Thanksgiving is a time of reflection and festivity, joy and pain, laughter and tears, all disguised as a holiday season. 2011 was the year that Thanksgiving would not end.
Bernice had perfected holiday planning with years of experience. There were special place settings, distinctive menu formats, guest invites, intricately folded napkins, all designed to make a visual impact. Next were lists of things to do, household repairs to make, charts for what needed cleaning, and an order of operations which turned a day of feasting for a party of twenty into a well-oiled machine.
The menu was created at the beginning of the month with email invites sent out for guest requests and special consideration. Then wine selections were researched and ordered to offer the perfect vintage to compliment to the upcoming feast. Grocery lists were prepared two weeks out, with dry goods shopping the weekend before and fresh produce two days prior to the event. Cooking was a three day affair, with snacks and appetizers to tempt any palate, special foods to intrigue the arriving guests, and small plates to keep them wanting more. When the day arrived, helpers were chosen with care and provided specific tasks in their comfort and aptitude zone to make the day run like a military operation.
For fifteen years this was the typical Thanksgiving at the Grussing house. Fifteen years of prep, setup and tear down. Fifteen perfect holiday seasons that gave Bernice a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Everything changed in 2011.
The call came in the afternoon, which was strange in itself, as they never spoke except at the 6 o’clock hour. When she saw it was her mother, Jeri, she answered immediately. Her mother had not been feeling well lately.
“Hi Mom, is everything ok?” she asked.
“Oh, everything is fine,” Jeri replied, “I just wanted to see if you had room for one more at Thanksgiving. I was thinking of driving up.”
Their relationship had changed from one of mother and daughter to one of true friendship and mutual respect over the years. They spoke every day at 6pm and told each other of their day, their ambitions, and their troubles. Jeri lived in a small farm town in the panhandle of Florida, never traveled, and rarely drove more than 20 miles from her home. A trip to Atlanta was a major undertaking indeed for this woman.
“Of course there is room! I am so excited; I cannot believe you will come!” Bernice was incredibly pleased and surprised and over the next hour they worked out the details.
The planning continued and the guest list that year grew to an astounding 36 as word spread of family coming. Siblings and cousins and in-laws called, all deciding at the last minute that this was the year to get together.
The day of Jeri’s arrival came, and the gathered family all went outside to greet their matriarch. The woman who stepped out of the car was not her mother; this tiny fragile creature could not have weighed 110 pounds! When last they had seen one another, her mother had been showing her age, a little slower, a little thinner, a little grayer, but still robust and hearty. Her slow, jerky movements were not the fluid grace of remembrance. In only eight months, this woman who was the strongest, bravest person had become a dried husk of her former self.
It was cancer, diagnosed just the day before.
The planning forgotten, Jeri and Bernice sat and talked for the next two days about what was, what might be, and what would eventually happen. Jeri broke the news of her illness in typical stoic fashion.
“I’m sick baby girl. I got cancer.”
The guests began to arrive and each pulled Bernice aside, asking after Jeri’s health. Being an optimistic and private sort, Jeri insisted that the only response be, “She’s a little under the weather right now, but will be fine.”
In light of the tragic news, Bernice’s usual neurotic attention to detail was forgotten. All the planning and…