My mother did holidays like no one else I’ve ever encountered. She went beyond what most people would consider reasonable, and it made for magical experiences. My father, up at 3am, still wrapping presents on Christmas Eve after the partying might not call it all magical, but the special holiday memories are with us all. When the grandchildren came along, the holidays just got bigger.In November 2012, my mother had been fighting pancreatic cancer for two years and received the news that no more treatment could be done. She was in Houston with my brother and his wife where she was being treated and it was time to go back home to MS. My dad was going to drive her, but she was very weak, could not walk without assistance, and had oxygen. My dad also does not walk well, and the eight hour trip was going to be difficult, so I offered to fly in from CA to drive with them.
I arrived in Houston four days before Thanksgiving. By the time we left the next morning for MS, my brother and his son decided that they would then come to MS in a couple of days to celebrate Thanksgiving with us. My dad said that we would go to the local grocery store where they cook the whole meal for you and just pick up a pre-cooked meal. This all sounded very unlike any Thanksgiving that we had ever had, but good to me with the weary and sad group that we were.Safe and sound back home in MS, my mom settled into the chair in the family room that she would remain in until she passed away. Then she started handing out jobs. My niece and nephew would make appetizers, my dad would make his traditional turkey and stuffing, and my sister and I would make sides and pies. She had us check her overstuffed pantry and 3 refrigerators for items that we already had and made this list to purchase. I told her that we already had 6 lbs. of butter, but she said that we needed more. Below is most of the first page of the list. I only remember, because I took a picture of it. There was more on the bottom and back.
Baking-Dark Karo syrup
Dark brown sugar
Rollout pie crusts NOT in TINS
Produce-Apples-Granny Smith, Gala
Large bag russet potatoes
Large bag onions
Bag mixed vegetables
Bag of Vidalia onions
Fruit salad stuff
Milk products-Refrigerated creamer Ted- Vanilla
2 quarts, ½ and ½
3 quarts whipping cream
Velveeta (for queso)
Gruyere cheese large piece
Blue cheese good kind out of specialty case
Large chunk of Swiss cheese
Pack of 8 oz cream cheese
Turkey Butterball-fresh if possible
Little frozen meatballs
We called hospice and they offered to come in immediately, but she told everyone that we needed to have Thanksgiving first. So, we went shopping and started cooking. She sat in her chair and wrote recipes, or told us where to find the recipes. When we were cooking, she called us over occasionally to make sure we remembered important details or we ran over to her to check where certain dishes or ingredients were and that we were doing things correctly. As long as my mother was alive, she was going to make sure that this was up to her holiday standards. We made 5 pumpkin pies (the recipe makes 2 1/2, but that is never enough, so we always double it!), apple pies, pecan pie, sweet potatoes, and prepped other items the night before.On Thanksgiving Day, we all worked together to create an incredible and huge meal starting with appetizers of artichoke dip, queso, Vidalia onion dip, blue cheese, mini meatballs in barbeque sauce, veggies, baguettes, and other dippers. Around 4:00, ten of us, including my mother, sat down to our traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes (forgotten in the oven, but made it to the table at the end), creamed onions, asparagus casserole, fruit salad, and rolls. My father and mother said grace. We were so very thankful to be together for what we knew was her final Thanksgiving. We were all surrounded by people we loved and who loved us dearly.
For dessert and many meals after, we had pie, lots of pie. There was almost a pie per person. Three weeks later, she passed away. I often think of that meal that was supposed to be purchased ready to eat from the store, but turned into a two day cooking adventure involving anyone around who was willing to help. This was life with my mom. She always wanted the best for everyone around her, told us all what we needed to do (whether we wanted to hear it or not), produced a surplus of everything, and created memorable experiences filled with family and love.