Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

I hope your Thanksgiving went well, if you celebrated. If not... then I hope your November 26th went well.

Our meal came together nicely. The turkey turned out nearly perfect (and we are now all converts to the religion of brining), as did my stuffing, my peas and carrots, and my cranberry sauce. I ended up making two types of cranberry sauce by accident-- long story.

The food that my brothers brought turned out wonderfully as well. Sean brought a green bean casserole and a broccoli casserole; both were magnificent. He said he wasn't happy with the way his biscuits turned out, but I thought they tasted great with butter and cranberry sauce. Sean also helped me make the gravy, a process that was often amusing and sometimes scary, as neither of us had made gravy from turkey drippings before. In the end, the gravy was fine, nicely complementing the turkey and the mashed potatoes.

Speaking of those potatoes-- they were perfect. My other brother David was in charge of both mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. He also made three kinds of ice cream: pumpkin, vanilla and "Atkins"-style chocolate for Sean to take home with him.

David's mashed potatoes were actually more toward the "whipped potatoes" end of the spectrum, but they were impeccable-- not liquidy at all, and not gooey from over-whipping. His sweet potato dish was great but also hilarious-- it made me laugh because the textural contrast was pretty extreme: David had broiled the marshmallow topping into a hard brown carapace, while the sweet potatoes themselves were almost fluffy. The contrast of soft and hard worked well, though: the dish was a delight to chew and to taste. David's three ice creams were all very nicely done, too.

Dad's efforts at making dessert-- two pecan pies, two pumpkin pies, and two rum cakes-- paid off handsomely. Everything he made was fine. Dad can be his own worst critic, though, and he worried about how the pecan pies turned out. For my money, that dessert was my favorite of the three.

So everything went about as well as it could have. We made enough to feed fifteen or twenty people, so we're overstocked with leftovers. Not to worry: we'll be scarfing everything down over the coming week. (Visitors: PLEASE DO NOT BRING FOOD!)

Mom was more animated than she had been recently, perhaps because Sean brought along a special visitor: his black chihuahua Maqz. Mom loves that dog, and when she saw him, she immediately said, "Hey, baby!" in her high-pitched, saccharine, cutesy voice-- the voice she never used for her sons, but always reserved for the dog. Dad noticed that Maqz seemed nonplussed: Mom was wearing her helmet and had obviously changed in terms of her health and demeanor; the last time Maqz saw Mom was in April or May, before her massive MRSA infection, and before she'd had part of her skull removed. As dogs often do, Maqz probably sensed right away that something was very wrong. Still, despite the fact that I think him a naughty, spoiled dog, he settled next to Mom after dinner and allowed her to stroke his head. For a moment, it felt like old times, and I was touched to see the bond between Mom and her favorite dog.

Overall, the day was a mix of frenetic preparation, monstrous gluttony, desultory dish-washing, and postprandial quiescence. By 9PM, everyone looked slumped and exhausted, defeated by the sheer amount of food. It's right and proper that Thanksgiving should come only once a year: any more often than that, and the entire country would explode.

Mom rested on the couch a while, then went to bed around 11PM; Sean left early with Maqz; he said he needed to be up early on Friday. David hung around and helped with food containerization and cleanup, and also helped Mom off the couch when she felt it was time to go to bed. Earlier in the evening, Sean had tried to use my computer, and we discovered that my poor Asus had caught a virus-- one that suckered me into paying $40 for bogus anti-virus software. I flushed the virus, but will need to call my bank Friday morning to cancel payment. Stupid, stupid, stupid. It was a bizarre note on which to end an otherwise good day, but I'm hoping that there won't be serious ramifications from this mistake (it may be too late: I gave the virus a bunch of crucial personal information).

Lurking in the background of all this hubbub was the thought that this might have been Mom's final Thanksgiving. She's seven months into this trial now; GBM victims of Mom's age normally live an average of thirteen months, so the clock is always ticking. I've been trying to tell myself not to think in such terms-- "final Thanksgiving" or "final Christmas" or "final trip to Texas." Better to live moment to moment, to concentrate on the present and deal with the matters at hand. That's enough stress right there, isn't it? And yet... somber thoughts burble up unbidden. As time marches relentlessly forward, and Mom's tumors with it, I find myself reflexively marking the days by taking note of each milestone on the calendar: birthday. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Seasonal changes.

In times of trial, it's easy to despair. Dark thoughts have a way of creeping into the mind, settling there and threatening one's equilibrium. Such thoughts needn't be banished, but they do need to be put in proper perspective, especially on a day like Thanksgiving. Yes, time grinds on, bringing Mom ever closer to the end... but that's just as true for the rest of us as it is for her. Death is, when looked at this way, a universal-- and therefore trivial-- fact of life. We make a big deal of death, but its inevitability is inscribed in the nature of the cosmos. Worrying about the inevitable may be natural, but it's not the most constructive thing we could be doing. Thoughts of death should be tempered with gratitude for what each new moment brings, for the people we know and the new people we meet, for the care we receive and for our ability to return such kindness. Life isn't merely lived deathward; it's also lived lifeward.

So instead of ending this post on a somber note, I'd like to express how thankful I am to be part of such a loving, caring family. We've shown each other that we know how to come together in a time of crisis-- that we won't abandon or ignore each other, and that we can work despite our differences toward a common goal, such as offering Mom the best possible care and attention. I'm also thankful for friends like Mike, who have taken time to be there for us, or who have written me from afar. I'm thankful for the various circles of care that have ministered to us-- Mom's Korean women's society, our church, and Mom's former coworkers. Cards, food, bouquets, and gifts still come from all directions.

If acts of kindness are the flowers we give each other, then our family is blessed with a magnificent garden.


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1 comment:

Nomad said...

Absolutely beautiful.