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The Women Before Me

As my nine year old daughter stands on her stool, tearing toast into pieces, dropping it into a large bowl and complaining about HOW MUCH BREAD there is yet to toast, I am there, also nine, next to my Mom, complaining. "Mom, oh my god, why is there so much?!" and in the back of my mind "Why the hell is my brother not doing this?" (to date: he still doesn't. He just shoplifts all of the dressing from the rest of us. But this year, I'm making a secret stash of our own to keep at home, and no one remind him he has a key to my house. Thanks in advance). 

I do it because I'm female, and that's just what we do. For generations. We cook Thanksgiving dinner like nobody's business, and pass it down. And now I get it. All of the complaining has led to a feeling of gratefulness for having those memories with my Mom. I try and tell my daughter, "Somebody you'll be the Mama, and you'll do this with your daughter and tell her about how you used to make this same thing with your Mom and Nana". She just looks at me blankly like "okay", but I hope someday it will mean something. 

I not only remember cooking with my Mom, but also with my Aunt M, and even my Nana, who passed away when I was nearly six. When my Aunt M was discussing downsizing, she asked what things she has that I would want. My first thought: all of the recipe cards that are in the handwriting of she, my Nana and my great aunts. I like to look at them and run my finger over the loopy cursive that was signature for those generations, the same pieces of paper on which the women before me left their marks. In 2016, at 40 years old, those cards mean more to me than I ever thought they would as I rifled through them as a little girl. They are love letters from the women who felt like I feel, worked like I work, cooked like I now cook, loved as I love. Their DNA swirls through my veins and keeps them here, alive, remembered. 

So many of my recipes are printed off of sites like Pinterest, or AllRecipes. I realized NONE of my recipes are written down for my daughter and future generations, in the case that they'd want them. So, I have purposed to make the effort to write out the recipes that my kids love, the ones they ask for. I will transcribe in my own writing the super secret never tell another soul recipe for Mom/Nana/AuntM/AuntNene's Thanksgiving dressing. I will keep the recipes of our family together, add my own, and pass them to my children with the stressed significance of keeping pieces of your history, and who you are. 

First off, my husband's great grandmother, Florida (how great is her name?) saved this article. I am beyond pleased to know that cooking cabbage will serve to please my husband for life. Who knew it was that easy? 

I am grateful to have married into this family, I have the honor of carrying the name of the women before my father-in-law; women whose stories are powerful, women like my grandmother-in-law Erris who has passed away but her diamonds sit nestled in my wedding set among the new ones my husband bought; her blue topaz pendant is around my neck every day. I never met her, yet she lives on with me as the only daughter in the family. And I'm sure her Mom taught her the cabbage thing. 

Below, my great Aunt Nene's writing. She was beloved by my Mom and Aunt M and passed away shortly before I was born, but I have heard her stories all of my life. My Mom shares her name (their given names being Neva). Per stories, I suspect that my sassy attitude and stubbornness may come directly down the line from her. 

Aunt Irma,  "Irmi", who wasn't technically an aunt but more first cousin twice removed-- (if you'd like an explanation of what that means, my Mom and Aunt M will happily get in a knock-down drag-out sister fight of what the hell that even means. I've SEEN IT LIVE, ya'll)--she passed away in 2000. She was a spitfire herself, who later lost her sight to macular degeneration and her recipe cards showed the struggle. My memories of her include her hilarious laugh and she was the first woman I knew who snored like a freight train. She also liked to argue vehemently (to my amusement) with great Aunt Helen. 

Great Aunt Helen, we suspected, was on her way to 100 years old, but we lost her in the first weeks of 2012 at 97. She was sharp as a tack, read novels right up until the end, and had been a school teacher. She had been widowed since before I was born, and was present every Christmas out here in Arizona until well into my adulthood. My brother and I would always jump for joy seeing her handwriting on the greeting cards placed on the Christmas tree every year; we knew that a $100 check was nestled inside. So, clearly, we miss her more than ever. :) 

My Mom2, as I call her, has adopted me as her own from the beginning. She is the sweetest woman I know, and raised my very favorite person to be the best husband status guy that he is. She is one of those Moms you can call when you're a sniffling, crying mess and she'll empathize and pray you through. I'm only sorry it took us so long to find each other. She is mom-in-law GOLD. 

Oh, my Aunt M. Pretty sure the reason I can write is because of her. I mean, what choice do you have when your aunt, who frequently babysits you in your formative years, has degrees in english and library science and works as a librarian even past retirement? She taught me the joy in reading, the value of a good story. She believes in me to this day, and I'm thankful that she didn't have kids of her own, so I never had to share her, except with my brother who is always pissy, thinking that I'm her favorite. (I mean, how could I NOT be really? But still, she works hard to keep things even between us). And Aunt M can THROW DOWN in the kitchen (note to Aunt M: "throw down" is current slang for "you're a great cook"). I love you. 

My Mama's writing. My Mom. I get teary even typing about her because how can you NOT when writing about your Mom? Every time I cook one of her recipes I feel more connected to her. She's a "pick yourself up, dust yourself off" kind of Mom, and that's the only reason why I've come out such a fighter. Just yesterday she texted "Go for it all. Nothing you cannot do." She has always believed I am destined for great things, and made me believe it. Made me pursue it. I see the value in that as a Mom myself now, because I am no-nonsense like her, and my kids' behavior shows it. Seriously, my Mom kicks ass. That's the best way I can describe her. Also: don't EVER EVER EVER mess with her family. (ie: the day in first grade that my teacher didn't give me milk because I had forgotten my milk money; I offered her two pennies from my sweaty little hand that I had found in my desk. She refused it. I totally told on her, Mom called the school, got the teacher, and the conversations started something like "Don't you EVER...." and I had milk every single day for the rest of first grade). Do NOT make my Mom call you. And please know, I WILL TELL. 

My Nana. To this day, I still haven't been able to write about her, because I'll just cry. I had spent most days with her from birth to age 5, when Mom and Dad were working. She and my grandpa had traveled to Arizona from Illinois to help my parents after my brother was born, and she passed away one afternoon shortly after she and I were huddled on the couch watching As The World Turns. I have missed her every day of my life since, but have always felt a special connection to her, no matter how much time passes. She is with me, and waiting for me. 

Thanksgiving has seemed the perfect time to reflect on the women who have come before me, and what kind of holiday memories I want to pass on to my children and the future women who come after me. Take a moment today to reflect on all of the recipes and traditions that you keep to this day, to honor the women who have come before you. 

Where can you see their legacy? 

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