The Thanksgiving Without Cranberries

I’ve cried in my parents’ bed twice in my lifetime.

The first time was because OB had died and I wasn’t sure joy was a guaranteed component of the living experience without his smile radiating light throughout our dining room a few times a year.

The second time was Thanksgiving morning.

A few days earlier, my mom paced our back deck and confessed to her sister that we might have to cancel our plans because it wasn’t looking optimistic. She was already emotionally preparing herself to celebrate her thanks in a hospital room while IVs dripped liquid feasts into my bloodstream.

I’d managed to escape that fate, but not with much effort of my own.

When I wanted to avoid the possibility of social eating, I hid away in a bedroom and pretended to nap. Really, I was fidgeting and shaking and hoping to rattle away any calories I could with tiny movements unnoticeable by the company downstairs. On Thanksgiving, my room was occupied with our special guests, so I hid out in my parents’ bed and began my usual avoidant strategies. Downstairs was a spread of appetizers before the feast itself, and another round of try this, Kate followed by, “no, thank you, I’m not hungry,” while my stomach screamed was not a scene my tired brain had the energy to pursue.

My mom stroked the hair away from my face and she tried to convince me to just say hello but I couldn’t move. Tears were already soaking the pillowcase.

Hours later, when my wobbly feet tiptoed their way down to the dining room, my mom smiled at me, and now I know she was only happy to have me alive in her house that day.

The table was covered in our best china, the colors and flavors overflowing out of the delicate glass. I can look at this scene now with wonder and amazement; how privileged we are to be surrounded by such lavishness. I looked at it then with fear. How do I repeat “no, thank you,” without anyone else catching on? I didn’t know the skeleton I invited to the table was indication enough.

It was tradition to follow our dinner prayer with an open-mic-style, round-table, story-time until each guest had shared their lists of gratitude.

I went first, and I said, “I am grateful for my mom,” because on the table was a bowl of buttery mashed potatoes but next to it was a cup of sweet potatoes and my brain calmed down because sweet potatoes are better metabolized than regular potatoes and beside the platter of salted and seasoned sautéed vegetables was a smaller platter of plain roasted peppers and my heart stopped racing because roasted peppers are comfortable and familiar and while the turkey was covered in gravy and pouring out stuffing, already served on my plate were a few small slices of untouched, unseasoned, uncontaminated white turkey breast and I smiled because my mom knew how to make my fears settle enough for some level of social functioning to occur.

The concept of control was overwhelming at a traditional group meal like Thanksgiving because I couldn’t manipulate the menu to fit my restrictions and rules, but my mom knew how to give me enough options to take the focus away from what I was eating and hopefully, maybe, potentially relocate that attention onto who I was eating with.

Towards the end of dinner, I asked, “mom, where are the cranberries?”

Her eyes sparkled.

No one ever ate the cranberry sauce, but the presence of the little red goo gave the right amount of festivity to the table spread and my mom hardly went a year without it.

“There wasn’t enough space on the table, dear.”

That Thanksgiving is remembered for a dozen reasons, but I’ll always remember it for the cranberries that never made it to the table, my smile that finally resurfaced, and my mom’s selfless commitment to the maintenance of my joy.

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