Today marks the end of a whirlwind week of activity around this place… As you may know, my mother passed away in October, and after a lovely visitation service and farewell party for her in Florida, the decision was made by the family to hold off doing anything here in Michigan, which is where she was born, and where she lived until a couple years ago, until Thanksgiving time. Why the long wait? It was a no-brainer for us, really. First of all, her body was cremated, so there was no rush for a funeral or burial service. Secondly, and more importantly, was the fact that Mom loved Thanksgiving time and the entire holiday season. I mean, she LOVED it. She was a born hostess, and all the planning, cleaning, and cooking required for a big ol’ Thanksgiving feast that most people dread she looked forward to year-round. To say that her place was in the kitchen was not a 50’s-style throwback to male chauvinism…. it’s simply where she shined. She would start planning for her holiday entertaining in June, making guest lists, preparing menus, stocking up on only the best ingredients….Then, as November started to wind down, she would wind up, donning her apron, and get to work.
So we decided that it would only be fitting to hold off on a Michigan service until Thanksgiving time, and send her off right. Being that my wife and I are the only family left in our hometown, it came down to us to do the majority of the planning and hosting. We had big shoes to fill, but we plowed ahead. To honor someone who loved entertaining as much as my Mom is to entertain the hell out of everything and everyone in sight.
Now, my Mom had a huge house with a huge kitchen in which to work her holiday magic; our house, to be honest, is just not set up for hosting large groups of people. It’s a modest house, which is how we want it for a million different reasons, but there are times when a slightly larger abode would be nice….Times like having 25 people over for Thanksgiving Day.
We made all the arrangements at the funeral home for the visitation, and the banquet hall for her celebration, then started in on Thanksgiving Day. And all in all, it all went wonderfully. Our family, like many these days, is far-flung from one end of this country to the other, and we don’t all get together very often. This year gave us the chance, the excuse really, to join together as a family and spend some time in each others’ company. With our smallish house, it was a very cozy affair. Even with all the planning and scrubbing and complaining (on my part, my wife was a saint through it all like always), it was one of the nicer weeks we’ve had in awhile. Dad was here for an entire week, as well as my sister and her family. Sometimes all that quantity time isn’t exactly quality time, but we had a really good time.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, more of the family arrived in town and we met at the house for cocktails before heading to a local restaurant for a huge group dinner. Again, I couldn’t help but think how nice it was that we could all be together, and how much it sucks that in today’s world it often takes a death in the family to spur such an event on.
Thanksgiving Day arrived and people started showing up with their food & drink. A large gathering is much easier if everyone pitches in, and that’s exactly what happened. Massive amounts of food and drink were consumed, football was watched, and memories of my mother were shared. It was the perfect Thanksgiving. It reaffirmed my belief in the holiday, and made me realize how far we’ve come from its original meaning, being to give thanks for what we have, and to share our bounty with others. Nowadays, the holiday has devolved into nonstop stories of shopping deals, and getting out early on Friday to get the lowest prices on the shittiest products the retailers can ship in from China.
This year, though…this year was special. There was no shopping to be had (other than to the grocery store to resupply the food and beer), just time with family. My mom’s absence was profoundly felt, but it wasn’t especially sad. That’s the way she always said she wanted her death to be. A celebration. She loved entertaining, cooking, socializing….she suffered physically the last few years, but by God she was always able to muster the strength to plan a New Years’ Eve party for 40 or 50 of her closest Florida friends. If she were still here, she would’ve be right in the middle of all the action, laughing and carousing. We did our best to live up to her high standards, and I think we came pretty close. The visitation and gathering were indeed a celebration, a time for those who knew and loved her to gather and lift up her memory. There were tears, of course, how could there not be? There will always be tears and times when missing her gets to be overwhelming. But all in all, she created a life surrounded by friends and fun and joy, and her spirit, her memory, will never go away. And that’s something to give Thanks for. I hope you all had a warm, relaxing Thanksgiving with YOUR family and friends. Heck, if getting up at 4 a.m. on Black Friday to save 10 bucks on a toaster is your thing, then I hope you had fun.
Now, the guests are gone, and the Christmas tree, lights and decorations are up. This holiday season may be a bit subdued; I think they always are after a loved one, especially one who loved the holidays like Mom did, passes. But I’m going to try to remember the good times, the wonderful memories, every time the Christmas lights go on, and every time I hear Elvis or Bing or Dean singing those timeless songs Mom loved so much. And I’ll never stop dreaming of a White Christmas. Even in death, Mom still has the amazing ability to bring people together to have a good time.
This last week was the perfect way to kick off the season. Thanks, Mom!
And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a Christmas Mix CD to get ready to mail out. Here’s a teaser of what to expect this year: