I wake from my sleep to the warm aroma of roasting turkey. It’s been cooking slow and low through the night, basting in its juices under a tent of foil. It’s easier to get up in the morning when the alarm is aromatic. I shuffle out to the kitchen and open the pantry door, selecting one of my aprons to wear atop my pajamas. I step through the kitchen door to check on the fruits of yesterday’s labors. A long folding table is set up in the garage, out there in the chilly air we call God’s fridge. One dozen pies are placed like a dot to dot on the plastic table top, created by a multi-generational crew of pseudo-pastry chefs in a Pig-Pen style cloud of flour dust yesterday in my kitchen. The crusts have relaxed sweetly around the apples and blueberries, and the trio of pumpkins are slightly weepy, with that sweet little crack in the middle where we had tested their readiness with a butter knife while they were still hot in the oven. Two empty shells await Kate’s annual chocolate and banana cream fillings. Their sweet flaky rims flutter in golden ripples around my deep hand thrown Bennion pottery pie plates.
Back in the warm kitchen I pull a handful of eggs from the fridge, and set the turkey neck and giblets in a pan of water on the top of the stove. I pull the blinds up from the kitchen windows and let the day stream in.
Two hours later Kate stands at the stovetop, stirring with the metal boinger as she slowly adds egg yolks mixed with cream to her basic cream pie recipe. The steady scraping of the bottom of the pan sounds like a jazz drummer on a well-worn cymbal. The crock pot exhales fragrant wisps from beneath its plastic lid; little buttery bubbles in aromatic stuffing releasing the scent of sage and thyme infused with turkey giblets, broken dried bread moistened with butter and broth, gathered together with celery and water chestnuts. Against the chopping and the stirring and the clanging is the rhythm of a Macy’s Parade marching band playing through television speakers. The kitchen door slaps behind a crew of grunt workers sent down from the East Wing (aka, my sister’s house, just to the east of us.) This year we will feast in the West Wing. The men-folk discuss table layout, counting the guest list on multiple hands. They shift the couches and chairs and coffee tables, drag-in other portable tables (we have a supply). One by one they fling the edges of fabric tablecloths up to the heavens, letting them float to the tabletops, then begin the setting process, adding a couple extra place settings in case someone new shows up. In a few hours we will look into the faces of the people we love most in this world. We will clasp hands and bow our heads and partake, and it will be simply beautiful. But the joy…the truest joy, is found in the in between; that place between waking and partaking. The motion, the conversation, the aromas. The softness of freshly baked rolls pulled from the oven. The laughter of little ones playing dress up or assembling toy train tracks, or gluing together paper chains scribbled with gratitudes. The chill of late fall sneaking in when the front door opens. The waft of warmth when the oven door is pulled down and the foil is removed from the turkey.
Big, memorable moments have their place. We hang our pretty photographs on our living room walls. Sweetly staged portraits, planned and executed to preserve a moment in time. Lovely reminders. But the truest treasures are in the snapshots, the ones we snap on a whim and save in a drawer, or a photo album, or our computers and hand-helds.
I close my eyes and imagine gathering all my snapshots and stacking them in a pile. I imagine pinching a thick stack of captured moments in my left hand and placing my right thumb against the other side, letting the photos flicker through like the little animated booklets we got in Cracker Jacks boxes when I was little.
I’ve always been a project person. My days are patterned around the things I have to do, the responsible things like gigs or meetings or classes and such. Deadline driven things. And if there is no deadline, it seems I create projects, probably as a subconscious way to avoid bigger things that overwhelm me. Routine never did work too well for me. I swirl from one major or semi-major task to another. But lately it has been given to me, by the Giver of all personal revelation, that the product of my projects, while they may be satisfying to some degree, is not where the greatest treasure lies.
Instead I find it there, in the places where we do not wear make-up; where the windows are dusty from yesterday’s rain and the chandelier has a few lights that need to be replaced…where the kitchen floor is a grubby mess…or where the kids are asleep in the back seat on the long drive home…
There where the noise is deafening between someone screaming that they can’t find their shoes, the dog is barking, the baby is whining that he does NOT need a new diaper and the teenager ignores your request to change the baby’s diaper because the earphones are stuffed in her ears…
There in the achy silence of an undisturbed bed pillow, there the white noise of a television will not lull you to sleep in spite of utter exhaustion at having done nothing but grieve…where a gentle word from a knowing friend evokes a river of tears….
There, in the beautiful swirl of nothing notable, is the stuff of life. The stuff we will miss a thousand years from now. The place where joy and sorrow sit hand in hand, completely at ease with one another, like old, old friends on a familiar park bench. Beautiful, messy, divinely unremarkable in-betweens.