Thanksgiving is here, which means the holiday season is officially upon us. Can’t say I’m really looking forward to the next month. In fact, at times I dread the next several weeks. But even when I feel I’d rather keep the holidays from coming, I’d be no more successful than the Grinch who found “it came just the same.”
Brandon was a gourmet cook, and he went all out for two annual occasions. One of them was the fourth Thursday of November. More than once, he said, “Mom, you know Thanksgiving is ‘my thing’!” And it was. There was the year he smoked the turkey. There was the year he deep-fried the turkey. (I thought he or someone else was going to end up with a bad burn that year, and based on the William Shatner/StateFarm "Eat, Fry, Love" video, it seems my concerns were well founded!) There were the years of various pre-cooking “rubs.” Then he discovered brining!
Brandon in the kitchen
My job always was to make the dressing/stuffing. Brandon would show up to help me stuff, finish prepping, and get the big, heavy bird into (and later out of) the oven. Once the roasted bird was out of the oven, Brandon taught us to let the bird “rest” for 20 or 30 minutes or so, and it was Brandon who would carve it (all the while making jokes about the pathetic culinary knives we had available) and create a beautiful presentation of the sliced poultry.
Brandon and I both believe(d) that the Thanksgiving main dish should be a fresh – never frozen – turkey once we discovered how much better a fresh turkey retains its “juices.” Each year one or the other of us would head to the Tewes Poultry Farm two to three days before Thanksgiving to choose the perfect-sized bird. Then a couple of years ago a friend of mine raised turkeys, took them to a farm that was state-approved to butcher poultry a few days before Thanksgiving, and I bought a bird from her. Brandon was gung-ho about the farm butcher business and decided the next time my friend raised turkeys that he and I would accompany her when the turkeys “bought the farm”!
My friend didn’t raise turkeys last year, so Brandon went to Tewes; however, this year she again raised Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner turkeys. It was too late for Brandon to be part of this year’s entourage to the farm for the butchering process, but I still wanted to go and support our turkeys. As it happened, I was to watch Brandon and Christina’s daughter Morgan on the day chosen as the turkeys' date with destiny. Morgan, my friend and I followed her husband and son, who was driving the pick-up truck carrying the crate of turkeys. From the baby backpack, Morgan seemed more interested in the farm family dogs than in the turkey process.
I felt Brandon with me the entire morning. He had a gift for being completely comfortable wherever he was, so he would have immersed himself in the visit to the farm. He would have loved meeting the family and watching how each member had a role in the butchering business. I could hear him asking questions, requesting to participate in the process, and talking knives as the women cleaned the turkey carcasses and cut out the giblets.
I took two smaller turkeys for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner because Brandon won’t be here to help get one giant bird in and out of the hot oven. He won’t be here to nudge his dad aside to take over the carving and presentation or me aside to take over the roux and gravy making. He won’t be here physically when we toast the legacy of our special chef.
Yet this year I give thanks for the years we were blessed to have Brandon with us. I give thanks that I was given the gift of being his mother. I give thanks for the lessons – cooking and otherwise – Brandon taught us. I give thanks for his sisters and brothers and for the gift I was given of being the mother of each of these special individuals. I give thanks for his wife and the gift of his adorable daughter, and I give thanks for each of my children’s chosen partners and the gift of each of the wonderful grandchildren they’ve brought into our family’s lives. I give thanks that Brandon let us walk with him through the highs and lows of his illness with its dark and light places. And I give thanks for the gift of being with him as he and his body, which had had its start within my own body, parted.
This Thanksgiving is so bittersweet. Memories of last year’s and other Thanksgivings are both genuinely joyful and profoundly painful all at the same time. After joking with a couple of guys in the elevator of the nearby fitness club this morning, both of them wished me “Happy Thanksgiving” as they stepped out a floor ahead of me. Until that moment I’d thought I was fine but, before the elevator doors had a chance to close again, tears were rolling down my cheeks. How we all loved watching Brandon doing “his thing” and tasting the results! How much we all miss him even as we do our best to butcher, brine, roast, carve, present and toast in a manner that does him proud…