On her 58th birthday, I gave my mother a journal—bound in hardcover with the words “Potting Shed” on the spine. Perhaps it was intended for someone to write their garden dreams. I intended it as a place of germination for my mother’s thoughts to transform into writings that many would read. She left the book empty.
My mother could have been many things—a scientist, a teacher, a basketball coach, an Olympic swimmer, a marketing manager, a chaplain. But she chose to be a wife, mom, volunteer, and friend. A surgeon and leader in the Methodist church, my dad typically took top billing. A Methodist minister once recalled, “He was my grandmother’s doctor, and to her, whatever he said was gospel. He was the closest thing to Jesus on earth. When I was a district superintendent, my wife and I both got the flu, and he came to the house and gave us a Z-pack and brought the best chicken-and-rice soup made by Bunny.”
Mom stacked containers of soup in the freezer—always ready to dispatch to a family needing a dose of homey goodness, a bowl of steaming comfort food prompted by a script written in the heart: TLC, or tender, loving care.
Humor and grace colored her actions and words as she lived in service to others. Though christened Frances Marion, she exhibited the energy and lightheartedness of her nickname, Bunny. She embraced every role with a bemused quip. Often elected an officer in the Parent-Teacher Association, she laughed about the most memorable slate of Deep South mom talent: “They just elected Kitten, Buttercup, and Bunny to lead this crew. What were they thinking?!”
Mom never kept a scorecard of her good works. Indeed, she turned the spotlight on others. She saved the crude paintings and overly sentimental scribblings of my childhood. Mom handed me the beauty of poetry at an early age, so its rhythm came to me as readily as heartbeats. She fed her young children a steady diet of nursery rhymes and literary classics. I remember clapping to verses. She read aloud with vivid expression while one of us turned the pages. As I grew older, she sometimes bookended observations about life with her favorite lines from Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats, Tennyson, and Frost.
Time is fleeting. The family home has passed to strangers. The children have scattered, in the autumns of their lives.
Yet I remember the constant of my mother’s life. What would she have said about the stream of articles and newscasts that warn of tribalism cracking apart lifelong relationships at the Thanksgiving table? I imagine a sensible answer: “That’s a choice—to allow the fear, grudges, insults, and cruelty of the disgruntled to violate home and hearth.” All her life, she forgave those who hurt her—with the gentle capacity to truly let go.
Even at Thanksgiving, she could turn her grief into a simple song—as she did when she penned the following essay on the first holiday without her mother.
Yes, Bunny, I will fill the pages of your journal with your familiar strains—and the ones I never heard, until now.
The Heirloom Platter by Bunny Brannan Hamrick
Once again, the platter held the Thanksgiving turkey as it had so many times before. But this time, other hands prepared the bird and the feast, and other hands carefully garnished it with little bouquets of parsley—so the same yet so different. Oh, I had prepared the bird and the feast for years now, but always left it to Mama to put the final touches about and to then, in a final rite of inspection, state, “The turkey looks lovely—so well browned. Sistah, I believe it’s the best you’ve ever done.”
Now, I looked at the finished turkey embellished with parsley—staring blankly at it all and the platter once again holding the center of the holiday feast. Indeed, I thought, it would be a very tasty feast, but somehow it wasn’t the same. I wondered whether Mama would have been pleased with its appearance—probably so. I quickly carried it to the table, not daring to tarry with reminiscences of the platter and past turkeys.
There is something almost holy about pieces of furniture, jewelry, silver, or china handed down for a long time. The Haviland platter—an unusually large size and part of quite a large collection of china—was first a wedding gift to my grandmother. The first turkeys that graced it for holiday dinners were undoubtedly wild ones killed by some unknown hunter in Tennessee. I wondered what garnish, if any, was used. Certainly, parsley was not available in November and December. I am sure my own mother added that touch. She bought her bird from the market in Atlanta already killed and dressed—but fresh.
Every Thanksgiving and Christmas that I recall, we had a beautifully cooked turkey placed on the revered platter and adorned with parsley—I can remember a few times young celery leaves. I will never know whether that was because money was scarce to buy “extras” or whether the parsley was scarce!
My father always praised the beautiful bird and then began the slow and painstaking ritual of carving. I can still remember watching with watering mouth and hunger pangs, as Mama never allowed a nibble after breakfast so we would “save up” to enjoy the feast. My portion was always the giant drumstick with some of the meat cut off. My father, looking through his bifocals, carefully carved, and in his own manner, he made it something of a theatrical production. My own surgeon husband carves with deft strokes, and behold, it is done in record time. Either way, I feel sorry for those in modern America who are leaving behind this legacy for an already disjointed bird, or worse yet, only a vague memory of the lovely buffet at the country club or the “traditional feast” at some restaurant.
Something is lost when you never know the crisp brown of the turkey skin stretched tightly between thigh and breast or have the fun of a child (or an adult) pinching in hidden places the succulent morsels underneath “where it doesn’t show.” I am thankful for the cherished platter and for all the memories of past holidays that it holds. Some holidays and some turkeys were better than others. Nevertheless, the platter still holds in our family a special sense of awe.
Perhaps one day other hands will prepare the bird for the feast, and I will be the one whose only duty is to arrange the parsley and lift the spirits of the tired, younger cook by saying, “I think it’s the prettiest we’ve ever cooked.”
It is a beautiful circle.