Ten Turkey Teachings from My First Favorite Teacher: Introduction

Just Make Time

This image is my mom with one of her “little buddies.” No matter what was going on in her kitchen, if a little one toddled past, she made time to stop and sit right down on her “you-can-eat-off-of-it-of-course” clean floor. She’d focus totally, as though nothing else in the world was going on—even though it usually was. This image typified her approach to her family—my family. It’s an approach I strive to echo every day.

It’s almost three years now since I lost my mom. On some levels, it feels like time stopped moving that day. On other levels, these past three years seem to have flown by. When did it become three years? Someone really smart told me it would be like this. He was right. He also said that no matter how “fine” I am, my missing of her would sneak up on me when I least expected it, and that this kind of surprise would probably go on forever. (The guy’s moving up to genius level in my book. Is he Carnac?)


Sixes and Sevens

Last Sunday, I was, as my mom would have said, “At sixes and sevens.” Even walking twelve miles didn’t help. We’d been making all kinds of logistical plans for this upcoming Thanksgiving break, something I typically loved doing. Ah.  That’s exactly what had been bothering me. I’d crashed right into a big multi-faceted memory that I was completely unprepared to encounter—Thanksgiving preparations with my mother. How did I miss that? Hello, loss; enter stage left.

Those wondrous, rich, warm memories still make me smile even in the midst of my saddened recognition that they are long over. Never one to limit my contemplation to the past, I tend to zoom right past the present into the future. So, I quickly realize that my own kids won’t ever have those same sorts of Thanksgiving memories with their mom. We don’t “do” Thanksgiving each year; instead, we “go to it.” We travel back to my hometown to share this holiday with the rest of my family. This is the only Thanksgiving my children know. So, I console myself that they’ll have their memories, different from mine, though equally if not more caloric.

I immediately felt better as I revisited my memories. They still make me smile, even now. My mother’s still teaching me, even now. That’s when I decided to stop missing the past and start integrating it. I decided to cast a wider net than just sharing these stories with the two unsuspecting travelers in the back seat of our car as we motor towards our celebration next week. 

What I miss so much at Thanksgiving is the preparation and planning that my mother and I used to share. Clearly, major corporate takeovers were no match for the level of precision, planning, and protocol that we brought to bear on our annual task—loving every minute. I can’t replicate these traditions or create these same experiences now for my children or myself.

What I can do is pass along some of the stories. Sharing some of the amazing things my mother taught me, year after year, as we made our way through the many days and nights leading up to this holiday, might even help others. That was always important to her, as it is to me. It’s also important to my kids. So, in honor of this common denominator, share I shall.


Always and Never

A lot of people have trouble at this time of year, kicking off with Thanksgiving and tumbling through to New Year’s Day. At this time of year the words always and never seem to pop up a lot. “We always make sage stuffing. We’ve simply never been a corn and mushroom stuffing sort of family.” Always. Never. Such absolutes tie back to traditions we each hold dear.

To many, the holiday season always looks like others do it better, enjoy it more, or don’t gain an ounce. Many people find themselves grappling with memories, as I was last Sunday. Others may feel overtired, overstressed, or underprepared for the realities. Still others may hope for a level of perfection that’s only attained on the Hallmark channel.

As I sifted through my mother’s words of Thanksgiving wisdom, two thoughts immediately struck me. First, these memories are so deeply ingrained that ten mantras came rapidly to mind. And second, I realized she wouldn’t have labeled them as such. To her, they were “simply the way it all was—and was supposed to be—every year.”

To me, these precious gems are substantive, serving to remind me of my own history. They’re also comical; I clearly get my sense of humor from my upbringing. These exchanges are as sharp as if they were taking place in the present. Through this recall, these memories of past Thanksgivings are now a part of my present. Sharing these stories weaves them into my current blueprint of expectations, of what “Thanksgiving is (and was always) supposed to be.”


Write Now, Pack Later

In my work with and for teachers, I know that lessons and learning can happen everywhere; we have only to look—and listen. My mother, though physically gone, left behind a rich legacy and many story-clad teachings. Her tag lines could inspire some of us to recognize patterns from the past, choose the traditions that still resonate, and look, listen, and even learn from new experiences. There is no singular way to DO Thanksgiving. Always and never might give way to perhaps.

So, I’ll spend this time writing instead of packing in hopes that these slivers help put this special holiday into a different perspective—for all of us. (Yes, sliver was a carefully selected word; that was the precise portion one was always supposed to cut of the pumpkin pie, albeit seventeen times—but never in front of witnesses.)

We’re likely to continue to choose our always traditions; we’re just as likely to continue to hold equally fast to our nevers. But if these tales help to spark you to try one new thing, discover that one CAN enjoy Thanksgiving even with store-bought mashed potatoes, then I made the right chose to pack later. I have every confidence that we will not pull out of the driveway with my undone laundry trailing behind us. Packing always gets done just as losing those last six pounds before overeating probably never will.

Stay tuned for the next three posts. Here’s a preview of the first three lessons.

1.    It’s not about the turkey.

2.    We don’t REALLY need it.

3.    Set the table early.

What lessons did your family teach you at Thanksgiving? We hope you’ll comment below and share just on