A friend (who also taught my kids in school) posted the above photo and comment yesterday on Facebook. Thanks, Liz, for a nutty holiday laugh!
A few years ago, another friend sent me what is now known on the Internet as The Thanksgiving Letter. In it, the writer, Marney, tells her beleaguered family not only what to bring to the table, and how much, and how to package it, but even gave some strongly worded hints about what she really wanted certain contributors to provide, even though she claimed not to care. (I do this with Richard all the time. He'll ask me what I want for dinner. I'll say I don't care, and then, when the poor guy makes a suggestion, I immediately shoot it down. He never learns.)
I sympathize with Marney, because big company dinners bring out my never-far-from-the-surface OCD tendencies. The difference between us is that instead of delegating out nearly everything, and then trying to micro-manage those things from afar, like Marney does, I delegate very little, because I firmly believe in the old saw that if you want something done right, do it yourself. The downside to this DIY mentality is that there is so much to remember and do, I'm sure to forget something important. It's happened before: the rolls are still in their cans in the fridge, the candles aren't lit, the water goblets are empty, the cranberry sauce is sitting forgotten on the counter, you name it. Soooo, I write a letter to myself --- actually a list --- and post it on the fridge Thanksgiving morning. This list gives a blow-by-blow of what to do and when to do it. It takes a few hours to put it together, but the idea is that instead of thinking --- because frankly, by early afternoon, my brain is mush --- all I have to do is read and follow directions. Here's this year's version with explanations in red:
Turkey Day Countdown
(This doesn't include all the morning prep work)
9:00 – turkey in oven
1:00 – set out dressing, squash and potatoes to bring to room temp; toss sprouts and carrots with EVOO, salt and pepper and arrange on foil baking sheet (return to fridge); set out ham; remove turkey from oven
2:00 – Richard carves ham and turkey, arrange on big platter, cover and keep out
2:05 - do "something" and send half the house back to the days before electricity (This was not planned, obviously, nor could we get the power back on. Thankfully, the kitchen was juiced up or I really would have been SOL.)
2:45 – remove cat towels from furniture and return pillows to couch (I drape old towels on the parts of the furniture where our cats like to hang out. I figure it's easier to wash the towels of accumulated fur, than trying to lift said fur out of the couch and chair fibers.)
2:50 – Paige to pick up Mom
3:00 – Mitch arrives with beer and wine
3:15 – light candles EXCEPT those on dinner tables; put water and tea in separate pitchers, set aside; set out appetizers; Richard puts finishing touches on bar area; cleans out litter box if needed
3:30 – guests arrive
3:31 - separate the dogs (My SIL's teacup Chihuahua suffers from the canine version of 'little man syndrome'.)
3:35 – set lower oven at 375, adjust racks for upper and lower cooking
3:45 – put dressing (covered) on upper rack and potatoes (uncovered) on lower rack
4:15 – set upper oven to 400, rack in lower middle; turn on crockpot to high and partially cover squash
4:20 – melt 2 TB butter in MW for dressing; Richard to put ice in maroon ice bucket for water and tea
4:25 – put carrots and sprouts in upper oven; take out dressing, drizzle with butter, cook additional 20 minutes uncovered
4:30 – Paige to light candles and find out who wants iced tea with their dinner
4:35 – put gravy on stove to heat
4:40 – Paige fills goblets with water or tea
4:45 – turn off lower oven and crack door, leave dishes inside; check on squash, turn down heat if needed
4:50 – get salad prepped and put out
4:55 – turn off upper oven, remove veggies, arrange on white platter and return to oven with door cracked; put 4 TB butter on stove to melt, bring to foaming and stir in mustard; remove veggies and drizzle mustard sauce on top of veggies
5:00 – Have meat, salad, dressing, potatoes, roasted veggies, squash, gravy (pour in boat), and cranberry sauce set out… (I wound up eight minutes behind schedule. Not bad!)
After dinner – Richard makes coffee; put out desserts
3:00 (AM) - crawl into bed after washing all the china, crystal and silver by hand
In August, after 3 1/2 years, we finally laid my father to rest in the family crypt in Denver.
Daddy died at the age of 91 in January, 2010. My mother had his body cremated, and we held a nice service/remembrance for family and friends in Dallas. After that, we tried on two occasions to make the trip to Denver for the final inurnment. But both times, my mother's energies flagged and we wound up cancelling our plans. I was beginning to think my poor father was going to sit in the closet until Mother passed away, when my older cousins announced that they were throwing a party for their mother's (my dad's sister) 90th birthday. The party became an excuse for a big family reunion and provided the perfect opportunity to take care of long overdue business. Richard and I made plans to attend. For a number of reasons, all health related, Mom refused to go, and no one could make her change her mind.
I emailed the cemetery and, with the assistance of a really nice lady named Diana, got everything set up.
On Friday morning, August 9, we arrived at Denver's Fairmount Cemetery with my father's urn carefully enclosed in a snazzy zebra striped bag with pink handles and trim. Richard was appalled at my choice of paternal transportation, but Daddy had a good sense of humor and I really don't think he would have minded. My mother, on the other hand, would have minded considerably, but she wasn't there to give me the stink eye.
After we got Daddy safely ensconced in my parents' double niche, I told Richard I wanted to try to find my mom's parents, as I was pretty sure they were buried somewhere on the enormous grounds. But before I go any further with the story, allow me to make this statement: I HAVE NEVER MET A SOUL ON MY MOTHER'S SIDE OF THE FAMILY. NEVER.
My maternal grandparents died within months of each other in 1949, years before I was born. (Actually, three of my grandparents died that year. My parents married in 1948, so one could safely assume their newlywed period kind of sucked.) Despite her Mormon roots, my mother was an only child. She had scads of extended family in her hometown of Logan, UT; aunts, uncles and cousins galore, but it appears that when my grandfather moved his wife and daughter to Denver about 1937'ish, the family ties to Logan started to unravel. I don't think there was a fight or misunderstanding that led to the estrangement, just distance, a Great Depression, little money, and Facebook hadn't been invented yet.
After her parents died, my mother, who was basically orphaned even though she was all grown up and a married woman, embraced her in-laws as her family and never looked back. She has never said much about her upbringing, so I know very little, but I get the impression that she had a happy childhood. There wasn't much money, but my mother was not deprived. She had a private university education (mostly paid for with scholarships), and a lovely wedding, so I'm told, with 300 guests.
So, 64 years after my grandparents' deaths, I'm at Fairmount. It's the closest I've ever been to them, and I wanted to find their graves and take pictures of their markers, for two reasons: firstly, I believed my mom would appreciate the gesture, but mainly because I wanted to make some kind of connection to the half of my DNA they had contributed, even if that connection was separated by six feet of dirt.
At the office, I gave the clerk the particulars and it took so long for her to find the plot cards, I began to wonder if I had it wrong and they weren't buried at Fairmount, but someplace else. Finally, she located the information, told us they reside in section 30, and gave us a map showing the approximate location of the graves.
We found section 30, parked the car, oriented ourselves with the map, picked what looked to be the best starting point, and began looking. Unfortunately, section 30 is one of the few areas at Fairmount where all the markers are flush with the ground. Mud, leaves and mowed grass had accumulated on many of the markers, making them hard to read. Others were so worn down, the inscriptions were illegible. We must have poked around for close to an hour with no luck. I finally called off the hunt because we had plans to go up into the mountains and were running behind schedule. I was very disappointed not to find my grandparents' resting place and chalked up our failure to either not looking in the right spot, or not being able to read the inscriptions.
That evening, Richard called my mother to check in and told her about our unsuccessful effort in locating her parents. She thanked him for trying and said she wasn't surprised we couldn't locate them. Keep that statement in mind, as I will come back to it.
Because the lady at the cemetery, Diana, was so nice and helpful, when we returned home I emailed her to thank her for her time and consideration. I also told her how we had tried and failed to find my grandparents. I wasn't fishing for anything, just making a comment, but Diana emailed back to say if I would give her the information, she would look them up herself and take photos for me. The next day, here comes another email from Denver, but instead of the pictures I was expecting, Diana tells me that according to the plot cards, there are no markers on the graves. Not willing to take the information on the plot cards at face value, she went out to the section and looked. Unlike us, she knew exactly where to look. Like us, she came up with zilch. My grandparents are lying in unmarked graves.
This news completely poleaxed me and left me with so many questions. The biggest one being, Who is this woman I call my mother?
My mom never did anything without doing it right and proper, and this concept was drilled into me from the time I was a little girl. With that in mind, how could she have allowed such a thing? I can only surmise that a lack of funds at the time prevented the purchase of markers. I'd like to think that she planned to rectify this --- money certainly wasn't an issue in later years --- but I guess life and time and distance --- for my parents eventually moved away --- caused this matter to drop to the very bottom of the "to do" list, until it dropped off completely and was forgotten.
So this brings me back to her statement about not being surprised that we couldn't find the graves. If she knows there are no markers, why didn't she say something? Or was she too embarrassed to admit to this awful oversight? I nonchalantly brought the topic up a second time when I visited with her after our return home, giving her a chance to 'fess up, but she repeated to me what she said to Richard on the phone. He thinks I should just flat out tell her what I know, but I'm afraid no matter how carefully I word it, she will feel I've backed her into a corner and will get defensive. Believe me, nothing good can come of making an old lady defensive. And then there's this angle to consider, too: what if markers were ordered all those years ago and the order got lost? This seems unlikely, but if true, how does one go about fixing this 64 years late? Worse, it means my mother never called to inquire if the markers had arrived, or even bothered to go to the cemetery to see them and make sure the inscriptions were correct.
It makes me sad that my grandparents were buried and seemingly forgotten, like a couple of unknown transients. Richard has promised me that when the time comes to take my mother on her last trip to Denver, that we will order markers to be placed on her parents' graves. It is only right and proper.
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