Every year on this day we pause to remember and pay tribute to one of the best friends we ever had.
Her name was Eve.
We post the following reflection every year in Eve’s honor.
This is her story: Remembering Eve.
Turning a corner today to do a little Christmas contemplatin’. It won’t take long. Promise. So pour yourself a hot cuppa and grab up a chair. Put your feet up. And give a listen for a min or two. Ready? Good. Here goes:
Christmas is a time for joy! For family and friends! It’s a time for Child-like wonder and merry-making. But shadows can also hover over the season, intensifying feelings of loneliness or loss.
For those whose family relationships are strained or difficult, the obligatory annual Christmas gathering can feel like getting a root canal. And may be just as dreaded.
For those who’ve lost loved ones, the holidays may accentuate those absences.
Singer/songwriter Matthew West understands this. West came out with a song awhile back that captures both the joy and the sense of loss that can accompany the season: “The Heart of Christmas.”
It’s a perennial favorite. Give it a listen to see why:
“Wherever you are, no matter how far
Come back to the heart, the heart of Christmas
Live while you can, cherish the moment
The ones that you love, make sure they know it
Don’t miss it, the heart of Christmas.”
So. While you’re celebrating and making merry this season, can you slow down and remember those who may be struggling?
🎄Donate to your local food bank
🎄Befriend an elderly neighbor. Just starting a conversation can have a positive impact. You can also offer to help with practical tasks like shopping or dog-walking or getting them to medical appointments safely.
🎄Invite international students over for dinner
🎄Give a generous tip to a friendly customer service worker like a waiter or barista
🎄Buy a homeless person a sandwich and a hot drink
🎄Help someone who’s struggling with their luggage on public transport and/or give up your seat for same
🎄Buy your friend chocolate or another favorite treat when they’re feeling down. Listen more than you talk if they need to vent
🎄Treat a friend to on an outing or a trip to a Christmas tree farm. Serve hot cocoa and cookies afterwards.
🎄Be extra patient with retail workers, many of whom are stressed and harried this time of year. Don’t forget to thank them and say “Merry Christmas”!
🎄Bake and deliver homemade goodies to your local police and/or fire departments with a note of thanks
This post was originally published here in 2019. We thought it deserved it encore.
Kimber here. Doing my magnificent stuff as we jump in the holidays!
Speaking of holidays, have I got a deal for you! It’s an oldie but a goodie: Marjorie Holmes’s classic, Two From Galilee: The Story of Mary and Joseph.
The first time Mom read this book was shortly after the earth’s crust cooled. Or maybe it was in 1975? (Let’s not quibble, okay? )
“Oh my goodness!” Her Momness exclaimed the other day. We just finished lugging another dusty box up from the resident archaeological dig (Mom calls it “The Basement.” But I have my doubts).
Anyway, we opened this box and lo! It was jammed with beloved books from when Mom was a young’un. You know. Like, 900 years ago. (Don’t tell Mom I said that, okay?)
Candles in the window. Lights up on the tree. Sleigh bells. Mistletoe. Apple-cheeked kids rushing in from a snowy sled run. Hot chocolate and marshmallows. Carols and cantatas. Family. Friends. And… loneliness so thick and heavy, it could crush a camel.
Yes, friends. The holidays aren’t full of fa-la-la-la-la-ing for everyone. In fact, this can be an especially tough time for some. Those facing a job loss or a cut in income. A divorce. An involuntary move. The frostiness of an unresolved conflict. Bad news from the doctor. Betrayal. Feeling utterly alone in the middle of a crowd. Too much money at the end of the month. Distance. One less place set at the table. One less gift under the tree.
If you’ve been there or are there, you know what I mean. And how difficult the holidays can be. Especially if you’re Alone. Or feel that way.
I hear you. It’s one reason I wrote Man in the Corner: A Holiday Story. About newly divorced Mae Taylor and her son Josiah. Their plans to start over solo are jostled when they move next door to Mr. Tom, a lonely widower and retired school teacher. Together, the unlikely trio finds a second chance at faith, hope and love with help from Gettysburg, cookbooks, an attic secret and two ‘Christmas ghosts.’
While we’re on the subject, I also want to offer a video to those who may be struggling this time of year. You’re not alone. Give this Mark Schultz piece a listen:
Grace. And Merry Christmas!
Candle image credit: Creative Commons Zero – CC0.
A half full bag of Purina One dog chow sits in a corner of my kitchen. I should pass it on.
But I can’t.
Friends and family say, “Our dog is expecting puppies soon. You can have the pick of the litter.”
But I can’t.
Selecting a Christmas ham the other day, I thought about which tidbits I’d tidy to the dog dish, saving them for Evie.
And then I remembered.
A boon companion of fourteen-plus years, Eve passed away on December 19. The Eve-less days that followed gimped along with the alacrity of crippled snails on crutches. Emotions rose and fell like the tide. The traditional merriment suggested by the calendar mingled with bereavement, stirring up a cocktail both sweet and tart, like strawberry-rhubarb pie. I didn’t know which flavor to bite in to. And finally chose neither.
“I’ve decided,” I said to husband Chris three days before Christmas. “I want to scatter Eve’s ashes at the Mountain.”
Chris didn’t ask which one. In Washington State, there’s only one.
Our yellow Lab knew Mount Rainier well. Even though she wasn’t allowed on the trails or in any building, Eve loved camping trips to the Mountain. In fact, Evie didn’t seem to care where she was – as long as she was with us.
The first time we took her camping at Ohanapecosh on the southeast hip of Mount Rainier National Park, Eve was uber-miffed about being left outside the tent for the night. As in, “What’s the deal with this, family? How come you’re in there and I’m out here?!” After making her consternation clear, Eve wound up inside, where she promptly plopped onto my feet and drifted into a contented sleep.
And so Mount Rainier was a natural choice for our final goodbye to Eve.
Cramming a last-minute trip to the Mountain into Christmas Eve meant a long, glacial, and exhausting day. But I couldn’t stand the thought of waiting until spring. Chris agreed, which is how we wound up heading to Mount Rainier the morning of December 24.
Seclusion on the Southwest Flank
The car was quiet as we churned out the miles to Ashford and a secluded glen near the Mountain’s southwest flank. Because it requires a steady uphill climb and good land navigation skills to find, the quiet meadow sees few visitors. We discovered it on a previous hike and were dazzled by its September beauty, bursting with blueberries and late wildflowers, hemmed by a laughing creek and soaring evergreens.
The three of us – me, Chris and youngest son Josiah (14) – stopped, parked, and took our time, breath exhaling in frosty plumes as we wordlessly crunched over virgin snow to a corner of the meadow. The Mountain towered overhead in ermine mantle and white-satin snow skirts. An achingly blue sky hung out wood smoke in rungs.
Chris retrieved the urn of Eve’s ashes from his back pack and handed it to me. Clumsy in thick winter gloves, my fingers fumbled with the lid. Maybe it wasn’t just the gloves. I handed the urn back to Chris. He opened it and handed it back.
I knew the protocol. Last words. A final goodbye. Toss.
I couldn’t do it.
The three of us stood there, sniffling. None of us trusted our voices. After a few minutes Chris offered a brief prayer. We said nothing more, choosing to be alone with our separate thoughts of a gentle yellow Lab who came to us as a “cast off” but snuggled her way into our hearts as few have.
Standing in the snow in the winter shadow of the Mountain, we took turns scattering Eve’s ashes. Toes turned numb. Noses reddened. Cherry-cheeked winds scrubbed cyan skies.
And we remembered.
“Good bye Evie” I finally whispered, holding a fine powder of ash in one gloved hand. “You were a good girl. We will never forget you.” I was the last to let her go, ashes floating on a galloping wind riding hard to Puget Sound.
We drove into the park, stopping at Evie’s favorite places. A water dog, Eve loved the Nisqually River. Ohanapecosh. Tipsoo Lake. Christine and Narada Falls. We stopped near Cougar Rock Campground to chain up. We camped there a few years back, the six of us and Eve. The campground is closed now, asleep under a thick quilt of snow.
We made it to Paradise by early afternoon. The alpine aerie is usually smothered under thirty feet of snow – sometimes more – from October through May. Once thawed, Paradise hosts outrageous wildflower runs in July and August, when its world-famous meadows erupt in a glorious bouquet of Renoir pastels. If you’re quick, you can glimpse creamy white dollops of avalanche lilies, waxy-yellow petals of Suksdorf’s buttercup, clusters of fragrant Sitka Valerian, pink bistorts, red-spotted monkey flowers and purple lupine. These vast carpets of floral color brush an iridescent canvas, but their blossoms are as brief as they are dazzling.
Afternoon faded and cotton-candy clouds fluttered over the Tatoosh Mountains like pennants over Yankee Stadium. Fog crept into valleys. Temperatures took a nose dive. We headed back to Longmire, the Nisqually entrance, and the three-hour return trip home. Just past Longmire, Josiah opted to remain in the car listening to Amy Grant croon about chestnuts and an open fire while Chris and I stopped at Tahoma Creek. We walked to the bridge and listened to the frigid waters rush to the Sound as a cirrus sunset draped the sky in peppermint, grape and tangerine.
Shivering in the deepening dusk, I remembered how Eve and I watched scores of Little League games together. I shivered in the bleachers until she apparently figured this out – and managed to maneuver her large self in front of me, using her thick fur coat as a wind break. I also remembered:
And then I heard it. Probably from a passing vehicle. Or maybe I just imagined it: A dog bark. Just once. Then night swirled out of the sky, punctuated by the sigh of a Northwest wind.
Christmas is a season when we give and receive tokens of love. Eve gave not tokens, but love itself. The Mountain gives reminders that winter doesn’t get the last word.
This season of bereavement will thaw.
Snow will retreat. Chinook winds will swim over Paradise meadows. Wildflowers will burst into Renoir bloom. Spring will come again to the Mountain, as it will to us. When it does, I will remember Eve’s last gift. It came not in physical form or tangible shape like those items found under trees on December 25th, but in the solitude of a snow-studded meadow, an achingly blue sky, soaring evergreens and the cool kindliness of memory.
Christmas, Eve. Indeed.*
Eve passed away on December 19, 2013. This post and its companion, Forever, Eve, were the highest rated posts of 2013. You can read more about our ‘best girl’ in my new book, Forever, Eve.
* Watch for an update on the dog front! Coming soon!
Our ‘best girl,’ Eve, passed away on December 19, 2013. This post and its follow-on, Christmas, EVE, were the two highest rated posts of the year. Both posts plus much more are in my new book: Forever, Eve.
“Animal lovers are a special breed of human, generous of spirit, full of empathy, perhaps a little prone to sentimentality and with hearts as big as a cloudless sky.”
– John Grogan, Marley & Me
Her name was Eve. And she was more “human” than most people.
Our first dog and the only other female in the family, “Eve” seemed a natural when considering names for our purebred yellow Labrador retriever. She came into our lives at age three, a “cast off” from a church friend who worked long hours and had “no time” for a dog who “needed people to be happy.” Eve stayed for more than eleven years.
My four sons grew up with her. Romped through the woods together. Splashed in the river. Swam in the lake. Hiked the hills. Played cowboys and Indians. Robin Hood and his Merry Men (it seemed Eve was inevitably assigned the role of Friar Tuck, which somehow seems fitting). We took her just about everywhere: camping trips, Mount Rainier, picnics, reunions, baseball games. Forest, field and vale. “Hi Evie!” I chirped every morning. “How’s my best girl?” She returned the salutation with a cheerful tail thump.
The color of toasted marshmallows with the personality of Pooh Bear, Eve thought everyone was her best friend. She loved everyone equally and well. Eve brought out the best in and thought the best of everyone. She was loyal, loving and generous. Protective. An eternal optimist. She couldn’t wait till I arrived home and danced a canine jig every time I walked in the door. She would quietly pad into my study and plop herself down on the carpet next to my desk, keeping me company as I read and wrote and worked. Even when every other family member scattered to the four winds with work, school, sports or other pursuits, I was never alone. There was always Eve. Forever, Eve.
My good dog seemed to know whenever I was stressed, ill, upset, or otherwise out of it. She stuck to me like crazy glue, refusing to leave my side. Eve also stuck with me through moves and new neighborhoods, injuries, surgeries, job losses, birthdays, and graduations. Funerals, weddings, Christmas parties and kid illnesses. She was my faithful companion over hundreds of miles of trails and hikes, with an uncomplaining, “just-happy-to-be-here, thanks-for-bringing-me-Mom” attitude.
“Lady With The Lab”
I’m told that I was known around town as the “Lady with the Lab.” I suppose it’s true. When my boon companion was younger and more spry, I rarely went anywhere without her – either by vehicle or on foot. Eve was my faithful companion on long morning walks and strolls on the beach until increasing age and arthritis caught up with her. No longer able to climb the stairs to son Nathan’s upstairs bedroom, her preferred sleeping quarters, Eve settled for a warm blanket and a cozy dog bed near a living room heating vent.
The last year of her life, Eve was unable to navigate the thirteen steep steps in and out of our house. So she trained my teenage sons. Seriously. She barked whenever she needed to go out or come up. And they carried her.
When Eve’s fourteen-plus years caught up with her, she deteriorated quickly. It was shocking how fast she faded. She refused food, including her favorite doggie treats. Stopped barking altogether. Could barely manage a feeble tail thump when I entered the room.
“She’s an old dog” the vet said, demonstrating a masterful grasp of the obvious. “She doesn’t have much longer.”
“Is she in pain?” I asked.
“No. She’ll probably just go to sleep and not wake up. Or I could put her down.”
I shook my head, unable to bear the thought of artificially hastening the imminent. Husband Chris didn’t argue. Eve was always “my” dog more than she was anyone else’s. It was my decision.
“As long as she’s not suffering,” I murmured, “I want her to die at home, surrounded by everything and everyone she loves. Not in some impersonal, sterile vet clinic.”
We kept her as comfortable as possible, often waking in the wee hours to tip-toe out to her dog bed and check on her. Relieved at the shallow but rhythmic rise and fall of her chest, I crawled back into bed or sat and talked to her, scratching her ears and rubbing her belly the way she loved.
“We All Do”
The morning of December 19 yawned chill and charcoal gray. Frost feathered rooftops. Lawns wore ice pajamas. I spent most of the morning coaxing liquids into Eve. Adjusting her blanket. Stroking her tawny blond coat. I knew it wouldn’t be long. “You are a good girl, Evie, and I love you. We all do.”
Domestic duties called and I retired to the kitchen. Less than an hour later, son Nathan (21) came into the kitchen with, “I think Eve is gone.” I dashed to the living room, hoping against hope for any sign of life. A pulse. Breath. Anything. There was nothing. She was limp but still warm. And completely, undeniably gone.
The kindest, gentlest soul I’ve ever known, Eve passed away peacefully in her sleep a few days before Christmas.
The season isn’t the same without her. Those who’ve never lost a pet can’t understand. Those who have need no explanation.
I called Chris at work. “I need you to come home. Now.” He did.
“She was always your dog,” Chris said as we gently lifted Eve’s lifeless body into our van for transport to the pet cemetery. “Good girl” I whispered upon arrival, stroking the noble golden head and back in a final goodbye. I removed Eve’s collar and tags and slipped them into my pocket. It was some time before I could bear to leave her.
Some losses are too deep for tears.
An anemic sun dumped dull rays out of a flannel-gray sky as we arrived home to an Eve-less house – for the first time in more than a decade. Thick as a chocolate milkshake, memories poured out of every corner. The house seemed eerily empty and unnaturally quiet without the welcoming bark of my ‘best girl,’ the jangle of her dog tags. The ears pricked at the sound of my voice. The warm amber eyes following my every move. Her black licorice nose gently butting me for attention.
A frosted moon necklaced the Olympic Mountains as I offered a quiet prayer of thanks for the truest friend I’ve ever known. A few hours later, a thin white fleece of snow jacketed the foothills.
I still can’t stand to see or hear dog commercials. I avoid the pet care and dog food aisles. I woke more than once in the pre-dawn gloaming today, thinking I heard her voice. Sometimes I catch myself straining for a “good morning” bark, the flash of a tawny tail.
Evie is gone. And so is a large chunk of my heart.
It’s hard to describe the heart-hole left by the loss of a well-loved pet. But then, Eve wasn’t a pet. She was never “just a dog.” Compassionate, patient, loyal, and selfless to the end, Eve was a palomino sirocco on four legs. A member of the family.
All is Calm
Shortly before her death, I knelt next to her and told her the truth, Marley-esque style. “Eve,” I whispered, “You are a GREAT dog. You are The Best There Ever Was.”
John Grogan put it this way:
“A dog judges others not by their color or creed or class but by who they are inside. A dog doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his.”
I did and Eve did. Her heart was indeed “as big as a cloudless sky.” Eve was more “human” than most people – and our lives are better and brighter for having held her in our hearts. Forever. She truly was The Best.
Good night, sweet girl.
Sleep in heav’nly peace.
Read Eve’s full story at Forever, Eve the book.
Mother’s Day. Flowers. Breakfast in bed. Lunch out. Hallmark. Thanks. Honor. Appreciation. Warm memories and lots of love. And it should be. But “Mother’s Day” isn’t a happy occasion for everyone. For some, “Mother’s Day” is bittersweet. An emotional mine field. The Race is part of my Mother’s Day story.
“You don’t have to get up this early” she smiled as I stumbled out of my bedroom. “I can drive myself. You go back to sleep.”
It was four o’clock in the morning. Saturday morning. The night before Mom casually asked if anyone wanted to join her at her marathon run on San Diego’s Coronado Island. Her 6:00 a.m. run. No takers. Until I decided to surprise her with my groggy appearance and volunteer my chauffeur services. “Mom’ll get a kick out of that” I said to myself. She did.
It was still dark as we backed out of the driveway and nosed the car onto the west bound lanes of Interstate 8. Our Dodge Aspen quickly devoured the miles between our El Cajon home in East San Diego and the coastal community of Coronado.
Mom and I chatted as the sun crept over the horizon, sharing a comfortable conversation that glided easily from one topic to the next. We talked about my plans to transfer to Biola University the next fall, her work as a secondary education supervisor at San Diego State University. My younger brother’s trumpet lessons. My older brother’s track meets. My kid sister’s gymnastics. Dad’s golf game. It all seemed so natural. So permanent.
Traffic was light and we made good time, crossing the cobalt blue girders of an all-but-deserted Coronado Bay Bridge shortly after five in the morning. We had plenty of time to find a parking spot and get Mom warmed up for the competition. Mom pre-registered for the marathon weeks ahead of time to avoid the long lines at the Walk On registration table. She was like that. Organized, thorough, efficient. Able to plan far ahead.
Mom finished her final stretches and headed to the starting line, chipper and cheerful. Yawning, I gave her a hug. “Good luck, Mom. See ya at the Finish Line.”
Mom flashed one of her effervescent smiles and waved. “Here we go, honey,” she beamed, “see ya later!”
The starter’s gun barked and Peggy Naas was off, her red hair blowing in the crisp morning breeze. I ambled back to the car to snooze while she churned out 26.3 miles on foot.
I don’t know why I decided to drag myself out of bed and join Mom that day. Maybe I wanted to repay a small fraction of the unconditional support she had always given me. Maybe I wanted to be there for her, like she was for me. In my corner, cheering me on. Maybe I just wanted some time alone with Mom. If I had known how short our remaining time together would be, I would’ve wanted more.
It was Easter, a few years later. I graduated from college, married, and settled in the Los Angeles suburbs. My younger brother was in college in Florida. My older brother was working for a local aerospace firm. My kid sister was completing her senior year of high school. That April weekend was the first time my family had been together in almost a year.
Mom met us at the door when my husband and I arrived, glowing with the effervescent smile that was her trademark. Chris and I were surprised to find her leaning on a walker. “From my surgery,” she explained, “the doctor suggested I use it until I get my strength back.”
We had no idea. She wasn’t ill or ailing. The doc pronounced her “healthy as a horse, with the heart and lungs of a 30 year-old” at her last annual check-up. “All that running,” he winked, “exercise keeps you young!”
Not wanting to worry us, Mom and Dad decided not to tell us about her surgery a few weeks previously—or its cause—until it was finished and she came home from the hospital. I was startled, a little annoyed.
“We didn’t tell Kurt either” Mom said, referring to my younger brother. “He had final exams and didn’t need anything else on his mind while trying to cram.” Typically Mom, she reasoned that there was “no sense” worrying her kids with some “minor surgery” when “you couldn’t do anything about it” anyway. “Besides,” she beamed, “I feel great!”
Well. She may have felt—and looked—like a million bucks, but I had some questions. “Uh, Mom, you wanna run that part about the `minor surgery’ by me again?”
Mom patiently explained that she had awakened one morning without any feeling in her legs. Minutes later, she was paralyzed from the waist down, unable to move. Neurological and other tests revealed a tumor on or in her spinal column. A 90% blockage, the tumor obstructed the free flow of spinal fluid, hence the sudden paralysis.
“We caught it just in time” the specialist said. “A 100% blockage would’ve meant total—and irreversible—paralysis.” Scalpels removed the bulk of the tumor, but since spinal surgery is considered extremely delicate and dangerous, the surgeon wasn’t chancing total removal. Radiation treatments were ordered to eliminate what the knife had missed.
Hearing “tumor” and “radiation,” my jaw hit the floor. Still smiling pleasantly, Mom quickly assured me that the biopsied tumor was pronounced “benign.” Doctors issued a 90% chance of complete recovery, with no serious side effects. We believed them. We believed her. So we shoved the precarious past aside and enjoyed our Easter weekend as if it was our last. It was April 1984.
When the phone call came from Dad in early June, I knew I was in for a shock. He choked out the news in between sobs.
A neighbor arrived that morning to stay with Mom after everyone else left and Dad departed for work. Noticing Mom’s labored breathing, Miriam phoned Dad at work and then called the paramedics. They arrived within minutes and had Mom prepped for transport to the hospital when Dad arrived, tearing home with the speed of panic. Mom was gone before the ambulance left the driveway.
She was 54.
Oddly enough, her death wasn’t related to the tumor. It was caused by a pulmonary embolism resulting in cardiac arrest.
Her sudden, unexpected death threw our lives into emotional chaos, plunging us into the rabid smelting fires of bereavement. It was a grinding, wrenching process. A season of winter. Strained smiles, sleepless nights. Groping for answers that didn’t come.
One of my most vivid recollections during this time was how loss can be helped or hindered by the Pavlovian responses I rendered as did some family and friends. While my husband and I spent that first Mom-less week in El Cajon, I had the oddest sensation of deja vu. Buried in the newspaper or pouring myself some milk, I would look at the clock and think, “Where’s Mom? Haven’t seen her all morning.” I’d scan kitchen and living room aimlessly, mind refusing to accept the obvious.
“Oh yeah,” I rationalized, “Mom’s out for a run. She’ll be back by lunch.” I slumped into our brown leather recliner and awaited her return. My mind would sometimes take 15 or 20 minutes to catch up with reality. Sleep and song offered sole relief to the omnipresent ache of my waking hours.
After the June memorial service, my husband and I returned to Los Angeles and attempted to resume “ordinary” life. But what did “ordinary” mean, minus Mom?
More than a year later, I half-heartedly opened my Bible to the Book of Job. “I have taken away,” He whispered from Job 1:21, “now see what I will give.”
I’d almost forgotten. “One moment, please” the lab technician said while she tracked down the results from my pregnancy test. We put off starting our family until my husband finished law school, a five-year endeavor. I nervously awaited the test results.
“Congratulations,” the tech said, “you’re pregnant!” I thanked her for the news and hung up the receiver. I glanced at my wall calendar, seeing it for the first time: June 7, 1990. It all came flooding back. The positive test results arrived six years after Mom left us, to the day.
“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away,” Job echoed, “blessed be the name of the Lord.” Seven months later the obstetrician’s first words were, “It’s a boy!” followed by, “He has red hair!” Just like Mom.
We were expecting our second child a year later. My pregnancy was confirmed and we were given an October 1 due date. Then I approached the Throne of Grace with a special request. “Lord,” I began, “our times are in Your hands. It would mean so much to me if You would see to it that this baby is born on Mom’s birthday.”
I went into labor on October 11. Our second son was born the evening of October 12, which would’ve been Grandma Naas’s 62nd birthday.
I still miss Mom, especially when my boys see her photo and ask, “Who dat?” My eyes sometimes mist and my voice may catch as I explain that the slender, red-haired lady in the picture is “Mommy’s Mommy, your Grandma Peggy.”
Frozen in time, she smiles that effervescent smile from behind a photo frame. My boys would’ve loved her. And she them. But she finished her course before they were born; introductions must wait.
I sometimes see her in my mind’s eye, red hair drifting in the breeze, waiting for me on the other side. Smiling, cheering me on. Rooting for me as I run my race. “See ya later!” Mom used to say, and from our separate sides of the tape we both look toward the Finish Line.
Prancing and cavorting like a new colt in an open pasture, the fourth Thursday in November is like no other. The holiday trots out laughter, music, sparkling cider, mouth-watering aromas, memories of Mom’s good china and silver service, and “Don’t you dare come to the dinner table dressed like that!”
Thanksgiving in my hometown of San Diego was a day for Dad’s fabulous roast turkey, succulent and perfect, the fancy white linen tablecloth, and Mom’s lime-pineapple Jell-o mold with walnuts. Mom worked so hard on that Jell-o concoction, no one had the heart to tell her we only ate it to be polite. I don’t think any of us kids actually liked it. (It was the walnuts.)
The oldest daughter of four children, it was my job to set the oak table in the dining room – the one reserved for special occasions – and to dig out the His and Her pilgrim candles from the bottom drawer of the china hutch. Mr. and Mrs. Pilgrim presided unlit as our wax Thanksgiving centerpieces for years. (I don’t know what became of them, but suspect they now preside over a big Thanksgiving table in the sky.)
Following the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and endless quarters of football, the Naas family gathered in the dining room to recount our blessings. We held hands around a table groaning with goodness and bowed our heads as Dad said something like: “Lord, we thank you for your bountiful blessings and the many gifts you’ve bestowed upon this house. Thank you for your love, and for each other. Amen.”
Dad’s blue eyes crinkled as he lifted his head, grabbed the carving knife and grinned. “Send your plates down everybody! Mom, you’ve outdone yourself again!”
The six of us didn’t even dent the Thanksgiving spread Peggy Naas laid out every year, a feast that could feed Rome’s legions. Dad was in charge of the turkey and stuffing, but Mom took care of the rest.
“Who wants to go out for a jog?” she’d say after our mid-day meal. Mom ran marathons competitively and usually finished in the top three for her age group. My kid sister Laura and I would join her, lumbering around the block in our shirt sleeves. You can do that in November in San Diego, the “land of endless summer.” We laced into our running shoes while Dad and brothers Jeff and Kurt were glued to a TV screen watching a bunch of college athletes toss a pigskin around a cow pasture.
“How ‘bout dessert?” Jeff inquired upon our return. Six feet tall and 135 pounds soaking wet, Jeff could afford to inquire.
“Pumpkin or mincemeat?” Mom replied, russet hair tumbling around her dark eyes as she strode into the kitchen, a culinary monarch surveying her regal realm. Laura and I grabbed dessert plates and unearthed pies from their refrigerated repose for Mom to slice and serve.
We polished off dessert more than once. Jeff and bean-pole thin kid brother Kurt returned for more as we gathered into the living room for our annual review of a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. In later years, Walton Thanksgiving specials became a family staple.
It’s hard to believe that so many Thanksgivings have come and gone since these holiday classics originally aired. I look back and wonder, “Where did the time go?” I don’t remember the years moving so fast in my younger days. They seem to pile up after five decades, rushing by with avalanche-like alacrity. Just like the holidays.
At last count, the Walton Thanksgiving movies totaled three. Interesting, isn’t it, that not Christmas, Easter, or even Mother’s Day but Thanksgiving inspired three separate movie specials? In one Walton movie Cora Beth Godsey observes, “On Thanksgiving, of all holidays, one should be at home.”
I didn’t agree with the starchy shopkeeper’s wife on much, but without family or friends, Thanksgiving is … well, it’s like Abbott without Costello. Lucy without Ricky. Turkey without… Well. You get the idea.
As autumn glides into winter this year, November seems both full and empty as I find myself at an age where memories stir like Mom’s brown gravy on the Kenmore back burner. Thanksgiving evokes faces and voices from the mists of memory like no other day.
This year’s fourth Thursday will be filled with whispers of grace: kids, counted blessings, feasting, football, friends. Hands clasped around a table groaning with goodness. Hearty “Amens!” Maybe a Waltons re-run or two. But my grandparents, favorite uncles and aunts are all passed on, as are Mom and Dad. My siblings are flung to the four compass corners of the map. I miss them all and feel their absences most acutely between November and December. While we aren’t able to gather around a turkey-and-trimmings table as often we’d like, we hold each other close in our hearts.
And so, more than a thousand miles removed from my southern California roots, Thanksgiving reminiscences remain warm. The holiday is sweeter than Mom’s lime-pineapple Jell-o without the walnuts because I, like Cora Beth Godsey, have learned that wherever my loved ones are on the fourth Thursday in November, I’m Home.
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