This was my first Thanksgiving in my new home, and since I’m now retired with lots of time I decided to do it up right. I took extra care with the turkey, trying a new thing this year, brining it, and made all the requisite side dishes.
As we were eating, the conversation turned to my mom’s Thanksgiving dinners. My mother used to pride herself on the number of different dishes she made every year, always trying to outdo the year before. I think she topped out at something like 38 different dishes. There almost wasn’t room for the family in the dining room that year, there was so much food.
“Remember how she used to always say she was going to cut down, and she’d ask us what the one thing each of us absolutely had to have was?” my son said. “And she would make each of those special requests, and then go ahead and make 30 other things, too.”
We all laughed.
“You always said green bean casserole,” I reminded him, urging him to have another helping of the green bean casserole I’d made.
“And look,” my daughter-in-law said, “you got me jellied cranberry sauce from a can! My favorite!”
I had, even though I’d never in my life bought cranberry jelly in a can. But she loved it, so I bought it. I’d even made steamed honey carrots, something my older son always loved, even though he wasn’t there with us this year.
“I didn’t get my mushrooms,” my husband said.
I turned and looked at him. Did he really say that? After he’d watched me clean and cut and chop and peel and bake and brine and …. For two days nonstop in the kitchen I cooked and prepared this meal, and the best he could do was, I didn’t get my mushrooms???
My mouth hardened. My jaw clenched. I looked down at my plate. It was quiet for a few seconds. I decided I wouldn’t let my hurt ruin our Thanksgiving. Instead, I picked up that stone and put it in my pocket for future use, then put a smile on my face and continued on with the meal.
But every so often I would reach in my pocket and rub that stone. I was polishing it up good. I have quite a collection of stones – the stones of little hurts, and indignations, and slights that husbands and wives throw at each other, intentionally or unintentionally. The stones I guard, and polish, and water, and nurture.
I take the stones thrust upon me and put them in my pocket until my pocket gets full, and then I put them in my backpack. These stones are my justification for so many things. They justify my anger when I want to be mad. They justify my hiding when I don’t want to share how I’m feeling. They justify my pity party when I want to wallow around for a while.
So all through Thanksgiving dinner I felt this stone in my pocket, and the heaviness of it and the burden of it gave me some perverse pleasure. Score another stone for me! I was quite sure my backpack had far more stones in it than his did. Because I, after all, was such a wonderful wife.
The next day, though, as I was transferring that stone from my pocket to my backpack, something happened. I was looking at that now highly polished stone and something caught my eye. I looked real close, and I saw that it was a reflection.
And it wasn’t very pretty.
It was the reflection of a woman who took care to make her son’s favorite dish. A woman who took care to have her new daughter-in-law’s favorite dish, even if it was somewhat repugnant to her. A woman who even had her absent son’s favorite dish.
But who hadn’t thought to include her husband’s favorite dish.
As much as I tried to argue myself around – who had sautéed mushrooms on Thanksgiving, anyway? All those other things were actual Thanksgiving dishes, for crying out loud! – it didn’t work. The reality was that I had considered everyone else, but not the man who had been devoted to me for the last 35 years. The one person I should always, always consider first.
And I had an epiphany right then. That stone? And all those other stones I’d been carrying around? They hadn’t been thrust upon me at all. I’d made the conscious choice to bend down and pick each and every one of them up where they fell, and put them in my pocket, and polish them up, and then put them in my backpack, and carry them around, and use them to build my walls and fortresses, to stand on them and to hide behind them and to let them be my cold, hard comfort.
I looked at this particular stone in my hand. I wanted to keep it. I wanted to put it with the others in my backpack. I didn’t want to let go of it. Someday I would be able to throw it back at him, after all. Letting go of it would be letting go of some of my … power.
But keeping it might be the stone that broke the woman’s back.
I told my husband I was sorry I didn’t think to make mushrooms for him. And he told me he was sorry he hurt my feelings by pointing it out.
I still have stones in my backpack that I haven’t let go of yet. I’m hoping I’ll be able to at some point. And maybe – just maybe – I’ve learned something and will quit adding new ones to my collection.
Finally. After 35 years.