Sometimes it isn’t until you give yourself a chance to breathe a deep cleansing breath, that the impact of what you’ve witnessed and been through can be fully experienced. I took my first real breath the Monday after Thanksgiving. After taking the girls to school I came home and found myself so profoundly sad and unable to shake it. I did the only thing I could. As had happened so many times before, I sat with my grief thinking of it as a guest that would leave when it was time. I wouldn’t wallow but I would feel the sadness, longing and anguish that the busy days of Thanksgiving had allowed me to quell. This year marked another beginning. Learning to live and celebrate without Daddy’s boisterous presence. My father more than anything loved having his family together. Loved cooking for us and was happiest watching us relish the food he and Mama prepared.
In many ways the familiar outweighed the feelings of loss as I navigated my way through the holiday. I still made cranberry sauce and candied sweet potatoes as I always do. Julie helped Mama prepare the turkey and was the taste tester on the dressing and potato salad. I moved in and out of the kitchen comforted by our routines and overwhelmed at the same time. When Jordan discovered he liked potato salad he became the jr. tester. Watching Julie made me miss him so much. “Jordan should be here,” crossed my mind and heart more than once. Daddy would usually be sitting at the kitchen table offering his sometimes, unwanted suggestions and comments to my mom as she readied the turkey. “Ann, check the wing it looks like you missed a pin feather.”
Mama would sigh, say, “Yep,” and check, even though she hadn’t finished cleaning the bird and would have found the feather on her own. These scenes frustrated me to no end. This woman had been cooking turkeys for at least 30 years and every year the ritual was the same. Except for this year, when the kitchen was quieter than usual and I wondered if I should fill the silence or let Mama be, not knowing if she too was thinking of Daddy and his armchair quarterbacking.
The turkey was always put into the oven at around 6 am. As the years went by the responsibility of bringing it up from the basement refrigerator and putting it into the oven fell to my sister and her husband who slept on the pullout couch in the family room. In my youth, Daddy and Mama had always “put the bird in” together. Both coming downstairs and reminding each other all day of what time they’d put it in the oven. But as rheumatoid arthritis took more of Daddy’s strength, he was no longer able to navigate the steps while carrying the 23lb. turkey.
When I got up Thanksgiving morning I came downstairs to find Julie already awake and eating breakfast. “Girl, I’ve been waiting on you. Get to making that coffee. You know that’s your job.”
“I didn’t realize how late I’d slept.”
Julie followed me into the kitchen and as I looked down into the oven I asked her if she went back to sleep after putting the turkey in the oven.
“I tried but I couldn’t really sleep.”
“What time did you put it in?”
She looked at me for a moment and then said, “I put it in the oven and then went back downstairs and looked at the clock. It was 6:07.”
Tears welled in my eyes, “Daddy’s birthday!”
“I know I couldn’t believe it either. He was telling me, I’m right here.”
Shaking my head I replied, “He is here and he found the perfect way to show us.”