9:00 a.m. Early Mass.
By 11:00 a.m., I had peeled 22.5 pounds of potatoes. I am not kidding. I am the Undisputed Mashed Potato Queen. I have prepared mashed potatoes for family holidays for many years, because they are impossible to mess up. It’s all about butter, whipping cream and vast quantities of potatoes. But about the time I put the third stock pot of water on to boil the last of the spuds, I knew something was not right.
At 1:00 p.m. We were supposed to be at Thanksgiving Dinner, for 31 people.
But Small One had a headache, a raging sore throat, and a fever of 101.5.
Time for a plan B.
1:20, late as usual, the rest of the family packed into the trucks with the potatoes and drove away for dinner. Small One and I cuddled up on the couch together.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Kiddo.” I said. “Just you and me. What do you want to do?”
“I like corn.” She whimpered, huddling under her blanket. “Can we eat corn out of a can together?”
Yes, we can.
And so we did.
After all the cooking of the morning, the only clean pot in the kitchen was an egg poacher. I was far too tired to wash dishes. So I dumped the egg poaching cups out of the pan, and dumped a can of corn into the poacher. In a few short minutes, we were cuddled up together in the big arm chair. The poacher piled on top of every other pot and pan and potato bowl in the house, and I left it balancing there.
And Small One and I ate canned corn with mashed potatoes. She wore a damp washcloth on her head.
Our Thanksgiving feast was unusually quiet.
There was no hand holding, no long traditional prayer. No cousins jumped about, shrieking and laughing, snitching treats. No games of tag were dashed under the table or up the stairs. No aunts discussed politics or sales, no uncles hammered out the details and how-to’s of organic gardening or ant farms. No sisters talked about low-glycemic desserts, and no sisters dished up huge portions of homemade gluten free pie, crowned with whipped cream. No college kids regaled us with horror stories of final exams or roommates. No one asked me to cut up their food.
Just Small One and I, together, ate canned corn with mashed potatoes. We did smile at each other.
And we were thankful.
She was thankful that she had her mom. She had her blanket. And she had her favorite food, canned corn.
I was thankful for peace. For hugs from my child. For the antibiotics that would surely cure yet another case of strep throat. I was thankful for the dirty dishes piled high, which meant that there was plenty of food for the family celebration. I was thankful for the family. Even if I wasn’t with them. I was thankful for my mom, who hosted the party in her always-clean house, for a sister who made three turkeys, for a sister in law who baked all the pies. I was thankful for the sister in law who made a special plate up for me, when all was said and done, with the best slices of turkey on it. And mashed potatoes. Lots of mashed potatoes.
I fell asleep, holding Small One while she watched Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving special.
I slept in the peace and quiet of alone-ness, hugging my feverish child, and dreaming of My Big Fat Family Parties. It was almost like I was there, in the fray.
Sometimes being absent makes me appreciate life even more.
And I’m thankful for that.