable daughter, Lynn were there. I vividly remember thinking, “Whoa, Bos had the most handsome brother ever!” He was a hunk and I was drooling, not only over the turkey, but mainly over this sophisticated older...so much older guy. He was so exotic. Steve was studying at Duke at the time, so they had little opportunity to get to Houston, but, he was there that Thanksgiving of 1972 and I was goggly eyed.
I will confess that twenty years later when I was reintroduced to Steve, he had no recollection of me or of that dinner. Probably a good thing since I was simply a young collegiate and he a married man and a dad!
Thanksgiving of 2008 was a rough one. Steve was recovering days after his surgery to remove the tumor. We had gotten the tough news that the tumor was indeed a GBM a week before Thanksgiving, and we were numb. We spent that day with all of our family, as well as the extended Boswell family.
The following day, Bonnie and Tom had us all out to their ranch in Kerrville. It was a crisp, crystal blue day. We went on long walks, we flew kites with the children. I remember Steve being so tired, stopping to rest often, but not allowing anyone but me to notice.
I think we all felt that this would be our last Thanksgiving with Steve. I remember feeling so incredibly sad, so lost, so consumed with fear. I remember Steve and I holding on to one another constantly, we couldn’t get enough of each other. It was that smell of the heat coming on for the first time. It was that long comfortable robe that we wrapped ourselves in, cocoon like, trying to hang on to all that was familiar and loved.
Well, that wasn’t Steve’s last Thanksgiving. We were grateful and blessed to have four more Thanksgivings with him. What a gift!
Last Thanksgiving was crummy, one of those “firsts” that we all had to endure. We did get through the day and there was great comfort in the fact that we were together as a family.
While Steve wasn’t with us that day, his spirit was. We didn’t have him to carve the turkey, or to take out the trash (his favorite task). We didn’t have him to laugh with, or to wrap his arms around me, but he was there walking by our sides every step of the way.
This Thanksgiving, as we all come together, I know I will feel his presence again. It will take me back to Thanksgivings of the past. Much like the first burning smell of the heater or the security of my well-worn robe, I will remember back to all that is right and good and Steve will be right by my side.
I have much to be thankful for. May each of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Psalm 106:1 “Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”