Today, I will time travel.
I am watching a television series right now that isn’t even interesting enough to share the name with you, but part of the premise relates to my time traveling. The heroes believe that the “fabric between worlds” is thinner in some places and at certain times, allowing those who know how to step from one world into another.
Although the television show doesn’t mention it, my kitchen on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving every year is such a place. Furthermore, I know how to step between the worlds, and I will do so today.
The catalysts that unravel the curtain between the past and the present are the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of prepping for Thanksgiving dinner. This year – of all the years – we need to transcend that fabric and visit those Thanksgivings that link our families together.
When the onion and celery chopping begin, my mother will appear with her worn cutting board and newly-sharpened knife – thanks to her friend Warren Harris – ready to mince and dice. The smell of simmering chicken broth will be strong on the stove. I will be putting the Crisco into the iron skillet for a brief stint in the oven before it is poured into the cornmeal for the cornbread.
As I step back, the rich scent of chocolate will bring a smile, as I reach for the wooden spoon my Mamaw is offering, its smooth surface covered in the deep chocolate filling that will soon be hidden under the stiff egg whites she is beating in the mixer. She will try, once again, to teach me the patience I need to make meringue. Her meringue will sit up perfectly. Mine will droop to the point of scrapping it off the pie and piling on Cool Whip.
As the smells and sounds mount to a frenzy, my boys will step into the kitchen. Trey will cube up the cheese for his beloved macaroni and cheese, and Brett, in a foretelling of a career to come, will offer to take over the onion chopping so I can stop crying. Their father will be updating them on what football games will be on at what times. We will all keep an eye on the Macy’s parade, watching for Santa and our favorite balloons.
The boys will pull in Mamaw and Papaw Howell, looking over Mamaw’s shoulder at their favorite broccoli casserole while Papaw fusses and arranges everything on the tables that will soon see generations of Burlesons gathered round. The eldest Burleson will say the Thanksgiving prayer – at one time Neville’s grandfather and later, his Uncle N.E., whose funeral we attended last week.
Back in the real world of 2020, Neville and I will sit down for Thanksgiving with my brother, Tim, and sister-in-law, Tina. Families have promised to “Zoom” in, but four around the table is as high as we felt comfortable going this year. We will miss everyone, especially those who sit at a heavenly table.
Still, every bite we take, every spoonful we dish up and every pie we slice rips into the fabric between past and present, and we are all together again. Traditions, memories and foods sustain us as love conquers time and distance, whether it be six feet or 60 years.
Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.