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Thanksgiving bust

Your mother always hosts Thanksgiving dinner and insists on making everything herself. She considers this her “gift” to her children and grandchildren and is offended by offers to help. But last Thanksgiving, her increasing forgetfulness resulted in an unstuffed turkey, over-boiled veggies and a burnt pumpkin pie. Everyone went home hungry. Do you step in?

By Bob Giuliano and Connie denBok

Author's photo
Rev. Bob Giuliano is a retired minister who lives in Owen Sound, Ont.

What’s the big deal? So we didn’t get to stuff ourselves into slumber last year. So we didn’t get crisp veggies or Mom’s pie with the melt-in-your-mouth crust. So what? Who did that really hurt?

It hurt us, of course, not because the food wasn’t up to our usual gluttonous desires, but because we all felt bad for Mom.

That’s the issue: how is Mom doing and can we stop whispering among ourselves?

Mom is no fool. She knows how the dinner went last year. She also knows how she is doing day by day and probably worries that we may want to take her car as well as her gift of holiday meals.

So let’s talk straight. Let’s talk to each other and to Mom. We don’t need to grab the dinner away from her. But we need to stop pretending that things are other than they really are.

She is stubborn and can be harsh in denial. She can upset everybody. I know that. But she needs to hear the truth, and we need to be able to speak it to ourselves as well as to her.

Then we decide how to work together. I, the oldest male, will cook the turkey at my house. That way no other woman will be taking Mom’s place. I am a klutz in the kitchen, so Mom will direct and guide me. No pretence here. Everyone can bring their favourite dishes.

We will celebrate as a family our various gifts and watch football while the turkey cooks to imperfection — with stuffing. Mine. Mom can hover and coach and teach and say over and over again, “I wish you would get out of the way and let me do this myself.” I will kid her about what a good chef I am becoming and that I will be the most powerful woman in the family for learning to cook her way. And that’s the truth.

Mom never was much of a cook, so this isn’t a big surprise. We’ve been stopping for holiday take-out on the way home from her place since the kids were little. It’s an honoured (and secret) family tradition. Do we value Mom as a source of delectable homemade cooking? Not so much. But as a family matriarch, she has no match.

Our favourite family memory is the year of the exploding baked potatoes, each blackened shell almost devoid of potato content and salved with sour cream. So long as no one contracts food poisoning, we see no harm in sitting at her table, pushing food around our plates and offering to do the dishes. Our children have been co-conspirators from toddlerhood — not that we want them to lie, but rather we want them to value their grandma for something other than her Christmas money and ability to please our palates.

The two saddest stories I ever heard: a man telling his partner of 40 years to leave because of fading youth, and a congregation asking its minister to go because he was taking too long to get over his wife’s death. That is when I realized even caring people can be hardnosed utilitarians.

God — I suspect — would love you and me even if there was no tangible profit in our existence, even if we served stale white bread cubes and watery Kool-Aid to commemorate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God might even join us at the table each time we serve our meal. It seems to be more about the company than the consumables.

So, “Mom, no one will ever cook like you, but this year can we each bring something? Take you out? Let you take us out? No really, we’d love it.” The worst-case scenario isn’t indigestion, but valuing function over familial love.

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