With this Thanksgiving Season fast approaching, my own approach to the thought seems to be a bewildered glance around the room, the kitchen and the house, wondering if I can possibly get order enough into this chaos to set a Thanksgiving table.
Trust me---in all the beautiful occasions and teas and the wonderful gatherings and parties and plain dinners swept up a notch by a special touch or two, there HAVE been some of those were it not for just-a-pool-of-light over the table itself, outlining and highlighting all the festive and orderly touches---well, you’d probably have ske-daddled right out, wondering how long the wait might be at Cracker Barrel.
And every time I’m in a quandary (or a downright mess, to be honest), I think of Mammaw’s baby sister, Aunt Lo.
She was not a large woman by any means, but she was an enormous presence, somehow, with gorgeous clothes and sumptuous perfume and a way of pinning a scarf or a brooch or a corsage that set her apart from anyone else. And her hearty burgundy laugh---that laugh encompassed everyone in a room and drew them in, drew them in.
My Great Aunt Lo lived a big life, traveling to
Hot Springs and
Rock City and Nashville-for-the-Opry, and buying her clothes in at Goldsmiths and
Lowenstein's, having REAL luggage---a matched set---and not much caring what
anybody thought. About anything. She had quite a few stodgy old Pekingese
dogs, a big yardful of called-by-name chickens that she occasionally made a batch of pancakes for, calling them to her feet as she sat on the back steps and fed bites to each one off a fork. She also had a monkey, but he's been told. Memphis
Her red nail polish matched her lipstick, which was put on with the oddest little down-strokes side-by-side in the middle, higher than her own lipline, then by doing a big old theater-mask-mouth which stretched her bottom lip TIGHT while she did a corner-to-corner Revlon swoop (Love That Red). That lip totally covered, she bit them tight together, transferring a coat to the top lip. The original two little pointy places right in the middle stood brightly high like the tops of angel-wings, their line of demarcation flowing into the flat dryness of a sifty layer of Coty powder which clung to the downy hairs of her upper lip.
She was the “odd” sister, by chance and by choice, and childless, I know not by which---and even after she’d gained great age and lost several husbands, she said “I STILL cook for Occasions.”
And she did. Whether for company or just for HER. She’d finish up the Cornish Hens and dressing for Thanksgiving, or the black-eyed peas for New Year’s Day, then go put on her black silk, or a maroon hostess gown, or even some “evening pajamas” to sit down at her big set-for-one table (later mine, with sideboard, china cabinet and eight chairs, as it passed to my Mammaw, earmarked in subsequent conversations as for me).
She’d eat and pass finger-bits to her two fat Pekes, and put that big old pink-swan ashtray right on there between the gravy boat and the Ocean Spray, to smoke between bites if it suited her. I don’t remember her having wine, or ever serving it, but she and my succession of “uncles” were quite fond of their G & T, and that was perhaps her beverage with her Thanksgiving supper. After the last uncle passed on, I wonder to whom she directed the ice-shake of her glass, to denote, “Baby, make me another little sip.”
And yes, I was often the “Baby” making her those “little sips,” as soon as I was old enough to lift that big clear bottle. I know she was with US for more holidays than not, and never us with her (see Monkey Business, above), but I do remember that spark of celebration which she always had, to “Cook for Occasions.”