This is the time of the year when we are meant to show gratitude for all that we have. And I am grateful. So, so grateful for every wild and fantastic turn my life has taken that has led me to this point. But I am also indescribably sad. This is one of the hardest nights I’ve ever had.
I am a lucky person. My life could have gone in a million directions – any of our lives could – but mine went the way that it did in many respects because of my grandmother. She was fierce and smart, loving and loyal, and fucking vicious when the time called for it. She refused to accept anything but the best of everyone, and I have spent my life trying to live up to the expectation of who she thought I was, and who she thought I could be.
Some of my best memories take place in her kitchen, and that’s why I’m writing this now.
I can remember being young and sitting cross-legged in the middle of the kitchen counter as she rolled out dough. She’d pass me scraps of dough, and I’d pile them up. She would call for ingredients, and I’d have them ready. Sometimes.
Sometimes I would sit with my book and forget that I was helping. Yeah, okay, maybe more than sometimes. But she never made me feel bad for not paying attention. She’d remind me of what we were doing, and then ask me about what I was reading.
I can remember the way she helped me, with my little rolling pin, on the section of the counter I’d claimed for myself – space I know now she likely needed (to say nothing of the space I was taking up myself as I perched on the counter) to help me roll out my own dough. I remember eating the apple slices out of the bowl every single time she turned around and feeling so very proud of my sneakiness.
I remember Janis coming through the speakers and all the times she sliced her fingers with that silver paring knife. I remember learning to put foil around the edges of a pie, and to sprinkle a bit of sugar on the top. I remember being so damn proud when my little tiny pie came out next to her great big ones and being so happy when it was every bit as delicious.
She didn’t just put on a dinner. She put on an event. One I looked forward to every year. She made everything a production, and I got to participate. It wasn’t just passing out plates or moving chairs, I got to create with her. I got to flour my hands and mold my own dough. Even then, she encouraged me to create my own space in the world.
As I got older, she’d read what I was reading, and talk to me about authors and stories and fictional worlds that I found so much easier to navigate than my own. And then I’d read what she was reading, and we would talk about those authors and those worlds. I never got too big to sit on the counter, and she never made me feel silly for doing it.
When Kaleb was born, she sent me my pie pans. My little tiny pans, that she helped me use every year while I grew up. She even sent me the tiny rolling pin for him. She made jokes about little feet getting in the way of pie crusts and told me to carry on the tradition.
And I have. I’ve made pies with my kids every year, without fail. Even in the midst of depression. Even when the last thing I wanted was to be all the things you need to be in a kitchen with kids. Calm and compassionate and patient and fun. I could point to two years of the last ten that were bad ones for me, and I forced myself to do it because I knew she would ask me if I had. And I couldn’t lie to her. So I did it. Even when all I wanted was to hide.
I ended up loving those moments far more than I could probably ever make anyone understand. They were bright spots in dark times.
I carry on the tradition.
But that makes this year by far the hardest.
Because this is the first year I can’t tell her about it.
This is the first year I can’t call her and tell her how I added extra apples so the kids could sneak them behind my back like she used to let me do.
This is the first year I can’t call her so we can share complaints about how miserable it is to core apples, and how weird the dough feels when your fingers get all pruney after you’ve spent far too much time peeling and slicing fruit.
This is the first year I can’t send her pictures, or videos, or ask her questions. This is the first year I can’t watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with her on the phone.
This is also the first year I’m hosting Thanksgiving.
I can’t call her to freak out. Or to complain. Or to laugh. Because this is my first year without her. And I don’t know how to do that.
I know she’d laugh at me if she was here. She’d laugh at me for forgetting some basic key ingredient (sugar), meaning I have to go back to the store tomorrow at the crack of dawn. She’d laugh at me for stressing out. She’d call me a worrier and tell me to relax because everything will work out.
Okay, that last one was a lie. She’d probably be freaking out with me. But she’d also make room on the counter for me to sit while I panicked.
She’d also know exactly when to pour the wine.
I am incredibly grateful. Because she gave me a gift that can never be taken. She taught me about love and life and laughter and how to put all those things into food, and I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t had her.
My boys and my nieces have a tradition that will hopefully stay with them for years to come, because of her. Tomorrow, they’ll sit on my counter. And they’ll probably be silly, or not pay attention, and messes will be made.
I like to think she’d love every moment of it.
I am grateful. I’m also sad.
Savor not just the food this week, but the people. Because life is too short.
I love you, Nana. And I miss you desperately.
Thank you for… everything.