It was on a four-burner stove that produced the feast for our large crowd. Each electric coil covered with a well-worn pan, simmering over with the aromas only her hands could manufacture. Somehow, that small kitchen space defied all culinary odds, turning out a meal on Thanksgiving for up to twenty family members, with enough leftovers to do it all again for dinner.
Grandma cooked, sometimes singing, other times laughing, but never missing a beat in the multiple conversations between her five children, their spouses and the eleven grandchildren that filled my grandparents’ home.
As a child, I didn’t fully grasp or appropriately appreciate the enormous task presented before Grandma each Thanksgiving. She never complained, or made us feel as though we were not worth her efforts, cooking joyfully behind the little stove that would make us thankful for the elastic in our pants.
It would be many years later, that a serious stroke would severely limit Grandma’s capabilities and independence. Her speech slowly deteriorated, leaving her with the ability to only speak two words: Can Do.
My Grandmother, when asked how she was feeling, would respond matter of-factly, “Can do.” Alternatively, when told how much she was loved, her answer back was always, “Can do.” Inquiring of her needs, desperate to provide comfort of any kind, the reply an unchanging “Can do.”
In the final days, as family members sat quietly holding the hand of the woman defined by generous service to others, grieving the life that would soon leave them, still Grandma whispered until the end, “Can do.”
It was fitting that those were the only words my Grandmother could speak. It was language familiar to her, ingrained in her very being, serving others, doing for others. Love others well? That, she can do. Provide a loving home that grown children would always be drawn to? That, she can do. Cook countless meals that gather her family in a spirit of thanksgiving and fellowship? That, she can do.
It’s been many years since my grandmother passed away, a loss I still feel sharply at unannounced moments. The large, extended family gatherings at Thanksgiving haven’t happened since her death.
Several weeks before Thanksgiving this year, I issued an invitation to all of Grandma’s children, their children and their children. I wanted to re-create the Thanksgiving that Grandma had provided for all of those years, happy memories that followed me into adulthood. It was with surprise, and pure delight, that all but a few were able to make the trip to our home. The family that had slowly grown to twenty members in my grandparents’ home had now multiplied to well over forty, thirty-eight of which would dine around our tables on Thanksgiving.
I gathered many of the handwritten recipes given to me by Grandma, and passed them around to various family members. For a brief, wonderful moment, the desserts and casseroles brought to the dinner by all made me feel as though Grandma might be in the next room. Laughter was the background to the stories; love the foreground to the fellowship. It was just as I remembered our family.
Grandma may have been absent in body, but I know her spirit was present. It was a reminder to us all, that by striving to love others, to serve others - just like my sweet, Grandma - we, too, can do.
I CAN DO all things through Christ, who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13