Thursday, November 23, 2017

This Is Thanksgiving, Not Mother's Day

Friends, it's Thanksgiving! Raise a glass with me, and let us propose a toast ... to Mama, the Dearest on Earth to Us. You may be a perfect stranger to me every other day of the year. But please join in, for on Thanksgiving we're all family. Eh? Are you raising your glass? Raise it! And let us toast Dear Mama, just like we did way back when, on the very day they told us, "This is Thanksgiving, not Mother's Day."

It was actually a revelation -- however unwelcome it seemed at the time -- since we were admittedly a bit carried away honoring Mama. And ignoring the bird spread naked and golden brown on the ritzy dining table of that deservedly expensive hotel. They had a spread loaded with thighs, breasts, and drumsticks, and they charged an arm and a leg for it. What money? Money means nothing on Thanksgiving!

The real problem started with toasts. Most of us don't make toasts on a regular basis. Everything we know about toasts we learned from movies and TV. Which so often specialize in fictional happenings, goings-on, stories with a plot, a conflict, working through the conflict, and resolving itself in a happy ending. Meaning, if a toast doesn't sound like it sounds on TV, there's something wrong.

We went out for Thanksgiving, the whole family. Daughter, sons, their kids, Papa and of course Mama. Mama's the center of the family in most families, especially if your family is anything like ours. She makes our heart melt. We have memories of her tenderness when Papa was gruff, or whatever. We nursed off her, literally, giving us the step-up in life we needed when other kids were bottle-feeding or seeking nutritional refuge in the arms of a goat or something worse.

So when we went out for Thanksgiving at the best place in town -- Expensive! So expensive it's like throwing money down the drain -- it really meant something. We were very sensitive about the experience. Usually we pinched pennies, now we were living it up, like the Rockefellers or the Gettys. Papa had his money withdrawn, it was big-bucks time at Thanksgiving! Every plate was expensive, crazy expensive. So much you could've eaten five times somewhere else and had money leftovers.

It's the same feeling you get at other holidays when the expectation is to go beyond your ordinary means. Christmas is the biggest example, but each person's individual birthday is a mini version of the same thing. Or New Year's, when Papa came home with eggnog and salami and chocolates and candles. You're wondering if it's the same guy who's always so tight. Papa's family went through the Depression. They had to scrape for everything they could scrape together.

OK, so there we were at this hugely expensive place. And naturally, with the money buying us the biggest, best Thanksgiving meal, our tender thoughts turned to Mama. Who was spared cooking the big meal for a change. But would've gladly done it if we hadn't gone out. She would've come up with a turkey, cooked it, carved it, made dressing, made pies, all the fixins, bread by the bushel, and drinks.

I took my drink and lifted it by way of a toast, and the rest of the family immediately joined in. "To Mama, the center of our family, our life, our common love, our heart, our soul." "Here, here," the others said. Then my next brother, not to be outdone, lifted a glass and cleared his throat: "To Mama, who binds us together as one, not just our life but our everything, the best Mama we could've ever hoped for." Then my next brother (3), who of all the siblings saw Mama over the years more than those of us who'd moved away, had a tear in his eye. He lifted a glass and toasted her: "We should probably be toasting Papa," he started to chuckles, "because Papa is the one who found Mama. She was a natural beauty, although, as we've all heard, she was 'a diamond in the rough.' But she had the upbringing in her own family and saw the example of her own parents, and now has exceeded them, which I say not to question the merits of Grandma... Family, raise a glass to Mama!" The fourth brother had a decent toast, and the daughter (5) and the last son, last but not least. His toast was a tearjerker, because when you're Number 6 you're just happy to be alive. Statistically, Number 6s are rare, and reflection on that gives you a keen ability to make good toasts.

When all was said and done, I led the way for everyone, including Papa -- barely able to walk even with a cane -- to get up and go over to pat Mama on the back and give her his own personal plaudits. She was trying to wave us off -- her wonderful modesty and self-effacing nature, further reasons to love her so much. But we went on anyway, patting her, giving her kisses, hugging her. True, the food was getting cold, but that's OK. Thanksgiving comes but once a year, whether or not you have a Mama, and we knew someday we'd lose her. But it wasn't that day! That day she felt the fullness of our love. Even though she tried to wave us off, that was her day!

We were laughing, praising Mama, and outdoing one another something fierce. "This turkey is probably the most expensive turkey in the world, since the meal is so outrageously expensive at this fancy-schmancy place, but it's nothing compared to the turkey Mama could've made!" Similar sentiments were shared. Praising the different aspects of the meal, but discounting it compared to what Mama could've done. When the waiter, obviously at the beck and call of the head cook -- who probably should've been demoted to assistant chief bottle-washer for the remark -- came out and scolded us, saying, "Folks, we'd like to remind you, This is Thanksgiving, not Mother's Day," our table became stone quiet. I looked at my brother like, "What the fu-?"

We might've rioted -- I was personally that close to gutting that particular waiter, and Brother 3, with his greater familiarity with Mama and the over-protective nature he'd nurtured, looked like he was daydreaming of a noose for the head cook. We would've hung him high right there over that very table had Mama not stepped in, saying, "The waiter is only doing his job, beloved family. And he's right. You started in praising me, your Mama, and of course I appreciate and love each one of you always, but in the sentiment of the moment we were all carried away. So let us get back to our meal, dear ones, because as he said, and he was right, "This is Thanksgiving, not Mother's Day."

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