Whipped to airy heights of 2-3 inches, Hazel Bull’s lemon meringue pies were masterpieces that seemed to defy gravity. A few weeks before Thanksgiving each year, I would mail a letter to her with a dime pasted inside to cover the cost of “the lemon,” and ensure that pie would be on the buffet for the holiday meal. Close to forty years later, Hazel is 102 and lives with that and many other memories in her heart and head. With her wits, humor and appetite in place, her macular degeneration and the realities of aging took her out of her kitchen 15 years ago.
Hazel is my grandmother and lives 2500 miles away. Aunt Mary reads my letters to her, a mix of painting vivid pictures of the beauty all-around me in McCall, and a reflection on something magical that happened when we were together years ago. The magic was in the simplicity. After many white-knuckled snowy drives across Pennsylvania’s route 80, we would pull in my grandparents’ driveway. Peering out the window, their smiling faces were aglow with their white hair. Big hugs were followed by a beeline to the three cookie jars stuffed with ginger, sour cream, oatmeal, and peanut butter cookies. After a big glass of Dodd’s Farm milk and a few cookies, Jennifer and I tumbled into bed. Sharing the double bed came with its sisterly battles to equally split the bed in half, and the hogging and pulling of the covers rituals.
Thanksgiving morning we awoke to the smells and sounds coming from the kitchen. The pies were in production, with the beaters whirling and flour sprinkled across the counters. I’d head into the kitchen to sample anything that was in the works, and then lay in front of the huge box of a TV to watch the Macy’s Day Parade. When the pie came out of the oven I stood in awe of it, with just the slightest touch of brown on the wispy tall peaks. After my Grammy set the pie down, it was time for me to sit on her lap and rub her very soft elbows and the backs of her arms. She indulged my fascination with just how soft and flappy her skin was. I’d holler “save my knees!” if I had to get up as if my mom had a hankering to take my spot.
It’s the simple and powerful sensory memories that stay with us. It’s the experiences and connections with others that fill us with gratitude, and fuel us as we move forward in life. It’s how we feel when we create the spaces for ourselves and others to be at their best, to welcome them with love and gratitude. This past year I’ve met so many incredibly beautiful souls, as well as deepened my relationships with those I’m already so fortunate to know. As my Grammy always told me, “take time to smell the roses.” I honor that as I meander out in the universe, slowing down to see, feel, connect, and reflect.
Thanksgiving is a day of gratitude, a day to focus on what matters most. But don’t make it only that day.