The family house sat in the back of a cul-de-sac in the Las Vegas suburbs.
The large rambler located at 1835 Lindell Road was graced with a large olive tree in front and various eucalyptus trees lining the property. The backyard had a swimming pool and two small lawns. We moved into the house in 1983 when I was nine after bouncing around California from Maryland. My father had left the military and was looking to start the second chapter of his medical career and Las Vegas was the best option.
Lost Wages—that was the first joke my father told me about our new home. I didn’t understand what wages were but laughed knowingly. Why spoil a good joke by asking for it to be explained? We moved in December. I swore up and down that it was the 7th, corresponding our new home with the Pearl Harbor attacks but later I learned it was the 11th.
Lindell was home from fourth grade at Doris Hancock Elementary to Booker Sixth Grade Center to Garside Junior High and eventually graduating from Bonanza High School in 1992. Birthdays, Christmases and Halloweens were celebrated in the house. But no event signified Lindell being home than Thanksgiving.
My mother, Kathy, is first and foremost a nurse, a caretaker. Firm but fun, Mom built her character in the mid-60s in San Diego. A southern California girl, she became the woman that taught me there was so much more in the world outside of that neighborhood cul-de-sac. She tolerated Tom Foolery, demanded excellence in school and wanted follow through—something that I have never been able to do. Nonetheless, there is nobody else I would ever want for a mother because she made Living (with a capital L) the best.
And nothing showcased that better than her Thanksgiving dinner.
Full disclosure: even if I were to lose 80-pounds and my clothes hung loosely off of me, I will always have a fat kid’s mentality. I’m the kid that battled to lick the spoon covered in cake batter. And Mom was quick to give away those little treats. She learned to cook from her mother, Hazel, and made creative feasts in an era before the Food Network.
On Thanksgiving, the house on Lindell was perfumed with delectable treats and Mom held court behind the stove. The dinner was standard but fantastic. There would be a golden turkey stuffed with fluffy, buttery breading. Gravy made from the turkey drippings covered au gratin potatoes, creamed French cut green beans and whipped yams. The salad was light with olive oil and there would be no shortage of rolls to cover in salted, sweet butter. And on occasion, there would be a spiral cut honey ham. Soda pop with Martinelli’s Sparkling Apple cider filled wine glasses as my parents drank scotch and soda and Miller Lites.
Mom decorated the dinner table with our best silverware and finest china. Special napkins were rolled into special napkin rings and we were required to dress appropriate for the meal. Raskins by nature are late eaters but we broke the rule of dinner with everybody sitting down close to 5pm. After our standard grace, Thanks the Lord for everything He gives to me, Amen, was said heaping plates of food were served. My father favored the dark meat while the rest of us preferred the white meat. After everyone had a plate, my father would make us go around the table and tell what we were thankful for. Mike, Pat, Tee and I would ramble on about health and family and a particular toy or special event while our parents sat at the ends of the table.
It was idyllic and hasn’t been romanticized with time. When tradition is often frowned upon, having fond and kind memories to draw back on are warming as I age. And the credit for germinating those memories comes from my mother. The work was never properly appreciated at the time but what I wouldn’t give for one more of those childhood meals.
My family’s diaspora has Tee with her family in St. Paul. Michael lives outside of Boston with his wife and son. My father is in Connecticut with his wife and son and Mom lives back in San Diego with her boyfriend. Only Patrick remains in Las Vegas with his wife and kid. Erin and I are lucky enough to have friends and family take us in on Thanksgiving.
My life is lived somewhere between lucky and grateful. Lucky to have had opportunities and experiences that most only dream. Grateful in the friends and family that have opened up their homes and lives for me. If asked what I was thankful for on this day, I would say that it for the people in my life that constantly surprise me with their generosity and decency. It’s hard to make a living, build a family and take care of the business of the day and I am grateful for those people who make these seemingly impossible tasks easier to bear.
To my mother, Kathryn, I wish a very Happy Thanksgiving. I miss not having you at our table tonight but you are often in my thoughts. Turkey tastes better when you made it and while other might have roasted a better bird, no one put as much love into it.
Folks, do me a favor tonight, raise a glass to my mother. If you really want to do me a solid, make sure there’s some decent Scotch in that glass.