Finally, it feels like fall in Lubbock, TX. This morning the sky is gray and a bit of sleet has been dancing on my porch. The leaves have almost reached their peak of deep golds and ruby reds. The November air feels crisp and clean. Grocers are pushing the chicken legs to one side in their refrigerated poultry bins making way for mountains of plump frozen gobblers. The produce managers are carefully stacking the Fujis, the Honeycrisps, and the Jonathans. They've set up special displays of cashews, pecans, and walnuts, both shelled and unshelled. The obligatory end cap of Rice Chex, Wheat Chex, Corn Chex and mixed nuts has been made handy for the shoppers who have a hankering for Texas Trash.
When Fall tiptoes up to my door, my mouth begins to water. For black olives and Brussels sprouts. Then, I begin to think of my sister, Kathy, who went to heaven twelve years ago. Way back in the days of yore, we began a family tradition that was born out of an episode of teasing-turned-to-cat-fighting.
Our mother created splendid family holiday dinners. Aunts, uncles and cousins gathered at our house from miles around to sit at her lace tablecloth, bone china, candlelit holiday feasts. Each family brought their own specialties to the table, but it was my mother who presented the grand roast turkey, black olives and Brussels sprouts.
Stretching and yawning in our shared double bed, Kathy and I awoke on Thanksgiving morning to the rich aroma of a roasting turkey and the hum of the Macy's parade on the TV in the living room. Quicker than our bare feet could touch the cold hardwood floor one of us would exclaim, "I call opening the olives!" To which the other would cry, "No fair! You got olives last year! It's my turn!" Racing into the kitchen, we playfully wrestled our way to the gadget drawer where the all-powerful hand crank can opener lay waiting. To the victor belonged the spoils.
Kathy and I both craved the taste of extra large, juicy canned black olives during the "off season" from January until November. By Thanksgiving, we had worked ourselves into a black olive feeding frenzy. "Helping" Mom in the kitchen was the ticket to being the first to sample the coveted tender olive morsels. Out of this race to the kitchen was born the tradition known as "Counting Out the Olives" which was orchestrated by a mother in need of a peace on earth and good will between sisters. Once the olive tray was filled - "Girrrrrls, you can fit more olives on that tray!" "OOOO-K." - we were allowed to divvy up the black jewels left floating in the olive can. "One-for-you-one-for-me-one-for-you-two-for-me!" As we stood in the kitchen in our nightgowns sharing our plunder, Mom would quickly cover the olive tray tightly with Saran Wrap and declare them off limits until after the Thanksgiving feast's blessing.
After savoring each salt-cured beauty, we tiptoed out of the kitchen to avoid any other kitchen "help" that Mom might shoulder upon us. Dragging our pillows and blankets into the living room, we snuggled up on the floor in front of the TV and waited for the performance of the Radio City Rockets in front of Macy's.
Oh, how I miss my sister when I see a can of black olives. I wish I could buy 100 cans of them, grab a couple of handcrank can openers, and sit at the kitchen table counting and laughing with Kathy. My heart aches to have one more Thanksgiving meal with her. Oh, to sit at the table laid with Mom's lace tablecloth, bone china, and sterling. I can just see us with our chins ducked during Uncle Jimmy's long prayer of thanks eyeing the crudites platter waiting for the first syllable of the "Amen." Then, we would spy the steaming bowl of Brussels sprouts. "I call it!" "Girls, let everyone have some Brussels sprouts. Then, you can count out the rest!"
Brussels sprouts and black olives. They always make me miss my sweet sister.