Four or five begonias crashed to the floor of our deck in the night. When I step onto the porch to snag the newspaper, I see them. I glance about, wondering if the wind has done this, or if our black cat decided to protest my late slumbering. It's seven a.m. and he would have been outside at six, waiting for breakfast.
I unfurl the newspaper and see that jobs numbers give more hope of a recovering economy, two of the local sports teams won, and a noted post-release offender activist has written apology letters for his own recidivism. It's fall, it's 2013, and the world shows signs of aging.
Deeper into the paper, I see reviews of a Flannery Connor book, and, smaller, down at the bottom of a human interest page, a call for photos of things for which we are thankful. I set my coffee down, and my mind drifts.
My mother stands in the kitchen, an apron tied around her waist to protect her good dress. Enticing smells drift from the oven and rise from platters on the counter, covered with clean towels, waiting to be carried to the table. I'm eight, I'm nine, I'm twelve: It wouldn't matter, it happens every year. This year, this year of my memory, I am still in single digits but old enough to be my mother's sous chef.
"It's time to take the turkey out," she prompts. I cover my hands with thick oven mitts and clumsily pull open the oven door. The foil tent protects the glistening, thick skin, which browned so beautifully it's almost painful to see. My mother smiles; she expects no less, but still, seems smug, satisfied. I can't lift the bird without help, and together, we raise the heavy roasting pan and set it on the stovetop, next to the cast iron pan in which she'll make the gravy.
"What's your thankful-for?" I ask the question unexpectedly, and my mother frowns. It's a ritual; we go round the table, youngest to oldest, and everybody says their thankful-for. You're not allowed to be silly, or grateful for turkey legs. It has to be something solid, like straight A's or getting a job. I know you aren't supposed to ask ahead of time, but my mother doesn't scold me.
She straightens up, and leans against the counter. A look descends on her fact that I don't understand. I regret asking the question. A minute passes, then two, then more. I don't know how long we stand there. I shift from foot to foot and wonder if I can reach over the refrigerator, take down the clock, and turn back the hands of time. I think my mother's life flickers across her face. I hear the sound of the television from the living room and my brothers' voices from the back of the house. The fragrance of the turkey rises around us. My stomach churns.
The darkness eventually recedes. My mother opens her eyes and gives her head a little shake. She looks down at me, at my braids tightly pinned in a circle on my head; at my little dress; at my shiny patent leather shoes. "Why, I'm grateful to have such a good helper in the kitchen," she says, and I flush. "And now it's time to put the rolls in the oven," my mother continues, turning her body away from me. I catch a glimpse of something wet on her face and tell myself that she is not crying.
In three weeks, my family-by-marriage will serve itself buffet style from my father-in-law's counter. We'll group around the heavy table, and someone will slip into the chair where my mother-in-law Joanna would sit, if Joanna had not left us a month ago. Grace will be said, a strange grace to me, one which requires those gathered to hold hands. One of the men will invoke the name of their Lord, and we will ask for divine guidance, and protection for those who cannot be with us except, of course, for those who've gone close enough to divine radiance not to need our intervention. I will think about my mother, and the sadness which crossed her face, five decades ago, in a house in Jennings, where there was so much to lament but now and then, a few things for which to give thanks.