Thanksgiving has come and gone and with it all of the anxiety that built up inside me. For weeks before I wondered how it would be possible to step inside my parents’ home and not have daddy sitting in his chair waiting to welcome us. Mama was determined that would stick to our usual routines and traditions. She would make fried fish and potatoes on Wednesday, the meal we always savored after our journey from Chicago. Daddy usually cooked his famous home fried potatoes but this year Mama would handle the duties.
My sister had asked me repeatedly what time we’d be arriving in Ohio. With each ask my response was the same, “I don’t know.” Up until a week before I wasn’t even sure if we were coming. It felt too hard not just for me but for my children as well. For the first time in their lives they didn’t know if they wanted to make the trip. “It won’t be the same without Pop. Can’t Oma come here and we’ll do all the cooking and take care of her?” It was a lovely thought. One I presented to my mother who balked at the idea.
“No, I want to do Thanksgiving. I’m alright, I can do it.”
When she said these words I wanted to cry out, “But I’m not sure I can do it.”
Trying to make things as they always were in the face of another empty seat at the table felt like too much pain to take in. I wanted to support Mama and be there because I knew she needed me but I also had to think of what was best for my family and what felt selfish, what was best for me. Mark said he would abide by and understand any decision I came to, but he added the words, “Thanksgiving is going to be different and hard no matter where we are.” And he was right. In the end I needed to be with my mom and the rest of my family for Thanksgiving. I told Mama of my misgivings and warned her that I felt so sad and wasn’t sure I’d be able to feel much of anything else.
“Don’t worry about being sad. We’ll all cry when we need to and we’ll get through this Thanksgiving together.”
We made the familiar trip to Ohio and Lindsay, Kendall and Merrick shouted out, “Welcome to Ohio,” as we passed the sign. I sighed knowing that soon I’d be at my childhood home with my mother waiting to greet us at the door. “Who’d carve the turkey?” “Who’d sit at the head of the table?” Were questions that wouldn’t leave my head.
As we drove up to my parents’ house I saw my sister Julie and her husband Brian’s car in the driveway. Brian opened the door for us and Mama was right behind him ready to receive us. The smells of our delicious dinner wafted from the kitchen. As Mark and Merrick brought the bags in I walked through the family room and glanced at the chair Daddy would have been sitting in, waiting for our arrival. A short glance at the chair was all I could muster as I made my way upstairs to the kitchen to hug hello to Julie. The table was set and all that was left was for us to do was eat.
Mama shouted out, “Alright now come and eat while everything is hot.”
We all made our way to the table and I sat in my usual seat to the right of Daddy’s chair at the head of the table. The chair sat empty but only for a moment. Mama came into the room and with decisiveness took the seat at the head of the table. We grabbed hands to pray and I gripped her shaking hand as she thanked God for our being together, “One more time.” Her voice faltered but her spirit is so strong. As we said, “amen” I gave her hand an extra squeeze and opened my eyes to my wonderful family. Even in the midst of longing for Jordan and Daddy I felt their presence and was warmed by the grace of their company mingled so beautifully with all of us at the table.