From the month I turned four years old until the month after I turned thirty-seven years old, my grandmother lived down the street from my childhood home in my hometown. Thirty-three years in the same house - in the same kitchen - cooking meals and hosting holidays for her family, she and that house were the rare constants in my life.
And, for the first thirty of those years, my mother was right there with her... hosting, preparing, arguing about who was going to make what, and laughing about who let the bread in the oven burn this time.
Although my mom and grandma are not physically in my life now, what they mean to me endures. Memories of gathering at Gram's house for so many years to celebrate, give thanks, and take comfort in the love and support found there, will live on in my heart forever. Yes, they argued, nit-picked, and bickered at each other; yet, despite the imperfections and family dysfunction, there was laughter, loyalty, commitment, resilience and love.
After our family's Thanksgiving gathering last year, I wrote the following in honor of them.
This year, my sister and her husband hosted Thanksgiving. It was an extra special occasion, not only because of the long awaited and beautiful new setting - their newly built home - but also because my siblings and I haven't spent many Thanksgivings together in the last few years, all more often attending our respective spouses' family gatherings.
As we sat down, the eleven of us held hands - my older sister, her husband and son, my older brother, his wife, son and daughter, and me, my husband, daughter and son. When my brother began the blessing, expressing his gratitude for this family, this day, this meal, I looked around at each face there and found my eyes welling up with tears. The overwhelming rush of emotion I felt caught me by surprise, and I found myself at a loss for words; which for me, is rare.
Tears of joy, tears of sorrow... I wasn't exactly sure at first, but I think it was a potent mix of both.
My younger sister was not able to join us that day, and I wished I could have seen her face amongst us at that table. That was most definitely the sorrow. But being there with everyone else, all of us sitting there together... the joy. And as strong as both of these emotions were, they were compounded still with another distinct feeling. One of a shift taking place, a changing of the guards, of sorts, in which my grandmother and mother were symbolically passing the matriarchal torch of our family down to my sister and me. Even though these women both passed away over six and eight years ago respectively, I had not felt the deep void they had each left as profoundly as I did in that moment.
As the ones who orchestrated to bring our three new, young families together that day, my sister and I were now the newly crowned matriarchs, no matter how strange it felt. Strange because it was the first time in a very long time that we "kids" (at least three of the four of us) sat at the same table on this holiday, just as we'd done for many years past, alongside our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. The difference was, on this day, none of our elders were there with us.
No longer the kids at the Thanksgiving table, WE were now the elders holding up this family tradition. We were the ones bringing our spouses and children together to eat, share, laugh, visit, love, and create lasting memories; and now it was the time for our kids to sit with their parents, uncles, aunts and cousins to create their own memories of home, family, comfort and security. It was surreal to see our five beautiful children sitting there - happy, healthy, and smiling - just soaking it up... all the joy, all the love, all the togetherness. All so blissfully unaware of how tough life can be, and will be, at times for them; and unable to fully comprehend the fragility and transitory nature of life or the impermanence of time and loved ones.
I know that their memories of this Thanksgiving, and others like it - laughing, playing and enjoying each other - will stay with them, shape them, comfort them, and carry them through the years, just as it did for us, until that one day arrives, that one moment, when the torch is passed to them.