My friend Judith said today that she wondered what other people's attitude was about Thanksgiving leftovers. I know what my father thinks.
Other than the red beans and rice that were a staple of his childhood and that my mother still cooks for him and her children and a grandson who has the greatest affinity for them, the one thing that dad could eat every day is leftover Thanksgiving turkey.
There was a time when I was not sure if this affinity was one of convenience, necessity or of a favorite taste on the pallet and stomach. My mother assures me that it is a favorite. My introduction to this affinity made it not so clear.
A day or two after the Thanksgiving when I was four and my sister was three, we found ourselves, for several days, in a one-parent house. Mom was in the hospital. Dad was left alone to take care of us. Lucky for him, he had what was left of a 24-pound turkey and other fixings that were never going to be consumed by two people and two little kids.
So, the first day, we had Thanksgiving leftovers. Easy enough. They second day? We had Thanksgiving leftovers. The third day, dad served Thanksgiving leftovers. It was either on that day or the next that my father's two lovely children sat at the dinner table, not moving a muscle, not lifting a fork and not budging an inch in spite of dad's urging us to eat.
Dad was not a clean-the-plate kind of person, but it was important that his kids get nourishment, and excuse from the table was did not come unless enough of the right nutrients made their way into our bodies, enough protein, enough green, yellow or orange vegetable and enough to make his kids healthy. So, it must have been some kind of pity, mercy or grace with which he viewed his children's sad faces, tired of turkey, tired of missing mom, and too tired to know we were hungry.
I suppose dad was tired, too. He did a good job in mom's absence. We were well cared for and generally were in good spirits in spite of knowing mom was not there. We did miss her. I can only imagine his sadness, as he relented and packed us up to go to McDonald's. Sadness for his kids, who endured without mom, without something new to eat. Sadness that his lovely bride was in the hospital. Sad from fatigue.
It was many years before we know why mom went to the hospital. That holiday weekend, she almost lost the pregnancy that would in months become my brother Michael. I am still amazed at how my parents handled this episode. I remember being woken up early in the morning. Mom stood in the kitchen. I don't remember much except that they told us that mommy had to go to the hospital—right now. I remember mom holding herself up by the kitchen counter on one side and dad's strong arms on her other.
I remember that during one of the most frightening events a couple can go through, my parents said that everything was going to be alright, that mommy was going to be fine, but they also instilled in their children, with some kind of calm spirit, that everything was going to be alright. We were not afraid. Even for the trip to the hospital, we were well cared for.
Mom and dad did this with such skill, care and love. Kind of like today's President, there was no drama—at least not for us kids.
Months later, mom and dad felt confident enough to talk to us about having a baby brother or sister. We still wondered where this baby was going to come from, where would we get it. I think at one point, I asked if we went to a baby store to pick it out. And that May, we had a baby brother. We were kids. And four days of Thanksgiving leftovers was a small price for my sister and I to pay for him. It was a great reward for what my mother endured and the character, faith and enough judgment to know when to let the kids have McDonald's that pulled us through.
I do remember sitting speechless at the dinner table that November. But I can only imagine what was going through dad's head and what was in his heart that evening as we opened the wrapped hamburgers and placed the french fries in the messy pools of ketchup three- and four-year-olds make. I have sat at McDonald's, being a dad in speechless moments, hoping the hamburgers and play room would sufficiently mask hints of sadness on the face of my son's dad. I wonder if I have been so good at freeing my son of such burdens of the grown-up.
This year, I still have some leftovers from Thanksgiving in my ice box. I will have to finish them soon, frozen or not. They are quite good. Not just turkey. New Orleans gumbo. Mom makes it every holiday season. But I still know when it's time to eat out. At least I think I do.
If you have any leftovers stories, I'd be glad to hear them. Share them here, if you like. Or any holiday story. Especially the Thanksgiving ones. Good or bad. Funny or not. I don't want to forget.