There are doors I know to be concealing dangerous memories and so I try not to be seduced by their ornate moldings.
There are doors whose hinges squeak and the linoleum is worn at the threshold. These are the rooms I return to over and over in dreams, in thoughtful moments, in entries in my journal.
And down a particularly appealing hallway is a knot of doors with frosted windows that let the light spill through into the dimness.
I wandered into one of these rooms this morning. It holds the collected memories of Thanksgivings of my childhood, the Technicolor shadows of cousins and aunts and uncles and a lot of knees and elbows and plaid shirts. Cinnamon floating indiscriminately through the air. Children in piles on the carpet like the leaves on the lawn. Tangles of shoes waiting by the door. Homemade rolls and pie crusts that didn’t last the day. A behemoth television set entombed in a wooden frame showing football games in succession followed by It’s a Wonderful Life. Moments at the center of the universe where my tales of summer adventures and soccer games and piano recitals held adults’ rapt attention. This room holds the crisp chill of near-winter that is the garden for the blooms of gratitude, still green on the vine this time of year.
Moments that lasted just long enough to set markers down, place cards in the heart at a table where these events unfold with every visit, where I am nourished by the knowledge that I was once so embedded in the warmth of that family.
I sat there at the table this morning and laughed at the ideality of it all. Norman Rockwell might have shown up for dinner and swore he was in his own painting. My understanding stops short at the knees and elbows. If there were worries or burnt rolls or cuss words muttered into the turkey, I was blissfully unaware. I was preoccupied with the magnificence of the moment, the warmth in my chest at being surrounded by these people I loved and who loved me right back. And of course, the pie. I was irreversibly preoccupied with the pie.
Grandmother made no fewer than 15 varieties each year to suit everyone’s tastes. Chocolate Crème, Lemon Meringue, Pecan, Pumpkin, Apple… Each one began its short life as ingredients in her kitchen, alongside the flour and yeast for her Butterhorn Rolls. I would give what little oxygen we have in these high mountains for Grandmother’s Butterhorn Rolls on the table at every meal. This year, I am told, I will make those rolls…and hopefully those knee-high and underfoot will not notice the inevitable cursing and last minute store runs for brown-n-serve dinner rolls.
Grandmother. She is omnipresent in this secret room of mine, smelling always of soap and butter and cinnamon and pies and yeast and rolls and never of the 85 pound turkey she’d been cooking since 2 am. I remember her always in the kitchen, as if she’d been planted there and grew from a seed. And every evening around dinner time, she’d steal away to sit next to Granddad for a quick prayer and high praise of her substantial, culinary talents. Thanksgiving was when Grandmother’s talents were polished to a spectacular shine and the high praise took several turns around the table, culminating in a couple dozen kisses on her cheek and her gracious, “Thank you, dear,” as if we had done her a favor by eating the meal she’d worked for a month to bring together.
I don’t know why it is so easy to forget to be grateful. I don’t know why I find myself in a lump on the couch at day’s end, lamenting all of the things the universe owes me, but has yet to deliver on. I don’t know why gratitude, for me, behaves like a muscle that needs to be moved, exercised. But I need only to cross a few thresholds to remember.
There are a few small spaces that exist in me and pull me into this season of near-winter, this season of gratitude in bloom. I need to find myself in these small spaces more often.