This Thanksgiving morn kindles fond memories of my Aunt Barb. She was the eldest of my father’s seven siblings, always a special one to me on this day. My aunt made Thanksgiving look and feel like a Hallmark commercial or a “pop-up” cut-out card to be treasured in a box under the ruffle of my bed. If she were alive today, she would long be in the midst of Thanksgiving preparations, cozy and warm within the confines of her Bay City, bungalow. Like a snow-globe found in a department store, a child’s hold could shake it to see her smiling there while stuffing turkeys, preparing pies, or filling crystal candy dishes for her nieces and nephew’s with colored, M&M’s.
My aunt Barb took it upon herself to create an extended tradition for my enormous family, one that I have never forgotten. Generous in spirit, humble and kind, she was a special person through and through. Blessed to have escaped a rare gene that ravaged the lives of three of her younger sisters, she made silent promises to God, I believe, in going above and beyond in ways others could not.
My aunt’s house was not a large home, two bedrooms and a bath. Her galley kitchen was small with black and white linoleum covering the floor. I remember the stairway going to the basement was directly in the back, with a windowed door in between. On Thanksgiving, it was forever left open. Once you passed through, magic began to happen. I can still hear the clicking sounds of my patent leather Mary Jane shoes as I raced my cousins down the stairway to the heart and home of Thanksgiving.
The basement was divided into two large rooms. It wasn’t finished in a fancy custom design like basements are today. No, simple cement block walls greeted me, painted in bright and cheery pastel colors. I remember being in awe of an extra kitchen at the bottom of the basement stairway, making me believe my aunt was rich! Looking back, it was nothing more than a row of necessities to make life easier on Thanksgiving Day. An old farm sink in shiny white, a gold oven with a big round clock on top and a white refrigerator that made buzzing sounds. Still, extra turkeys browned and baked within the oven’s warmth, jiggly salads of jello chilled in the refrigerator’s coolness, while dishes were endlessly washed within the basin of the sink.
The basement’s tile floor beneath our shoes was shiny and bright. There was a corner where all of us kids took turns bending down to see our faces in it. Windows were all around the bottom of the cement wall, allowing fall sunlight to peer in. Our cousins smashed pink noses flat against the glass of dust to see us from the outside. In return, we teased them from the inside. They were missing all the good stuff! The smells of pumpkin pie, the games we played and oh, the fun we had down the basement there!
In the next room was a table the length I’d never seen before. Actually it was a combination of several little tables, all pushed together with many mis-matched cloths on top so one and all could sit together. Anticipation seemed to last f.o.r.e.v.e.r! Finally, my mother, together with all of my aunts took turns bringing in plates of delicious food. Carefully, they sat each colored platter and bowl on top of tables while lifting lids up above to allow steam to escape. I marveled at the twirling smoke, watching it swirl to the top of the ceiling. Soon my father said the Thanksgiving Day prayer, giving thanks for our many blessings, and always to Aunt Barb who had brought our great big family together, making us all one for the special day.
After bellies were full, women pitched in to help clean-up, children scattered outside to play make-believe, while men trudged upstairs to the living room to watch afternoon sports on a colored television. Babies cried, mother’s bounced them on their knees, and daddies passed them back and forth. Toddlers teetered, older cousin’s sneaked M&M’s from crystal bowls, little boys played cowboys, and I dreamed imaginary tales while talking with my cousin in the “woods” beside my aunt’s shingled house. There wasn’t any woods, really. An extra lot with a few trees, but to me it was Sherwood’s Forest….
When I picture my Aunt Barb today, I see her like she always was. A beautiful face with skin the color of perfect porcelain. With eyes as bright as the ocean blue, they truly were the “windows to her soul.” She had a tremendous love for family together with an amazing zest for life. She did almost anything she ever wanted. My aunt traveled the world while helping others. She laughed every day, danced with the two of her legs while twinkling her eyes. I remember as a little girl, she used to tell me I was her special gift because we shared the same birthday. Truth be told, she was my special gift.
Year after year, my Aunt Barb brought our overflowing family together on Thanksgiving Day. I’ve cherished those memories ever since. I will forevermore.