In the 20 years I have lived in Hawaii I only traveled to the mainland twice to spend Thanksgiving with family. Once I met my mother and youngest sister in L.A.. When my daughter was a toddler, I took her to Kansas City to share the holiday with my mother and oldest sister.
Both were disastrous. Not in the family dynamics kind of way, when one part of the family is not speaking to another part so you can’t sit them next to each other at the table type of thing. We always enjoy the company. It was more about the logistics.
From L.A., my plane was terribly delayed and I did not make it home in time for work on Monday. That soured me on peak travel dates forever after.
In Kansas City it was cold. “Duh,” you might respond. “The Midwest in November? Hellooooo.”
Yes, I knew it would be cold. Yes, I took warm clothes. My mom bought cute little puffy snow jackets at Steinmart for my daughter and greeted us with gift sets that included ear muffs and warm woolen gloves and caps suitable for the most fashionable of bunnies on the slopes. We were suitably armed.
However, I did not take into consideration the discomfort of my three-year-old who was used to wearing slippers all year round and who had never experienced the stifling feeling of thick socks or a jacket that looked like it was made of jet puffed marshmallows sewn together by the Pillsbury Dough Boy.
She was fine when we were in the house. My mom turned up the heat and my daughter did not have to don layer after thick layer for protection against the elements. She was free. It just turned out hard to hard to go anywhere without a fuss. So we stayed home.
One year my family came here. They stayed at Ko Olina. We had Thanksgiving at the Ihilani. All was good.
I have gotten used to not being together on holidays. I’ve comfortably absorbed into the local families I know and put together one of my own in the past few years.
This year we spent Thanksgiving in Makaha with the Suisos. One of our favorite places and definitely some of our favorite people.
I knew I would not miss my mother due to distance. I did know that I would miss her because I miss her every day. Because it is a special occasion and I would not be able to call and say hello, I wanted find a way to honor her memory and feel her with me in some way.
I wore jewelry she had given me over the years: a ring that my father had given her that I’ve been wearing since high school and some earrings that I bought with one of her birthday checks a few years ago.
And I made “The Kugel.” My mother’s noodle kugel made its appearance at every festive meal except Passover (no noodles on Passover.) We enjoyed its buttery cinnamon sugar goodness on holidays, Jewish or non.
I started making it almost ten years ago as an addition to our holiday menu. She sent me the recipe. It made my exotic life feel more like home. I don’t prepare it for every holiday. This year I did.
It came out perfect and tasted delicious.
As people passed through the improvised buffet line I heard them ask, “What is it?” With each explanation that “Kugel means casserole in Yiddish and it was my mother’s recipe,” I felt a connection.
Not enough to completely replace my mother’s presence at the table at which she would not usually sit. But certainly sufficient to brighten her memory and let her distant presence energize its sparkle in my life and enrich our celebration and appreciation.
Thank you, Mom. Very much.