Holidays. They’re here!!!!!! A late, late November Thanksgiving gathering ushered in Christmas tree decorating and barely time for one gasp of air in between. Not my favorite timing, honestly. If I could work my will on the calendar (wouldn’t that be a trick!?!), a full week would always bridge the gap from stuffing ourselves with turkey to hauling out the trimmings of the ‘hap-happiest season of all.’ This week, in the aftermath of a nest full of chicks come home for Thanksgiving, I’ve been ‘decking the halls and all that jazz,’ wondering why, like Lucy, I never get any real estate for Christmas. Predictably, I’m thinking of Mom. It starts, as it always does, with time in the kitchen.
I confess that, growing up, I paid far too little attention to my mother’s skillful hands as they prepared the daily bread, the seasonal jars of garden bounty, the holidays’ feasts. Next to gardening, I think Mom loved canning more than any of her farm-wifely chores. I merely loved the pickles, the cherries, the sauerkraut. Yes. Sauerkraut. I knew her hands (and her time, energy, and efforts) brought forth those gleaming jars lining the basement storeroom shelves, just like I knew, but gave little thought to, the bread dough rising in the bowl, or the perfect blend of sage and onion in the turkey stuffing each Thanksgiving. Those were things Mom simply did. Without fanfare and without complaint. Without fail. She made the commonplace in the [common]chapters of my growing up years.
When I had to figure out how to can my own garden’s tomatoes, or how to make the stuffing, the pumpkin pie, the gravy, for pete’s sake, I called her. Every year, some version of ‘how do I do that again?!’ found me heading for the phone so that Mom could talk me through the process and off the ledge I’d climbed up on. With simple directions and unending encouragement, across the years and across the miles, Mom was a part of our family feasts even when we couldn’t gather at the same table. Most of those years the turkey and stuffing turned out fine (turns out, turkey just isn’t that hard to make). The gravy, however, gave me fits (still does), and cranberries, I am sorry to admit, came from the can. Goodness knows I gave less than two hoots about making the cranberry sauce with fresh berries, though Mom nearly always did! So, when I decided to try my hand at the real deal last week, I was swimming in the deep water. Turns out, making cranberry sauce wasn’t that hard either. Not being able to call Mom to ask how it’s done broke my heart.
How do we mend the broken places? How do we fill in the holes left by loved ones lost? Year by year, holiday by holiday, I’m learning the answer. It’s simple as cranberry sauce.
We carry on the traditions. We speak the names, remember the days, teach the next ones how to make the gravy and stuff the bird, and set the cranberries to bubbling on the stovetop. We make the Scrabble.
My favorite Christmas-time treat not crafted with love, sugar and butter was, and still is, what Mom called Scrabble. The rest of the world knows it by another name.
The first batch, usually made around Thanksgiving time, was the sure sign: ‘Happy Holidays’ are here again!
This Thanksgiving time, someone asked, “Why do you call this Scrabble?”
I answered, “Because my mom did.”
This season’s first batch came out of the oven just in time to greet the one who, like me, claims the salty mix as his favorite. He knows, just like I always did, where to find the Scrabble. To call it Chex Mix would be flat out heresy in this family. We honor Mom with the corny tradition, keeping the name, cherishing the recipe (not exactly like the one on the cereal boxes), and remembering not just the holiday, but the holiness of it all.
I keep discovering that the ways I ‘do,’ are the ways Mom taught me — though I didn’t think I was paying her much mind at the time, the years have shown me wrong. Her commonplace has become my own. Every year when it’s ‘comin’ on Christmas,’ I follow where she’s gone before. Remembering. Waiting to see her again. Writing our commonchapters.