That first holiday after you lose someone you love is so hard.
Beyond the heartache, there are the memories and traditions that haunt you.
Things you took for granted for years somehow become moments that can never be replicated, no matter how much you try.
The first holiday after Granny passed away was Mother’s Day. Her birthday usually falls the same weekend, so Mama and I were doubly lost.
Thanksgiving, it seemed, was particularly painful, maybe even more so than her birthday had been.
This was Granny’s big day and, in the years prior to her passing, she had not been able to prepare her big feast the way she normally did.
I have told Lamar several times he missed out on her prime cooking years even though she tried to make the whole dinner and bringing it to us if we couldn’t travel home.
“All you need to do is make some tea,” she would say the day before. “I’ve got everything else.”
“Even the cranberry sauce?” I asked in jest.
“Even the Ocean Spray. You just make the tea.”
“I don’t make the best tea,” I told her.
“You can’t make tea?” she said shocked by heathen confession. “Did you not learn anything I taught you?”
I had, but as un-Southern as it is, I do not like sweet tea.
She sighed before adding she would bring a gallon of tea as well. “What were you doing all those Thanksgivings? Evidently you weren’t a-learning nothing I was doing in the kitchen.”
I remembered my Thanksgiving mornings so well, waking up to smell the house filled with savory and sweet aromas from her turkey that had cooked all night and cakes that were cooling on top of her chest freezer.
Even though the temps were chilly, the house would be so cozy and warm inside with the windows swirled with steam from her cooking.
I’d climb into a recliner in the back den and she would come in there to wrap a quilt around my legs.
“Do you want a turkey sandwich for breakfast?” she would always ask.
I’d nod, knowing this was a special treat she reserved only for me. She would put just enough mayonnaise on the white bread and add a sprinkle of salt and pepper before she layered her warm, perfectly cooked turkey on top.
I’d stay in the recliner, watching the parade until it was time for us all to eat. It was a simple day, but one full of memories of laughter and being together.
Granny liked getting her Christmas tree up that weekend because as she put it, that was the only time she had to do it and if she waited, it would never get done. She had fruitcakes to start, quilts to finish, and little red velvet Christmas stockings to make for the babies at church.
She’d yell at us if we cut one tiny slice out of a cake before everyone got there.
“That ain’t for you — it’s for family!” she’d yell from the kitchen, hearing someone nearing her confectionary treat.
“What the heck am I?” Pop would ask, knife poised above the top of four buttery layers shrouded in coconut.
“Someone that knows better than to cut that dadblamed cake.”
It was not perfect by any means. It wasn’t something you’d see on a Hallmark movie or even in a Publix commercial.
It was just simple little things that may not seem special to anyone else but in hindsight were the most precious of memories.
The first Thanksgiving after she was gone, I got a turkey dinner from a grocery store that was supposed to be cooked but wasn’t. It was literally a bloody mess that had me and Mama screaming and gagging. Imagine thinking your turkey was cooked and when you open the wrapper a big, fat bird slides onto the plate and across the counter into the sink, sending turkey juice everywhere.
The next year, I got Cracker Barrel.
“I feel like we’re cheating,” I told Mama as I took foil lids off the hot to-go pans.
“Granny would tell us how hers would taste better,” Mama said.
We knew it was the truth.
She would have told us her gravy was more flavorful, her turkey was juicier, her dressing was moister.
The next year, we didn’t even try to repeat it.
“I don’t like the idea of y’all being on the road on the holiday and me and your uncle just need a rest,” Mama said.
And just like that, our much smaller family stopped doing a whole lot of celebrating on Thanksgiving.
I even quit decorating.
Something I had loved as a child because Granny and I did it together but in the years since she passed, I had completely lost the joy for.
My decorations had been shoved into storage and not dragged out to put up while watching the Georgia-Georgia Tech game on the Saturday after Turkey Day.
It seemed like it didn’t matter.
“I want to decorate for Christmas this year,” Cole said one day shortly after Halloween.
“Yeah,” he said. “I want to decorate. I want a tree, with presents wrapped underneath it — none of this giving me my gift straight out of the Amazon box this year. And I want us to go look at Christmas lights again. I think we need to do a few of things we used to do, you know? We still watch ‘A Christmas Story,’ but we need to have a few more of our traditions. Making cookies and hot chocolate. All of it. We haven’t done that in a long time, Mama, and I miss it.”
I nodded. “OK. We will.”
Even if they are small, and seemingly unnoticed and unimpressive by many means, those little things can leave some big, lasting memories in our hearts.
Sudie Crouch is an award-winning humor columnist residing in the North Georgia Mountains among the bears, deer, and possibly Sasquatch. She lives to disappoint her mother, or at least that is what she has been told. You can connect with her on Facebook at Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Humor, and Deep-Fried Wisdom.