My Mother never liked the Church Ladies. She was not much of a church goer, unlike my Dad who was Senior Warden at the local Episcopal Church. “They are always after your father. “Mom complained. Good luck with that. My parents fell in love in the third grade, married just after high school and raised six rambunctious children who probably would have overpowered them if they showed any signs of weakness or division.
I did find it kind of annoying that one or more of the well-coiffed and made-up Church Ladies would rush up to Dad after services and rest a bejeweled and manicured hand on his arm while they begged him to look at some refrigerator lightbulb that was out in the parish kitchen or a stained ceiling tile in the nursery. During Mom’s entire life, she owned one stick of lipstick and one container of rouge (mostly used for kid’s Halloween costumes) and only ever wore a simple gold wedding ring and the gold chain Dad gave her for their fortieth anniversary.
When Mom was in the hospital for heart surgery, the Church Ladies personally brought flowers, little gifts, and chicken casseroles to my Dad at the house. Each with a note to Dearest Charlie with phone numbers to “Call if you ever need to talk.” Dad hated chicken and hated the name “Charlie.” Mom came home in record time.
So when the Church Ladies asked Mom to help with the Thanksgiving Dinner for the Poor. I was surprised she agreed. “You can be in charge of the mashed potatoes, Janet.”
The mashed potatoes is the bottom of the barrel job in the world of Thanksgiving Dinners for the Poor. They are usually instant, too mushy or too dry. Mom showed up early on Thanksgiving with sixty pounds of Idaho spuds a dozen potato peelers and three wooden handled potato mashers.
“Janet, how are you going to peel all of those potatoes?” said the Queen Kitchen Church Lady.
“I don’t intend to peel any of these potatoes,” said my Mom, putting a large pot of water on to boil.
“Well, we can’t spare anyone.”
“There must be fifty people out there looking for something to do,” said Mom, pointing to the Parish Hall .
“WE are here to serve THEM,” came the response.
That’s not the way we do Thanksgiving in our house. Everyone does something. From Jim who carves the turkey, to Vicky who makes the cranberry sauce and brings the dessert, Aunt Dorothy with her Gawdawful turnips, Aunt Libby and her bread pudding, and the toddler who carefully brings the napkins to the table. To my Mother, preparing the Thanksgiving meal was a privilege and a gift to be shared by all and not to be denied to anyone.
Mom walked out into the church hall with sixty pounds of potatoes and a dozen potato peelers and asked, “Can anyone help us make the mashed potatoes?”
For a moment you could have heard a pin drop. Then one of the local homeless guys came up and took a potato peeler. “You need me for this job,” he said. “I peeled a million potatoes in the army!” Another woman, who was probably thirty and looked fifty said, “I always made the mashed potatoes when I was a girl.” Within minutes there was an assembly line of potato peelers and three anxiously waiting potato mashers. Stories were shared of good memories and happy Thanksgivings.
To the Church Ladies credit, they saw what was unfolding and opened their hearts and the kitchen to one of the best Thanksgiving Dinners for the Blessed the church ever had.