Gobbling It Up
All of her adult life, Gramma LaBeau had the entire extended family for Thanksgiving dinner. It started the first year of her marriage and a total of ten sat at her table. Even though she didn't know how to cook, she told her in-laws, "I can read and I can follow directions." It was years, though, before she admitted she had to bake a second turkey that first Thanksgiving because no recipe told her to take the wrapping off of the turkey and remove the package of giblets inside before cooking it.
Three years later, her sister had moved away and so had some in-laws, but her own two children replaced them. By the time she and her husband Don celebrated their tenth anniversary, the family and guests swelled to fifteen. The youngest child always said the blessing. After the noon meal, the kids would toss Frisbees, sometimes having to retrieve one from the roof.
"Be careful climbing up there," Gramma would warn, "I don't want to have to visit you in the hospital." Then she'd rejoin the parents and siblings drinking coffee and munching on pumpkin pie and watch football games. Many stayed till late in the evening.
The tradition continued and when the LaBeaus celebrated their thirtieth anniversary, a new generation of that family was well underway and the numbers increased. However, that was offset by people moving away or passing away. The ones still present continued to enjoy the turkey dinner and the camaraderie that followed.
As Gramma got older and slowed down a bit, by the fiftieth celebration, family members started bringing side dishes and desserts. They also spent less and less time at her house after dinner.
Sad-eyed, she'd say, "I wish they wouldn't gobble down their food and eat and run, but I guess I'm lucky they come around at all. Everybody's so busy."
When Grandpa didn't make it through a heart attack and others offered to take over the task, Gramma refused. She continued to host the celebration and wearily washed her Haviland china and sterling silver every year after everyone had gone home.
"Once a year," she'd say. "It's the only time we get together nowadays. I can manage to do this once a year."
Then came the time she couldn't. The year Gramma died all of the family gathered in her kitchen and cooked the turkey the night before. The next morning, they set the dining room table with fine china, crystal goblets and Wallace sterling silver. It took all six of them to accomplish the task she'd done alone.
The youngest child, age six, read the blessing she'd written herself: Thank you, Lord, for all those years we had with Gramma and her great food. I'm sure she's up there in heaven with you now and I bet she wouldn't even let you cook the turkey. We're going to eat the last pumpkin pie she ever made; we found it in the freezer.
She swallowed a sob. Bye, Gramma, I love you.