A Mixed Blessing

by Caren on November 27, 2009

imagesby Caren Osten Gerszberg

I don’t know about you, but my Thanksgiving came with a mixed blessing.

Surrounded by a large number—18 to be exact—of family and close friends, I revel in the togetherness of this day. It is with great joy and appreciation that we fill our family’s table with people we love and consider as family, even if we are not of blood relation. I cook for days, mostly alone, and without stress or anxiety develop a menu including an array of dishes that I know most at our table—kids included—will enjoy. With abandon, I sauté and carmelize, roast and bake and love practically every minute of it. With my husband, I select wines we will drink throughout the afternoon and evening, and make sure all beverages are in check.

Yesterday arrived, and although I wondered if my 24-pound turkey, who I’d named Matilda, would ever actually be done (she took about 6 hours), my hopes were high for a lovely day. My husband and kids played basketball out front in our driveway, and my dog trailed me, sensing when I was going to use the turkey baster and hoping she’d get to lick a drip of anything meat-related. Following an urge to blast some loud music, I decided to be a bit zen and put on Mozart instead of Dave Matthews. The day was going without a hitch.

And then, my mother arrived. At 75, she looks good physically, and I was glad to see her. But the predictable was only moments away.

“Can I please have a glass of wine?” she asked.

“You can have one glass, with dinner, so just wait until then,” I answered.

My mother, a French native who has always loved wine, grew to love it too much about ten years ago, and her love morphed into an addiction which continues to plague me at every event—both big and small, mundane and celebratory.

Moments later, a friend was chasing me around the kitchen, clutching a glass and obviously uncomfortable as my mother anxiously followed her.

“Here, Caren,” she said. “This belongs to your cousin but your mother was drinking it when he got up to go to the restroom. I thought you may want to know.”

I looked at my mother-turned-child, and like the stern authority I needed to be—lest she get drunk, slur her words, and become an embarrassment to her grandchildren—I told her: “NO! You can have some wine with dinner and you need to wait.”

We sat down at the table. She drank a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and without hesitation, asked for more. This continued throughout the meal. And dessert. While we talked Thanksgiving trivia and my son told Thanksgiving jokes, friends were moving the bottles to the other end of the table, trying to make the temptation a little less for my mom. She followed me into the kitchen, asking again and again, until finally, I picked up the phone.

“I need a taxi. How long will it take?” I inquired, trying to breathe deeply and keep calm.

Ten minutes later, I ushered her into a taxi. She complained but I stood firm. I was just trying to cut my losses before it got worse for both of us.

Once she was gone, I could finally relax, but not without feeling brokenhearted. I wanted my mother to be here, to share in a tradition to which she exposed me. For years, she had seamlessly hosted a house full of people, where being grateful went along with a table laden with scrumptious food.

But she’s not the mother I knew. I miss my mother. But I still love Thanksgiving.