Edible Memories: Laughter

Sometimes I leap first.

When my online writing friend Stacey asked me to consider signing up for a 14-day writing group via the Inky Path, my first instinct was to say no. I barely have enough time to work on my novel, not to mention the grief course I’m creating, let alone the safety skills class I’m organizing – oh, and then there’s that whole mother/wife gig, plus my nemesis, the bottomless laundry basket.

But I couldn’t get it out of my mind. A tell-tale sign. As I kept tabs on the rising enrollment, I felt an itch, a twinge, but couldn’t tell if it was a competitive-fear-of-missing-out or the I-need-to-do-this kind of feeling. Looking back, it was probably a little of both.

One week into the Winter Joy Retreat: Edible Memories, and I’m fully immersed. It’s pretty impossible to keep up with the group’s Facebook posts (over 100 people registered, though not all post daily) but I’m trying to hold fast to my own commitment, one writing prompt each day. This isn’t easy – my kids are young and life is full, but I’m delighted to say that – so far at least – I’m making it happen. I’ve always felt like my memory is kind of bad, but each prompt seems to unlock one, two, more scenes in my mind, and I’m taking notes like mad, for both the prompts and the possibility of memoir.

I’d like to share with you my most recent prompt. The theme was Laughter (with an emphasis always on food) yet somehow I managed to turn it around to sadness (just like the character on Inside Out!). But that’s how I’ve always been. Drawn to the bittersweet, both in food and life.

Winter Joy Retreat: Edible Memories

Laughter

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. As a kid we took turns having it at our house, but after my mother’s MS diagnosis, we always hosted. My uncle, king of turkey and CEO of stuffing, would come to our house in the morning with bags of supplies, plus a bonus bag filled with appetizers from Zabar’s: salami, cheeses, crackers, olives, lox spread, and bagels.

He’d pop the prepared turkey in the oven and it would cook all day while we snacked and cracked jokes. When it came time to eat, my father would hoist my mother into her scooter and drive her into the dining room after she could no longer do so herself. We’d eat and laugh, and when all us kids were of legal age, or close enough, drink some wine.

My memories of Thanksgiving were almost always punctuated by laughter. Especially in the earlier years, before my mother’s pain became unbearable.

This was from Passover, but same crew, without the matzoh.

This was from Passover, but the same characters.

The house was always filled with warmth and smelled of roasting turkey and marshmallow topped yams. My uncle would always cook the main meal. My cousin Pia would always bring dessert. My mom always insisted on making, or instructing me how to make, her favorite side dish, green bean casserole. And I always had to have a slice (or two, three) of pumpkin pie topped with Cool Whip.

Maybe that’s what I loved most about Thanksgiving – the “always’s,” the traditions we had curated and nurtured over the years. We were Jewish and didn’t have the show stopper of Christmas to look forward to, so I banked all my love and hope on Thanksgiving.

Things weren’t always so rosy, of course. There were fights and tantrums, angry words and slammed doors, more so as the years edged on to darker times, but mostly I remember the laughter.

The time when my cousin Ari and I stumbled upon a very strange AOL chat room in the late 90s. Don’t ask me why or how this happened, but let’s just say we were beside ourselves with hilarity when we ended up in a conversation about fruit fetishes, among other things.

Then there was the time my grandmother got drunk. Alcohol was pretty minimal at our house, even on the holidays, but somehow she had gotten her glass refilled one time too many and ended up divulging a bizarre genetic glitch afflicting several relatives. I’m almost positive somebody spit out their mashed potatoes, or at least choked on their soda.

Laughter filled the rooms and rang through the kitchen and seeped into the walls, so that when it ended, I could feel its echo.

My mother’s last Thanksgiving was hard. There was little laughter. The mood was dour, tense. My husband and I thought it might be helpful to order dinner from Fresh Direct and bring it from Brooklyn, rather than have my uncle cook in the house since my mom was feeling worse. The king of turkey did not take kindly to what felt like a personal affront. He sulked in the kitchen eating his “take-out” meal while the rest of us sat in the family room with my mother, who was too uncomfortable to transfer from her reclining chair.

I remember feeling desperate for some levity, anything to lighten the mood, to coax my uncle out of the kitchen, to ease the tension with my brother, to make my mother laugh. But nothing worked. We sat on the couch for what felt like an uncomfortable amount of time, and I rolled my eyes at my cousin Pia when our brothers began talking of sports, not with any vigor or enthusiasm, but dully, as if they had nothing else to say. Perhaps because they didn’t.

When everyone finally left, I felt a heavy weight settle around my shoulders as I dumped the leftovers in the trash. Looking back, I wonder if my sadness was actually a sign, a warning. It left me uncomfortable. A sense of foreboding prickled up my spine.

I thought, next year will be better. Next year has to be better.

But it wasn’t, because my mother was dead.

 

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Thank you to Maddy over at Writing Bubble for hosting her What I’m Writing link-up. Check it out for more wonderful words.

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29 thoughts on “Edible Memories: Laughter

  1. Oh. wow. That little excerpt of life you wrote is amazing – so funny (I’m desperate to know what the intimate anatomical glitch is!) and touching and warm, I felt I was in the room with you. And then, wham – the ending. Your words are always so moving. I’m so sorry for your loss. This writing prompts thing you’re doing sounds fantastic. It’s amazing how much extra creativity can be squeezed into (or wrung from) every day, even though you’re already doing masses! This is a perfect #WhatImWriting post if you fancy linking up tomorrow? xxx

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  2. Oh that ending. Dana, wow. It’s truth though and a prompt like “laughter” doesn’t take that fact away.

    I’m glad you’re fitting in this retreat. It really is crazy how 10 minutes of serious writing a day can feel so difficult. I’m already behind.

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    • Thank you so much Nina, I’m enjoying the prompts a lot but spending a bit too much time on them (perfectionist tendencies!). Also I couldn’t make today’s deadline 🙂

      Sent from my iPhone

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  3. *SOB* and *THANK YOU* because sharing this couldn’t have been easy. Your words, though, they’re amazing, and I’m so glad to have read them and so glad to be in this retreat with you. I have only written for it twice, saying that “I can’t” but the thing is, I can, I just am worried about the memories and all else that will come of it but that’s the point, isn’t it? I thank you, my friend, for the reminder. For all of it.

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    • Kristi, I’m so glad to know you online (and one can dream of writing together at Jena’s or finding each other at a conference!). I totally get the fear. Today I felt raw, almost similar to how I felt after my mom died, like my skin was too thin and things that should be hidden were exposed. It leaves you flayed, but I must be some kind of crazy masochist because I keep going, though I did miss today’s. I will look for your words, but only share them when you’re ready. xoxo

      Sent from my iPhone

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  4. Oh, Dana, joy and sorrow all bound up together. It is the essence of life. This was gorgeous– I could picture it all right there behind my eyes. Thank you.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this, great writing. I’m with you that happy memories are all mixed up in bittersweet emotions – even the most straightforward memories evoke the possibility of loss, and this time of year is often poignant. I’m sorry to hear about your mum. We lost my dad a few years ago and spent one Christmas being very aware of it being his last one with us, trying to fill it with happy memories. I remember it as a strange, tense, emotionally-heightened time, and your post captures that atmosphere well.

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    • Rebecca, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I’m sorry about your dad and can imagine how hard that last Christmas must have been. You describe it well, “a strange, tense, emotionally-heightened time” – exactly.

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  6. Wow! The circle of life and its joys spun with fragility is beautifully told here. Thank you. The writing course sounds like it’s done wonders for your creative juices. And don’t worry about that laundry. It can wait. Thanks for sharing X

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  7. Oh Dana, you always get me with your writing…. The last line, although expected, still hit hard but the memories of laughter still sit on top of the heaviness, leaving me feeling happy/sad and remembering memories of my own Mum…. We never stop grieving for them do we, the grief just changes – and it can go either way. Glad you found the time to do the course but hope you have some space for yourself soon to enjoy the holidays! x

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    • Rachel, thank you so much. I know you understand. I’m glad the laughter shone through despite the heaviness of the last line. You’re absolutely right, we never stop grieving. I hope you enjoy the holidays as well!

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  8. So happy I was able to engage with you in Edible Memories. I, too, am ‘drawn to the bittersweet, both in food and life.’ This was a heartbreaking yet beautiful window into a slice of your food life. I look forward to more. xxoo

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  9. Playing catch ups here Dana, after just going through a stressful xmas due to family issues and the health of my mum this post resonated with me. I was there with you. I found myself reflecting on all the good christmas’s we have had and the thought that next year some people may not be here. Beautiful piece of writing.

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    • Oh, Kath, I’m sorry the holidays were stressful, and I hope your mum is feeling better. It’s hard to think or even fathom that some people may not be there for next year. My heart is with you.

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      • I guess there comes a time when the children need to wrap their parents up in cotton wool and protect and care for them. But I always think about how blessed I am each time xmas comes around and we are all still here. There are no guarantees and so we must live large. Happy new Year, its new years morning and we are off to ride horses along a bush track that comes out onto a beach. Kids very excited. A great way to start the year off right.

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  10. This was awesome. Just took me right there. From the AOL stuff to the tipsy grandma to that sports-related small talk. I hope there’s been at least a few decent Thanksgivings since that time… It’s my favorite holiday, too, not counting Passover. I probably rate them equally.

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    • Thank you for reading this, Pam. You know, this Thanksgiving was actually the first one in 8 years that I was looking forward to rather than dreading or comparing or feeling weighed down. It took a while, but I’m grateful it happened. I also love Passover, and miss that with my mom, but since my husband’s family isn’t Jewish I may have to take the helm on that!

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