At least once a week, Heather called her mother so they could chat. The tradition was long-standing, and sometimes they talked for almost an hour, and other weeks, it was just fifteen or twenty minutes, but it was the best they could do. And Heather knew that for her mother, it was a lifeline.
Heather and her husband, JC, were career airmen in the Air Force. Heather only had a few more years left, but she and her mother always planned at least one get-together during the holiday season since she joined, back when she was eighteen.
And while it always meant someone had to get on a plane in a busy airport, no one cared. Whether it was Turkey Day or Jesus’ birthday, the time together was precious.
“What are we going to do about Thanksgiving this year?” The silence that followed that question was pregnant with hurt and pain. Heather heard what her mother said, along with all the things that were behind it.
2020 – the year that kept giving. Only it was continually giving pain, especially for her mother. The latter usually flew cross country at least twice a year to spend time with her grandbabies.
But COVID-19 changed that. For the first time ever, her mother had to break a promise to Hailey, her beloved granddaughter. On her fifth birthday in 2019, Grammy promised that she would be with Hailey on her sixth birthday. But when Hailey’s birthday came, Grammy couldn’t get on a plane.
No, Grammy couldn’t fly cross country because she was at significant risk of contracting the virus. She was over sixty, had high blood pressure, breathing problems, and then there was her being overweight.
Of course, Hailey couldn’t quite understand all of that. All that she knew was Grammy wasn’t there for her birthday, and now, Mommy and Daddy had just explained to her and her little brother, Logan, that Grammy and Papa wouldn’t be with them on Turkey Day.
As all of this went through Heather’s mind, she tried to find a solution. She knew her mother was at her wit’s end, and her frustration could ruin the holiday season. So, Heather offered a weak suggestion and hoped her mother would help her make it great.
“Mom, what do you think about us using Skype to see each other at dinner time?”
“Well, of course, I thought we’d spend some time on video chat that day, but I don’t think I want to hold my phone and try to eat at the same time, do you?”
The kernel of an idea began to grow in Heather’s head. “No, no. You’re not going to hold your phone. Remember the selfie-studio I sent you for your birthday? You can set it up and use your phone to focus on your table, and we’ll set up ours, too. What do you think?”
Heather heard her mother’s voice beginning to warm up to the idea. “And you know what?”
“We could make the same dishes so that we’re all eating the same thing. And then, we could have the same music playing in the background, too.”
“Oh,” said Heather, “So we’ll have the same ambiance, right?”
“And because we’ve been such nerds about buying a lot of the same decorations, we can use the same tablecloths, and the same placemats, and the same napkins . . .do you still have the crystal set we split a few a years back?”
“Of course. I have six place settings – what do you have?”
“I have four, so we’ve got that covered. We don’t have the same china, though. I bought you a different pattern than mine.”
“I think we can live with that. What should we have for dinner?”
“Well, we can have turkey breast and dressing, and sweet potato mash since it’s Keto, and then we can have pumpkin cheesecake, though I hate to make one for just Dad and me.”
“Yeah, but don’t worry about that. You can always send the leftovers to work with Dad, and then you won’t be tempted.”
“That’s a good idea. Should we go all out and make cranberry sauce from scratch?”
Heather heard the teasing tone in her mother’s voice. About twenty years ago, her little brother convinced her Mom that she needed to make the holiday favorite from a recipe he found in an old cookbook. So, her mother bought all the ingredients and spent several hours following the recipe.
After dinner, Gregory, the demanding culprit, announced that he preferred the canned sauce they usually bought. Everyone held their breath, waiting for her mother’s reaction.
All Mom said was, “Well, I guess I won’t ever have to make that again!”
And it was settled. No big blow up, and no fuss.
Both women laughed at the shared memory.
“Should we get dressed up?” Heather’s mother asked.
“Yes. You know Hailey will want to wear a dress. So, I think we should all do it.”
“But how much? Should Dad get his suit out?”
“That would be awesome. I know JC is always looking for an excuse to wear his suit, so it will be great.”
“What will Logan wear?”
“Don’t worry. I have something that will work just fine.” Heather was thinking about the cute outfit she’d bought for the kids’ pictures with Santa. She didn’t want to ruin the surprise about the photo. She’d told her mother that it didn’t look as if Santa would be doing pictures this year, but she had found a way to get it done.
“You know what?”
“I have some sticker sets. It’s a turkey and the feathers and stuff, and you basically make your own place card. I think we should all make one – I have enough sets. I’ll just put some in the mail for you. I’ll be sure to send two for each of the kids, just in case.”
“Good idea. This sounds like it’s going to be awesome, doesn’t it?”
“You know? It could end up being the best Thanksgiving ever.”
“It will certainly be different.”
“And I’ll miss giving you all hugs.”
“Me, too. But we will still get to go around the table and say what we’re thankful for. We’ll still get to say grace together, and we’ll get to celebrate the best way we can, given the special circumstances.”
“You’re right. We aren’t the only ones who have to adjust our plans this year. And since we’ll all be in our own house, we won’t have to ‘mask up.’”
Heather laughed. “Yeah, it would be kind of hard to eat with a mask on.”
Both women began to laugh. And at the same time, they both hitched as unbidden tears sprung to their eyes.
“I love you, Heather.”
“I love you too, Mom. Thank you for helping me put this together.”
“No, thank you. Thank you for indulging me and my need to be with you guys any way I can. Thank you for understanding that to me, holidays are family, and our family is my life.”
“I know, Mom. I know.”