This is a tiny retrospective. Significantly it echoes memories of my parents whom I indisputably miss. My father died in his 96th year in 2014. My mother died in her 92nd year in 2018. Both as fas as I know died a quiet death triggered by natural deteriorations. There was accordingly no excessive despair surrounding their deaths. Perhaps because of the general immediacy of my behaviour and an overall concern about their health, I had regularly visited my parents with a view to ensuring they were being well attended at their respective retirement residences. I never had what I would characterize as a “close relationship” with my parents. Visits with them were decidedly familial without the drama of an afternoon TV show. Granted I tended a bit more to the succinct with my father than my mother. But it could never have been said that any one of us trespassed upon the borders of privacy or social delicacy. No doubt this contributed to my business-like association with my parents for whom I had drawn their joint deeds, wills, powers of attorney and trust agreements.
My interest on this occasion is the congregation of family for the traditional thanksgiving dinner. Until 1967 when my parents moved to Ottawa from Stockholm, Sweden (where my father worked for the Canadian embassy) I had been in boarding school near Toronto. Obviously I didn’t go home for Thanksgiving. I suspect I was invited by the parents of other boys who lived nearby for Thanksgiving dinner but honestly I don’t recall. I do however distinctly recall Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ home.
My parents built their home in Bruce Farms near Bells Corners in 1967. This proximity did not however hasten my return to the family fold for Thanksgiving. After I graduated from boarding school in 1967 I studied philosophy at Glendon Hall, Bayview Avenue, Toronto. As close as Ottawa is to Toronto it did not invite a three-day jaunt to Ottawa for turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. And then after undergraduate studies I studied law at Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS.
While in Nova Scotia (if I may briefly digress) the most singular Thanksgiving congregation was in 1972 in Cape Breton. The weekend event was held adjacent an idyllic field and the so-called Plaster Pond. The hosts were my erstwhile fiancée Heather and her immediate family and relatives. The home was an ancient farm house with no electricity and a magnificent wood stove. There were candles, oil lamps and sconces everywhere! Laughably I recall Heather’s Aunt Greta telling me, “You know when George and I are gone, everything we have goes to Heather!”
When I began practicing law in Almonte in 1976 I was at last conveniently close to my parents. My sister and her family also lived in Ottawa South. Thus began what I can recall of Thanksgiving dinner with family. Pointedly the family included my sister and her husband’s two children, Jennifer and Julia.
I have no idea how long it takes to prepare a meal of this magnitude. My mother essentially handled the entire affair. My father – whom my mother ultimately scolded for delaying the carving of the “bird” – may have sat in the car while awaiting my mother in the grocery store. All else was within the domain of my mother.
Nor is this by any measure a small compliment. In addition to the mere challenge of eight people at table there was a long list of ingredients for hor d’oeuvres, a main course of turkey and multitude of whipped and glazed vegetables, then a dessert such as lemon chiffon.
There was nothing of the Norman Rockwell gloss to our corporate assembly. My parents were not boozers. Indeed my father was an unrepentant teetotaler. Everyone else thought otherwise. This did not however diminish my mother’s dedication to sobriety – a proclamation she would utter between efforts to check the stove and the bubbling pots. My mother’s pitch rose as she approached the final call of the alcoholics to table.
When seated at table it customarily fell to me to say the grace. It was delivered in Latin, the same grace I gave in the Great Hall when a Prefect at St. Andrew’s College. Pro his et omnibus, Tuis beneficos, Nos miseri… It wasn’t long afterwards that my father interrupted us all at the trough by thanking my mother. This momentary elevation was followed by a variety of normally unconnected family tales and accounts some of which inspired the occasional “Oh, my…!” from my mother. Anything involving either of my nieces was certain to captivate my parents full-throttle.