I recently wrote a post about making memories during the holiday season and I reflected on some good times from my childhood. Well, my son reminded me of Thanksgiving 2009, the last Thanksgiving dinner we had with my mother at her house in Montgomery. As previously stated, Thanksgiving dinner was always excellent and my mom always had some staple dishes so our expectation for this Thanksgiving was that everything would remain the same. However, when we go to the house, we knew that this would be the last Thanksgiving dinner she would prepare for us.
Weeks before Thanksgiving Day, I spoke to my mom and I told her that the kids and I would be driving to Alabama from Indiana for Thanksgiving. She was excited and we were excited. My brother was a high school band director and he had a couple of tickets for the kids to go to the Turkey Day Classic to see Alabama State University play Tuskegee University. The plan was coming together. My mom and I agree that I would bake and bring sweet potato pies. I was also in charge of making the sweet tea. She said that she would make candied yams, cornbread, order a ham from a local establishment, and have Aunt Pinky make us a pound cake. She asked if we would prefer collard greens or green beans. With haste, I vocalized the need for collards in the Thanksgiving spread. Well, what about the turkey you ask? Well, my husband coached a kid at a junior college some years ago and his family loved turduckins. Neither of us had ever had a turduckin and nobody had a clue what one looked like or tasted like, but we trusted the public opinion poll that said we would like them. So, I solicited the help of a friend and chef in Indianapolis to prepare this rare “bird” and I hauled it to Alabama for this special dinner.
For some reason that I can’t remember now (but I’m guessing it had something to do with the public school schedule), we couldn’t leave until Wednesday evening, Thanksgiving eve. With coolers loaded with pies, sweet tea, and turduckins, we gathered our playlist and hit the road headed south. I made a decision to spend the night in Nashville and finish the drive the next morning. We got up the next morning, Thanksgiving Day, and resumed travel. In all this great planning, I forgot about businesses being closed for the holiday which made the search for breakfast challenging. We saw a sign for a popular coffee shop and we took the next exit. We got there and the line was out the door and stretched through the parking lot. OMG! Apparently, we had the same brilliant idea as all who ran in the early morning Thanksgiving fundraiser race. It was one of those moments when you just take a deep breath, get in line, and make the best of the situation.
After a delay, we got back on I-65 and headed toward our destination. On the way, a friend called to say that they had an extra ticket so now all three of us could go to the game. Yipee! I called my mom to relay the news and to find out if she was good with the change in the plan. She was good with it. She asked that I call her when we were leaving the football game so that she could start warming the food. Yes! It’s all good. We were really hungry, but we could grab a snack at the game — just enough to keep from being hungry, but not enough to ruin our appetites for the special dinner awaiting us at Mama’s house.
The game ended and we called Mama to alert her that we would be there soon. When she saw the car pull up into the driveway, she hurried to the door to greet us with a big smile and hugs and kisses all around. We entered the house and we all had a very curious feeling. Where was the robust smell of collards and yams? Where is she hiding the honey ham she ordered? And the cornbread was missing too. Hmmm. I was certain that the stove just wasn’t warm enough to heat the food yet and within the next few minutes we would be engulfed with the aroma of the much anticipated Thanksgiving dinner.
To my surprise, Mama asked if we were ready to eat. I asked if the ham was warming in the over. “Well,” she said, “I didn’t order one. The people from the senior center stopped by with a basket and there was a canned ham in there so I just decided to use it. Oh no — I forgot to put pineapples on the ham.” I’m thinking what the what?! Canned ham for Thanksgiving?! She opened a can of sliced pineapples and then opened the oven and placed a couple of slices of pineapple on the canned ham. umph! When she opened the oven, we saw the candied yams and our eyes began to bulge. It turns out that she didn’t feel like peeling sweet potatoes so she used the canned sweet potatoes soaking in syrup from that gift basket for the starchy goodness that she usually made from scratch. Oh wow! At this point, we are in disbelief and a little nervous about the other items on the menu. This was not supposed to be one of those holidays where you get surprise gifts from family, but heck the suspense was literally killing me. I was melting on the inside from hunger and from the thought that I didn’t cook and load another cooler. I told her that I didn’t smell greens. She said, “Well, I didn’t feel like picking [cleaning] greens so I just got some canned beans.” Oh no! My mom always said fresh then frozen, then canned so her choosing canned first was uncharacteristic of her and gave me visions of the taste of salty canned beans sprinkled with metal. Historically, she had been able to season some canned beans in an emergency and make you believe they were not from a can, but this was not that time. So, to take a tally of the dinner menu: collards-no check, yams-no check, honey ham-no check. We had sweet tea, sweet potato pies, pound cake, store brand grape and strawberry sodas, and the turduckin that was stuffed with “dressing.” With anxiousness and apprehension, we opened the packaging around the “bird” and proceeded to slice it. “Oh wow!” said everybody in the room as we all let out chuckles. My mom said, “Well, if I had known you were gonna bring a meatloaf, I would have gotten a turkey.” Lol! What?! She would have gotten a turkey.
That was the only Thanksgiving that we didn’t eat turkey. The truth is we couldn’t figure out which part of the “bird” was turkey which was the duck and which was the chicken. We ended up loading the plates with samplings of all of the offerings, but we only ate pie, cake, and rolls. My daughter and I drank sweet tea and my son had a few grape sodas. We did a nice job of carrying on a normal holiday dinner discussion about the trip down, school, and the game without ever making mama feel any kind of way about the shocking lack of yumminess at the dinner table. My daughter said, “This is the first Thanksgiving we won’t have any leftovers to eat tomorrow.”
I am also thankful that my kids loved their grandmother enough to enjoy her Thanksgiving dinner without giving her any notion that we knew she probably would not ever prepare for us the kind of Thanksgiving dinner spread we remembered again. I am so thankful that we were able to be at the table with Mama the last time she prepared Thanksgiving dinner. Every time we talk about this Thanksgiving memory, we laugh so hard that our stomachs hurt and our eyes tear.