Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go.
Wait, it was over a creek and a 30-minute drive on an asphalt road to Grandmother’s house. There were trees off the shoulders, and there were the occasional cracks in the road.
My point is, for Thanksgiving there wasn’t the huge rush for the airport. Everyone drove or walked since we all lived so close.
Grandma’s house, or “South Bidwell Mansion” as we called it, wasn’t the largest house in the world. Two people could barely walk through the kitchen if they kept their elbows in, flanked by cupboards and an appliance or two. The rest of the house was about the same size, with the living room being slightly more open. Mom would point out the rooms that weren’t there when she grew up with her two sisters and I’d cringe. Now her claustrophobia makes sense.
Every fourth Thursday of November we’d try for a miracle. In this tiny house, we’d try to cram me, my three brothers, my parents, my cousins, their parents, a bunch of family we’d only see once a year (maybe twice, if somebody died) and then try to cook a meal.
In the cramped kitchen, food flew everywhere, as a six-pack of cooks would hurry around in a shoebox. Grandma would worry the turkey in the oven so it would cook itself. The rest would grab the boxed stuffing, the canned cranberry sauce and the fresh fruit salad.
The men studied inflated bladders flying through the air on television. We had an excuse. I was convinced that if I set foot in that kitchen, I’d have my head cut off, be stuffed and chucked in the oven. I was cooking myself as far away from the kitchen as I could get.
Then we’d all around a big table for a Thanksgiving dinner. All those people I previously mentioned didn’t arrive at the same time. Some were there about 9-ish, some dropped by about three or five.
We had a simple plan for the meal: Turkey done? Let’s eat.
Even when we stuck the extension in the middle of the table, there was probably enough room for maybe one person to sit. It wasn’t that small of a table; there was just so much food.
This was the one time of year where everyone would be together and remember what we were thankful for: family, food and surviving another holiday.
Things are different now. Grandma took her time, but after 12 years, she followed Grandpa to the hereafter.
That little house seemed to keep everything together. Once Grandma passed on, it was like a piece of my childhood disappeared. It had the love and care that only an 80-year-old widow and her reclusive cat could create.
That cat was the one thing that’s kept those memories alive. That little black lump of fur only came out when nobody else was home. The second he’d hear someone in the driveway, he’d sprint for the nearest empty room to hide until everyone had left.
I can’t remember the exact day, but it was in June three years ago and Grandma was in her final months. She was resting and I was doing a crossword puzzle when I felt something hit my feet.
That little furry, black turd had the gall to come up to my feet and roll over for me to rub him with my foot.
The only time he’d ever been this close was when I spent the night and I was at the foot of “his” bed. I tried to get up, but he looked at me and hissed, and I went back to sleep.
But this time was different. The moment my foot touched his side, I felt a calm come over me. That one moment made it easier in August when I got the call on my way back before leaving San Diego. That 12-hour drive went by much easier.
From that day on, I knew the holidays wouldn’t be the same, but I’d always have those years to look back on.
This Thanksgiving, take a look around the table. Enjoy it while you can. All it takes is a phone call to make the trip to Grandma’s house the last.