Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Day One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety One . . . A curious crowd.

" . . . the passing down of memories is the strongest link in the gossamer bridge that binds us together as people."

~David Baldacci, Wish You Well

I never knew who said that.

And the reason I know it at all is that it was written on a page of my mom's stationary along with a few other quotes that she adored. There were also a few that I believe she wrote herself as I can't seem to find them anywhere other than on that one piece of paper which she assembled shortly before she passed away almost six years ago.


Amazing to think that my world will have existed six years without her in January.

I always have to remind myself that the reason time passes so swiftly under my feet while reminders of her presence present themselves so forcefully and fully is because I really never feel like she's not with me.

She is always with me.

She is always with me because I remember.

There's a special Thanksgiving that's really etched in my mind--I was probably five or six.

I remember the way all the fall colors on the 1970's paper decorations popped out amongst the muted plaids and floral patterns of the upholstery and wallpaper. I remember the way my babush (the Polish word for "grandmother") would sing with "Popeye" and "Brutus", our two canaries. And in hearing that with my tiny first or second grade sized ears that somehow, someway, they always sounded simpatico and free like a Copeland score: exciting, daring, playful, and sure.

I remember--as does anyone left in my family who heard the story tens of times over the decades--how one year, maybe that year, as my mom was carefully--and when I say "carefully" it would have been almost as if it were a live explosive device in danger of being triggered by the vaguest sudden motion--how when she was carefully taking the Thanksgiving turkey out of the oven (wearing, I'm sure, a floral sun dress) that in her extraordinary concentration how she suddenly and shockingly lost her footing on the linoleum floor and slipped and fell on her ample behind. I remember how she fell in front of the stove, the golden brown and fully cooked turkey tumbling onto the floor, the baking pan clattering and clanging and my mother exclaiming one very sharp and untranslatable hoot into the air. I remember the piping hot stuffing that sprayed like buckshot in a three foot radius, and the insistent and repeated sounds of her one or two swear words that she would entertain only in extreme circumstance until I grew older (not for fear I would co-opt them; but merely because--as she maintained fervently and for life--but because I brought them out in her).

And as my poor thirtysomething mother was lying on the floor, with all the hopes and dreams of Thanksgiving oozing from a giant headless bird in front of the still open 325 degree oven--and me, of course, standing in the other room watching it all happen, because I could never be too far away from the kitchen for fear that I might miss being asked if I wanted to "lick the beaters" which either held a scrumptious coating of whipped potatoes, vanilla frosting, whipped cream or fudge--as this all was transpiring any normal sister in a normal family would have come running to help her up and try her best to salvage what was surely a 20 pound bird that had most certainly failed the five second rule.

But my aunt--her sister--had a more unique reflex action.

She went running for her camera.

And as the story was told over and over and over again, the picture she took was one of a beautiful mother, sister, daughter in a floral print sundress on the floor of her own kitchen, with a fully cooked, partially stuffed turkey next to her being furiously licked, nosed and summarily devoured by one delirious and never satiated Wire Fox Terrier named "Bonnie" who was getting away with murder because her owner could not . . . stop . . . laughing.

The scene I can remember as if it happened this morning. But of course those memories are like dreams--shaded with strange vignetting and effected by odd reverberations and echoes. They come through the brain like a hot bath being drawn, but they end before one can enjoy the full effects of the water. They will repeat the process if you ask them to but they're never exactly the same. And when they happen to be from one's childhood they're even more subject to change on a whim.

But the stories go with the memory that goes with the picture that goes with the laughing, the chiding, the I-wouldn't-expect-anything-less-from-my-sister comments years after the fact. And it happens every year because the holidays make it so.

The holidays--and especially this one--thankfully bring forth the recounting of this fateful tale that I suspect I must have written about in one of the hundreds of memories I've extolled on this journal of mine.

It's a tradition that I'm proud to be a part of. The retelling of this simple but fully engrossing event that happened on a day that is by design fraught with worry and trepidation over a kitchen catastrophe just as I have described.

And yet it's that memory of my dog--Bonnie--such a good girl--grunting as she licked at that damn turkey, more than likely burning the hell out of her long, pink dog tongue and rightfully not caring one little delicious bit. With my mother, who was always a lady, lying on her bottom, in her dress, covered in grease and stuffing, skin bright red from embarrassment which would more than likely match the color of the oven mitts she loved--long ago turned brownish black at the palms from years of pulling hot magic out of a convection oven. It's that memory that I have of her in hysterical laughter yelling at her sister to come help her and "put the damn camera away and make yourself useful, please" that is putting me on the edge of tears as I write this all down. It's the memory of the curious crowd that gathered at the entrance to the kitchen--where the carpet met the linoleum--at 1073 Bedford St. in Fall River, Massachusetts, as my Babush and I--with Popeye and Brutus the canaries singing their visionary score for two birds atop opposing perches in their cage--and my grandfather in his tweed sport jacket and trousers laughing his big laugh, Auntie Annie in town for the holidays, and Aunt Lynda in her sun dress just standing there with the Polaroid looking down at poor Judith Ann Johnson on the verge of crying but knowing full well that this year's Thanksgiving--the food holiday--will not be cancelled because of a little setback such as this.

Because we are resilient people.

Or maybe I should just say we were all really hungry.

I'm quite certain the big day went on as scheduled. I'm sure I grabbed a startled Bonnie from the mid section and led her out of the kitchen to her dog bed to sleep off the Tryptophan buzz. And I'm also quite sure my babush and aunts helped my mom up. Somebody--my grandpa, maybe--must have picked up the turkey and cut around the parts that were a bit dog eared, as it were, and brought it out to the table and set it next to the whipped potatoes, the gravy, the mashed carrots and turnips, the cranberry sauce spooned out but still retaining a ribbed can line or two, the corn and peas, the celery sticks, sweet gherkins, soda, milk, rosé wine, and the occasional beer.

And I'm sure we ate and ate and ate and then we would sit and talk and listen to the birds.

I'd bring out my violin and squeak through a new piece or two that I had been working on which would bring my mother to tears for all the right reasons and the rest of the room for the wrong ones.

My grandfather would leave in the early evening after running out of jokes (it would take hours) and make the one block walk back to his place.

My Auntie Annie would go back to the hotel she was staying at with five pounds of leftovers.

My Aunt Lynda would go downstairs to the first floor where she lived with her dog, Dandelion.

My babush would sit and sew and sing along with Brutus and Popeye.

I'd lie down in front of the television getting my fill of the magnificence of holiday programming in the mid-1970's.

And my mother--my poor, sweet, loving, delicate mother--would more than likely be holding the Polaroid that my aunt took of her in her most embarrassing moment to date.

And I'm sure she just shook her head and smiled thinking, "Well, this will make a good story someday"

I have many things to be thankful for this year.

I have my sobriety of almost five years and counting.

I have my lifted-out-of-a-dream girlfriend, Jodi, who has stuck with this--some would say persnickety--man for what is going to be four amazing years this February.

I have her wonderful, unique, and constantly growing family in West Seneca, New York who I will very much miss this year as Jodi and I celebrate our first Thanksgiving here at our home in Florence.

I have my health.

And I have my memories.

I wish I could remember more. I wish I could flip through this big old brain of mine like a world atlas and pick and choose certain memories so as to fill in the blanks to help me understand why I am the way I am. 

But I have to let them come to me because for all the right reasons we can only ask for so much at once.

And while I wish I had that Polaroid of my mother on the floor with Bonnie and the red oven mitts and the sun dress, sadly I can't quite put my finger on it. Amongst the thousands of photographs that I inherited I'm hoping I will someday come across it. I'm certain it was saved. But it--unlike the rest--was a Polaroid and there's probably only one copy out there.

But you see if I had the photograph I probably wouldn't have been inclined to write so much about it this Thanksgiving Eve. I may have just posted it on Facebook and put a cute caption under it and nobody but me and one or two other people would have really understood.

But as I said at the beginning of this post, the passing down of memories is the strongest link in the gossamer bridge that binds us together as people.

My mother truly believed that.

She lived this way.

She taught me these things.

And today, as most days in my life, she is remembered.

I wish all of the people who read this a very happy Thanksgiving. Thank you for spending a while with me and one of my fondest memories.

And just keep in mind that whether it's a table for two or twenty, that sometimes something you think might spell the untimely end of the year's most important day . . .  can help it live on forever.

Thanks for reading,


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