- May 12, 2020
When my mom threatened to sock my brother square in the face — with her fist, I mean — that’s when I knew it was officially Thanksgiving in the Cavaliere house.
See, we have this tradition in my family, where we express our love and appreciation for one another through direct threats and insults. Like on Thanksgiving, my brother, while sitting at the cleared table allowing my mom do what she loves and clean up after us, exaggerated a few sniffs and said, “That’s weird, I don’t smell the coffee yet!” to my mother, who was slaving away at the sink, scrubbing dishes and pots and gravy boats and all those other nameless kitchen accessories moms use to make their kids dinner — and make it snappy.
To the untrained ear, though, one might think Chris was being smug or demanding with this statement, as if he were sick of waiting for his post-meal coffee and it was high time my mother resolved this crisis. But oh, no, no. Not so.
In the subtext, Chris was actually having a tender moment with our mother. He was saying: “Thank you for the delectable bird and trimmings, mommy dearest. But I fear, alas, that your culinary prowess has forsaken me in the throes of a cup-a-joe yearning impossible to satisfy at the hand of such a layman as I. Indeed, I would brew the pot myself and save you the bother — lord knows you’ve done enough on this fine day of thanks — but your coffee-making skills surpass even the most skilled of baristas, you understand. And I feel inadequate even attempting to impersonate the likes of such mug mastery.”
My mom heard this. A part of her melted. She knew her first son truly loved her, and deep down, she probably even thought he was right: She did scoop the pre-ground Gevalia into the paper cone the best out of all of us. And the way she pressed the Start button? Unparalleled.
So she smiled, the slightest, sweetest of smiles.
And then she said, “You’re gonna smell my first in your face in a second.”
But what my gentle mother actually meant was: “You’re gonna smell my first in your face in a second.”
Sometimes she’s rough around the edges. And you’ve got to understand: Cavaliere communication is not a perfect science. Sometimes, the love gets lost in translation.
“Hey-ooo!” my oldest friend, Matt Clay, said, barging through our front door with his brother Jonathan. And the whole table erupted Norm-from-Cheers style, like always, to greet them.
“You got to try to baklava,” I told him. No hellos necessary. Just stop fighting me on this and try my Aunt Em’s homemade baklava.
So he grabbed a piece, sat down and sunk his teeth in. His eyes widened, and he started grinning, the same way we all had when we bit into that flaky, buttery, walnuty pastry for the first time.
“That good or what?” Chris asked. And Matt Clay kept grinning. And all of us around the table starting laughing for some reason. And I couldn’t help but think about how this was what the holidays were about: laughing over baklava. And I thought of how my mom must have felt, surrounded by her now-grownup children and the friends she watched grow up alongside us.
And I felt like I realized in that moment, maybe for the first time ever, what must be in it for parents — that sense of providing, and watching, and accomplishing. So before I lost that feeling of enlightenment, I shot up from the tornado-mess of dessert at that table and convinced Chris and the Clay brothers to bail and have a drink outside.
“But hey — leave your dirty plates and cups,” I told them quietly. “It’s the least we can do for mom.”