My Aunt Connie’s Thanksgiving Gift

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  There is no gift giving, No real decorating to speak of unless you are Martha Stewart. Martha Stewart and I share a birthday.  That’s about all we share.

I love Thanksgiving.

Photo by Virginia Simionato on Unsplash

I cooked my first turkey when I was 15 or so.  I wanted to learn.  Easy peasy.  Even bad turkey is good.  I learned how to make gravy from the giblets.  I already knew how to make bread and Grandma Emma’s chocolate bottom pie.  I always have fresh cranberries for my mother.  Roasted asparagus for my brother.  Squash with sausage for my dad when he was still alive as well as cornbread dressing and regular dressing.  In fact, dressing may be my favorite.

Of course, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.  And Brussel sprouts.  I vow each year to add corn pudding but haven’t yet.  It’s already two full days of cooking and I’m getting old.  There will be wine and everyone’s favorite soft beverage. 

Everyone has that one thing they want to see on the table, and I try to cater that.

For me, it’s not Thanksgiving without olives.  Black ones.  Pitted.  The plain old ones in a can.  Jumbo.  Often, they don’t make it to the table.  I eat them in the kitchen, off my fingertips, while cooking.

Before we moved to Hawaii, so I would have been younger than 7, we were in Michigan for Thanksgiving dinner. I was in the kitchen with my Aunt Connie who I had no memory of. She was wearing an apron.  She is Italian and is the widow of my mother’s brother, Gary. 

My mother abhors olives.  I had never even seen an olive before.  One by one, Connie took olives and stuck them on the tip of my fingers and thumbs while I was in the kitchen underfoot.  I ate every one of them.  Best thing I had ever put in my mouth.  Loved them.  I became a black olive connoisseur at that moment.

At the table, there was a relish tray though of course I didn’t know that’s what it was called.  There was celery and I don’t remember what else besides the olives.  I loved celery.  I still do.  It’s probably why I love dressing so much.  I put celery in everything I can get away with.  I was an adventurous eater as a child (still am) and ate my body weight or more at each meal. (Still do.)  I gorged on celery and olives as well as everything else on the table. Except cranberries.  I’m not really a fan.

Black olives are the gift from my Aunt Connie that I will never forget.

This year I am not cooking for Thanksgiving.  I feel kind of guilty about it, but a friend is catering.  I will add in the missing things that are important to those of us intending, but we’re talking a few hours in the kitchen, much fewer pans, and much much less cleanup.  Of course, there will be olives.  We’ll see if they make it to the table.

I do feel guilty.  But there has just been so much going on that I can’t afford two days lost in the kitchen though I love it.  I do.  I love cooking holiday dinners.  Preparing food may be my love language.

May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with everything and everyone you need to feel grateful. 


I have been blessed with some quirky folks in my life – a whole parade of them.  I seem to attract them or am attracted to them.  One of them was my Aunt Irene.  She was in a class of her own.

I grew up a military brat and really have little to no memory of my extended family before I was 10.  We had just come back from Hawaii and were driving across country from California to Virginia with stops along the way to visit friends and family we hadn’t seen since before our three years in Hawaii.  Some of them we hadn’t seen even in the years before that.

One of them was my Aunt Irene in Kansas City. 

Oh my.  She was larger than life.  A brash redhead, but vulnerable.  Sincere and irreverent.  And her name.  I just loved that name.  I vowed then and there if I ever had a daughter I would make part of her name Irene. 

Up until then, the women I met were straight-laced, often officer’s wives ever conscious of their husbands’ reputations.  Or church ladies.  Warm and nurturing yet somewhat distant with kids.

She was short, possessed of remarkable breasts, chain-smoked, and had just given birth to her youngest child that first time I met her – that I could remember meeting her.  Kansas City in January was cold, and we were miserable after the tropics, but the 250- watt laughter of my Aunt Irene blew the cold away. 

She called me Connie Lynn as did all my family because my dad was known as Connie.  Later he became Conrad and I became Connie, but Irene called me Connie Lynn until she died.

While we were there, she took us to see the park.  In that 1970 winter, Kansas City, Missouri sprayed the park with water creating ice sculptures of trees.   It was breathtaking.  My grin must have been huge because she said, “You like that, Connie Lynn?”  I was somewhat shocked.  I was of that generation of kids that should be seen, but not heard.  She acknowledged my presence and wanted my opinion.   Pretty heady stuff.

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If my grief. . .

If my grief were a book, it would be Dickens. Large, expansive, serialized.  My grief provokes tears, provokes laughter.  Marvels at the absurdity of life.  Goes on and on.  Driven by words.  And memories.  Little action and lots of description. 

If my grief were a touch, it would be the grip of an infant on his mother’s thumb.  Hanging on, but oblivious to the need to do so. A reflex of sorts. Never wondering why.

If my grief were a bowl, it would be a large ceramic bowl used to make bread.  Something that can hold the small bit of yeast and water and hold the enormous amounts of flour.  Accommodate the dough and air while holding the temperature steady for the rising.

If my grief were a garden, it would be a cottage garden.  English.  Somewhat of a mess, but breathtaking at its peak.

If my grief were a dog, it would be a dachshund.  Stubborn, hard to train, following me everywhere.  Sweet in its devotion. Sincere in its love.

If my grief were a pair of glasses, it would be bifocals with lines, heavy black frames, held together with super glue, and a Band-Aid.

If my grief were a sunset, it would be the opposite of a Hawaiian one.  The sun would not blaze the sky with color and magnificence to slip into a silver ocean turning the sky a vivid dark blue.  Oh no.  It would be the sunset of a blizzard in Maine.  Unnoticed for the misery.

If my grief were a door, it would be a revolving one like at the bank.  With muddy footprints and the fingerprints of mourners on the glass.

If my grief were an elevator, it would be out of order.  The door opening and closing, opening and closing, opening and closing, going nowhere.

If my grief were a sports car, it would be a Camaro – mostly ordinary but with a certain touch of pizzazz –like a custom paint job.

If my grief were a person, it would be Cheri and Donnie, Doug and Daddy, Susan and Debbie and Jes.

If my grief were to leave, I think there would remain a hole where it used to be.

Hawaii (or you can go back)

I was gifted with the experience of living in Hawaii for three years.  I was 7 when we moved there and 10 when we left.  I did not then realize what I had been given.  I guess I thought everyone lived in paradise, but simultaneously I also knew I had lived somewhere special. 

We left on January 10, 1970.  It’s funny that I remember that date.  Our last act in Hawaii was to go to the bank and withdraw all our money.  While at the bank, my brother and I got on one another’s nerves.  I poked him.  He kicked me.  And tore a hole in the lace of my very “gourmet” dress.  I was incensed.  I was quite the fan of the Galloping Gourmet, a television cooking show hosted by Graham Kerr who was more often than not drunk.  Gourmet was the highest praise I could give anything. 

Hawaii was gourmet.

We arrived in San Francisco a week later via ocean liner.  The crossing had been rocky and my mother was inflicted with horrific sea sickness.  My brother and I had been left to our own devices for the most part and had the run of the ship.  I remember bits and pieces of that sailing, but the memories are not vivid like some of my memories of Hawaii. My mother describes disembarking in San Francisco as being like the Wizard of Oz in reverse.  We went from technicolor to black and white. 

I always vowed to go back, but not until I could do so with grace and style.  Hawaii is horrifically expensive if one isn’t lucky enough to live in military housing with access to the commissary – the military’s grocery store.

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