Sign up for our monthly Lifestyle newsletter for entertainment news, healthy living tips and more.
by Marilynn Dunham, AARP Bulletin, December 2, 2008
The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Below, reader Marilynn Dunham of Fort Bragg, Calif., shares what she really knows about family get-togethers.
I loved the holidays as a kid—all the family gathering together. I could see down the road from our kitchen window. “When will they get here?” I’d ask my mother for the millionth time. Sweating, with flour up to her elbows and a wisp of hair dangling across her face, she wouldn’t even look up from the pie dough spread out before her: “Not yet, I hope. I still have to make the pumpkin filling, and will you peel the potatoes?” When Dad came in from the back porch, stomping leaves and dirt off his boots, she’d ask him, “Would you taste the brandy sauce?” “Needs more brandy,” he’d say, taking a second spoonful. “Not with the same spoon,” Mom would scold, adding brandy and rolling her eyes to heaven as if to tell God this was in no way her doing.
When I was a young mother with babies in diapers, I’d call my mother: “What shall I bring?” “Oh, honey,” she’d say, “it’s enough work just getting all your family here.” After I persisted: “Everyone loves stuffed celery with that pimento cheese. Why don’t you bring that and a pretty dish to serve it on.”
Time went too fast. There were two empty chairs at our table. My mother had gone to heaven, and my son, Michael, to Vietnam. When my father arrived that first year after Mom died, I asked him to taste the brandy sauce. “It’s fine, honey, just fine.” He laid down the spoon and left the kitchen. I looked at the bottle, tipped it up and took a swig, and prayed that not one more person would ask, “Heard from Michael lately?”
Family gatherings now teem with grandchildren. My children and their spouses plan the menu by e-mail. Martha Stewart’s pumpkin soufflé has replaced steamed pudding with brandy sauce. I’m no longer the lone wolf in the kitchen.
Someday I will be viewing from the other side. I have this fantasy of that day: My dad and I will find a bottle of brandy, and while they’re all oohing over the latest baby, we’ll pour brandy into the pumpkin soufflé. Mom will roll her eyes as if to tell God that this is in no way her doing.
Please leave your comment below.
You must be logged in to leave a comment.
You are leaving AARP.org and going to the website of our trusted provider. The provider’s terms, conditions and policies apply. Please return to AARP.org to learn more about other benefits.
Your email address is now confirmed.
You'll start receiving the latest news, benefits, events, and programs related to AARP's mission to empower people to choose how they live as they age.
You can also manage your communication preferences by updating your account at anytime. You will be asked to register or log in.
In the next 24 hours, you will receive an email to confirm your subscription to receive emails
related to AARP volunteering. Once you confirm that subscription, you will regularly
receive communications related to AARP volunteering. In the meantime, please feel free
to search for ways to make a difference in your community at