The Ambiguous Pot: A Thanksgiving Story of Regret

“Your name is in the pot” is what my mother used to say. That meant that she was cooking the meal and you were invited – whether you made it to her home to eat or not. I’ve thought of her words, the sayings of which are embedded into the folklore of our family history. Her words, when remembered and often expressed in a reverent tone followed by a silence in which each one of us listening, would slip back in time to her presence on earth. A smile either in secret memory or slowly spreading across a face not wanting to smile because a painful present did not want to consider any form of gaiety. Regret overwhelms an ordinary present that is not ordinary because of time. A present that goes on day after day of living while trying to understand circumstances that you are trying to forget.

Maybe forgetting is not where the answer lies. Maybe dissecting the present that is made up of the circumstances of living the past is the logical thing to do. Let your critical thinking resolve the problem. That’s not an easy task when it’s hard to know what the issue is. Maybe the problem lies with that person in the mirror – then again, maybe not.

Can there be a Thanksgiving dinner when the hurt and pain that one is not thankful for is accelerated by the very occasion itself? Once the family curtain is torn and that fragile beating tenderness is exposed, patching and sewing seems impossible, putting someone’s name in the pot seems so irrelevant. Once the “no, I would feel uncomfortable” words are uttered, the pot deflates, the bubbling aroma of love becomes a pungent smelly thing to be avoided. The table setting, though beautiful and inviting, becomes a pale unnecessary piece of furniture. And no matter that sunlight fills the room, or glistening chandelier lights shine down on the meal, the element of sorrow and emptiness in the atmosphere, leaves much unsaid, even as prayer is uttered in hushed tones.

Dowen, pronounced Do-win, is what we called her from the time my eldest first started talking and called her that name. She was no longer Mom or Punkin (for Pumpkin, I assume, as my father had referred to her). However, my eldest son, in his infancy, called her Dowen and she remained that for the remainder of her life.

She cooked oh, how she cooked. On Sundays, people would come from all around to join in our family dinners. They owned a restaurant/bar, the two of them, and Dowen cooked and Dad ran the bar at night. I can’t compare to her kitchen magic. She could walk into a kitchen seemingly empty of food to prepare for us a meal of fluffy biscuits from flour, water, lard and baking powder; syrup of sugar and water and a little piece of salt pork fried to render the grease to place in the center of the sugar syrup on our plates, while Dad got the small bit of fried meat. Oh, how good it tasted. One quart of milk left by the door early morning by the milk man measured carefully between the four glass jars that we drank from completed our meal. My two sons know that I fall short in her expertise. However, I admit that I’m no slacker when it comes to cooking. It’s just that she had a special something. She used to say that she put love in the pot just where your name was. Do I not put enough love in my pots? Maybe that’s why the thudding ache in my stomach that the visionaries call my “core” is there. It’s that pain choking the center of me tearing me apart, not allowing that sweet river to flow through my body filling every part of me with the love that my mother had in her.

It would seem that love would come from the heart. But, my pain emanates from the center of me, not allowing one end of me to be in contact with the other tearing me in two (now I know what that saying means).  Who would have thought that the man who would be the cause of that kind of pain would be one that I gave birth.

My pain is a family thing. I’m sure many families go through similar situations and either they live through it in pretense and denial or they actually fight at holiday gatherings. Some families look forward to witnessing family members attack each other verbally and physically until the last pugilist leaves for home. Since it’s an expected event, no harm, no pain.

Maybe I’m a sissy, experiencing stomach pain instead of fighting it out. But how does one turn in hatred and anger toward those turned down eyes that once looked up to me in dependence and need. His love has flown on the wings I clipped, crippled in dependence on me to another woman. She knows it to and relishes in it. She tells him what to say and do as I used to. I prepped him for the manipulation. I carefully formed his psyche for her to use her femaleness to control him. It’s my fault. It was how I kept them out of trouble as teenagers. Both of my sons feared my words and my anger even as I loved and guided them to adulthood.

Should I be blamed for how I raised two sons? He left me while I was pregnant with the one now flown away to go to and marry another pregnant woman. He had no care that I had a two-year old in tow and the flown one in my belly.  He married three other times. At our beginning, after a year of dating, he had convinced me that my love was not true if I did not prove it before he reported for a two-week duty assignment for Uncle Sam. My proof immediately became my shame in my junior year in high school. I had good parents and they supported the three of us with love and care until death took them from me. It’s so ironic now that he is older, he’s good to both the flown one who has always desired his love and the older one who does not care.

As I think it out, all that togetherness and guidance has turned into a situation. Words in simple conversation have become daggers flying wirelessly through the air entering my ears and landing point down into the soft flesh turning and twisting to maximize the hurt. The good thing is that I’m losing the weight that I’ve attempted to lose for years. Food does not sit well in a weakened core.

I still smile. The true laughter will return. It always does. If I can conjure up that same love that Dowen carried with patience and beauty until she died, then I’ll be able to put love in the pot as she did with thanksgiving and praise.

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