Coastline Pilot/LA TIMES
26 November 2004
Chasing the Muse
Thanksgiving : 1956.
Accordion music? Well, why not. It’s Edna, my father’s mother, and she loves to play. She plops her mink coat on the couch, pulls the mysterious instrument from its case and transforms the room with music and her infectious giggle. Her golden blonde hair sparkles in the late afternoon light, as her red-toed shoes tap a beat in time to the stretch of the musical instrument’s diaphragm. My brother, sister and I (we are 5,4 and 7 respectively) sit attentively at her feet, mesmerized by this woman who is our grandmother (although we are certainly not allowed to call her such).
This is our first Thanksgiving in Laguna Beach. Our new two-story home sits at the top of Ledroit Lane, resplendent in its soft yellow shake siding. The house is seventy-five years old, and the wiring and plumbing are suspect, but we are thrilled to be ‘in’ after a couple of months of apartment living while waiting for escrow to close. The land feels enormous; my childhood mind thinks it must be acres and acres of property. There is a fruit orchard in the back and a huge lawn in front, shadowed by towering eucalyptus trees. The drive to the house is narrow and private. It’s as if we have landed in our own personal world.
The kitchen is filled with the powerful scents of the cooking. A turkey nears the end of its roasting, browned and inviting, and my mother, wrapped in a checked gingham apron, stands before a large pan pressing the boiled potatoes to a mashed form. Her mother, Gretchen, stirs the gravy, while Catharine, my great-grandmother and namesake, adds fresh oranges to the fruit salad.
In the living room, beside the live musical entertainment, my father mixes drinks while telling endless stories of Cadillac’s and real estate. My mother’s father, Harold, nods respectively. Jack, Edna’s life partner, a round and jolly man, asks the usual questions of us kids. “Are we doing well in school? Are we staying out of trouble?” We look at each other, gulp down our mischievous smiles and nod as we answer, “Yes, Sir.” Ice cubes clink in the grownup’s dark cocktails of bourbon or scotch, and the air is thick with their collective cigarette smoke.
I am commandeered to the kitchen to help with dinner. Plates are heaped with turkey, potatoes, gravy, beans, yams, salad and rolls, and carefully I carry each to the big dining room table set for the occasion. The white lacey tablecloth is decorated with flowers and white candles, and is covered with side dishes of olives, pickles and cranberries. There are two special butter dishes with their own tiny knives, and earlier, I helped mom set the table with the fancy silver.
My father sits at the head of the table; my mother sits opposite at the other. The kids and the grandparents fill in the spaces on both sides. I am honored to sit next to my great-grandfather, Adolf, a German immigrant, now in his late 80s and for the most part, quiet. I like how his hands are a bit rough, but always re-assuring. I know, that after dinner, I’ll be allowed to sit in his lap and listen to his carefully chosen words of wisdom.
We join hands, close our eyes and for a moment, a silence takes the chatter out of the room. Thankfulness fills all of our hearts, not just for the meal, but for the gift of life and the full joy of being together. I know that I am luckier than most to have so many of my grandparents with which to share the holiday.
We come together, as do families all across the country, to share in this uniquely American holiday which honors our beginnings. We open our hearts to one another with love, and put down disagreements for these few hours of thanksgiving. I cherish these memories, and have committed each year to creating new ones, which are rich and equally treasured.
This year, an extended family, replete with the addition of good friends, will fill our Laguna home with food, joy and laughter. I shall miss the accordion and its blonde musician, but its music and her memory will echo in my heart. I’m sure, my father will continue to bless us with yet another story, and my mother will wrap me in her warm smile and knowing arms.
Our prayers will include the dream that peace may reign upon this planet, and that hunger and disease maybe put to rest.
May your holidays be filled with laughter, love and joy.
Catharine Cooper maybe reached at email@example.com
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