I have just put the walnut pie into the oven. On any other year, it would have baked in my grandmother's kitchen, with pumpkin and apple and mince. This is the first time I have made it myself.
For me, Thanksgiving has always meant my father's parents large white farmhouse in Northeastern Connecticut, farm-raised turkey and foamy sauce, berries on the holly bushes. It has meant time with my family -- a quiet time I look forward to with people I don't see often enough.
And most of all, it has meant the farm house kitchen, and Tante, my grandmother by bonds if not by blood, at the center of it, buttering a cloth for the turkey, stirring the giblets, patting brown sugar over the onions, feeding the dogs, thawing the green beans she grew in her garden over the summer and frenched in the cellar on a warm afternoon.
In the last few years, she has not been able to turn the crank of a bean frencher or stand long enough to mash potatoes, let alone lift a 30-pound turkey, but she has always been at the center of things.
She has always been comfort. Children and dogs gravitated to her room. She would play endless games of Crazy Eights and supply band-aids and calamine lotion and let small hands stir the chocolate sauce.
But I think what made her the rock and the center were elements a child could feel but would not know how to put into words. She made her own way and earned her own living from the age of 18. She was blunt and warm and infinitely stubborn. Coming home from the hospital three years ago, she insisted on sitting at the table to watch the birds and to have lunch and, urged to take a nap, looked back at us saying oh, really? indignant and laughing.
She was there when I spent my first summer away from home, riding an elderly chestnut mare on the wood roads. When I fell off, she gave me cold water to bathe a rope-burned hand. She had helped to paint the barns more than 40 years before, standing in the bucket of the bucket tractor and joking with the farm hands.
She was there when I had my first fender-bender in my parents' ancient car, taking the farm manager down a one-lane dirt road to pick up a tractor.
She was there when I learned to walk, and when she learned to get along without walking I helped her to get ready for bed one night, and we sat side by side on the bed with my arm around her in her clean night-gown.
I have just learned that this Thanksgiving, for the first time in my life, she will not be there. And I don't know how to think of a world without her in it.
All I can do tonight is to follow her recipe for walnut pie with care.