When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of family – I'm sure that's true for most people – family gathered, eating way too much, and thanking God for their blessings.
It's best when the whole family is gathered 'round. Nothing makes a mother happier than when all of her children are reunited under one roof.
Since I last wrote my column, a lot has happened with my family. We lost a very important member … and no, it was not my Cute Little German Mother, though she would say that it should have been.
On May 5, 2013, I lost my oldest son in a car accident. It has been, and will continue to be, very difficult to navigate this world in the usual fashion, but we are working on it.
For Thanksgiving 2012, Josh came to visit and help with the cooking. He had a few months of culinary school under his belt and couldn't wait to try his new skills on us.
The night before Thanksgiving, the two of us went to the store because he wanted to try out putting a “sweater” of pork fat on the turkey. At first I was skeptical, but we went with it. He assured me that they had done it at school and it was awesome.
After searching for “fatback” (something I had heard of but never before sought) we gave up and settled on some thickly sliced bacon.
He made his jokes and had others smiling at the store, as he always did, everywhere he went.
If ever there was a life of the party, it was that boy.
The next morning at about 6:30, it was time to get the turkey ready and in the oven. Josh was fast asleep, so I decided to tackle the bacon sweater myself.
“Oh, Mama, that's not what it's supposed to look like,” he said with a wide grin when he saw it. But he was thankful that I didn't wake him up at 6:30.
He got up about 9.
“Oma, I'm gonna make you breakfast,” he announced. “You're gonna get Eggs Benedict.”
Oma is what the grandkids call my Cute Little German Mother.
“Oh vow, dat sounds vonderful,” she said.
The Little Cutie devoured every bite, pausing only to praise Josh's work in between.
“Josh-u-va, dis is delicious!”
We spent much of the rest of the morning in the kitchen together. I was tickled to have someone in there helping, whom I did not have to persuade or threaten.
He showed me how to cut the onion up like a chef (still don't have that mastered) and many other little tips, in between our teasing and tasting.
Reflecting back on Thanksgivings as a child, I remember seeing my mother hard at work in the kitchen. But the Little Cutie would only allow help with setting the table or taking out the trash. She didn't want any interference in the kitchen. And that suited us just fine.
She eventually taught me how to make her wonderful dressing, and still shouts instructions from her chair when I do it today.
“Don't mix it too much!”
“Did you make dat cornbread last night? You haf to make it da night before!”
On that last Thanksgiving together, I showed Josh how to make the dressing.
The turkey, miswrapped as it may have been, was delicious and tender, and surprisingly, did not taste like bacon at all – I think we have a new tradition.
That next spring he finished culinary school and proudly showed me his new business card – “Joshua Oliver-Chef.”
I got the chance to see him in action in the kitchen of the lovely Italian restaurant he worked at in Driftwood, just south of Austin.
I was so proud that I kept trying to take his picture as he worked.
“Mama! None of the other chefs' mothers are taking their pictures … stop it!”
Again with the ever-present big grin.
This year we will have to deal with a painfully empty seat at the table.
But I will be thankful – very, very thankful – for all who are there and the ones who have gone ahead – and for all of the wonderful memories and laughter, and that which is to come.
Life has taught me that sometimes it's not the blessings we are given that teach us the most about love and gratitude, but rather the ones that are taken away.
Cutline: Thanksgiving 2012 with my boys: Logan, left, and Josh, right.