“I found the gravy recipe.” My sister, Judy, holds up a yellowed piece of paper pulled from a tattered manila folder.
“The plain gravy or the one with the giblets and eggs? You know…Grandma E’s gravy.” My other sister, Karen, takes the frayed page from Judy.
“It better be the plain one…I can’t stand all that junk Grandma used to put in her gravy.” I continue paging through Mom’s cookbooks, searching for more of her Christmas dinner recipes.
This is the first year my sisters and I are preparing Christmas dinner on our own. Both grandmas passed away a few years ago, and now Mom and Dad are celebrating Jesus’ birthday with them in heaven. You’d think three grown women would know how to cook a Christmas dinner…but we don’t. Oh sure, we can handle the store-bought rolls, green bean casserole, and veggie tray, but beyond that it was all grandmas and Mom…and Dad.
“What about Dad’s special mashed potatoes? Who’s gonna make those?” Karen sets aside Mom’s classic green recipe box and starts thumbing through a stack of loose cards.
“Brad can do it,” I offer. “He watched Dad a few times. The secret is in the sugar.”
“I didn’t know Dad used sugar in his mashed potatoes. Are you sure?” Judy eyes me suspiciously then flips open Mom’s well-used Betty Crocker cookie book. Apparently she’s done hunting for dinner recipes and moving on to sweeter selections.
“Tell Brad he has to make lots,” Karen continues. “There have to be leftovers for potato pancakes.”
Nobody asks who’s going to make the potato pancakes, or whose house we’re all going to stay at to eat them the next morning. The absence of our parents is suffocating enough without voicing the obvious.
“I’ll do the turkey since we’ll be at my house.” Karen’s family lives at the beach. Early on we decided that Christmas overlooking the Pacific Ocean would be a nice distraction since we could no longer gather at the house we grew up in. “I know Mom did it in a bag. It should be easy enough. The stuffing will be the boxed stuff, though…that’s what Mom used after Grandma died, anyway.”
“Has anyone seen the recipe for Mom’s cranberry sauce?” I pick up her timeworn Granddaughter’s Inglenook Cookbook.
“Who cares? I like the canned stuff better anyway.”
Okay, so neither of my sisters likes Mom’s cranberry sauce, but Christmas won’t be Christmas without it—at least for me. Carefully flipping through the taped-together cookbook, I see Mom’s handwriting scattered throughout the pages. Stopping at a note on page 108, I am rewarded with a recipe simply titled “Cranberries.” Water, cranberries, sugar. That’s it. What made it Mom’s special cranberry sauce, apparently, is the single sentence scribbled next to the recipe. Try not stirring cranberries.
Since neither sister cares about the cranberries, I appropriate Granddaughter’s Inglenook Cookbook for myself. Karen claims Mom’s turkey platter—“since I’m making the turkey”—and Judy sequesters the Christmas cookie cookbook.
Two hours later, we walk away from our childhood home. I silently pray we will somehow survive Christmas…without Mom and Dad.
Christmas Day. The turkey is golden and juicy, the potatoes are mashed and slightly sugared, and fresh cranberry sauce sits next to the canned stuff. Everything is in order except…the gravy. My sisters and I, each adorned in one of Mom’s Christmas aprons, stare at the stove. Judy firmly grasps the recipe, Karen stands ready with milk and flour, and I arm myself with Mom’s gravy whisk.
Judy starts to read, Karen starts to pour, I start to whisk. Judy reads some more, Karen pours a little more, and I whisk a lot more. Despite our best efforts, something just doesn’t look right. So…we change places.
I read from the top, Judy pours the remainder of the roux—a word we learned from Mom’s notes—and Karen whisks like gangbusters. As we stare into the pan, something starts to happen. The gooey mess actually begins to look like…gravy!
Karen cautiously picks up a spoon and tastes…then hands the spoon to me. I taste…then hand the spoon to Judy. Judy tastes…then…
“Whoop, whoop. We did it. Uh-huh. We’re good. Oh yeah.” The three of us give our best raise-it-to-the-roof rap impression, high-five each other, and do the end-zone victory dance to celebrate our success.
As our families sit down to Christmas dinner, two seats are painfully empty. But somehow, Mom’s gravy makes the void a little less distressing.
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