Macksgiving

In America, Thanksgiving is about tradition, gratitude, food, and family, in various orders of importance, of course, depending upon individual traditions, particular propensities for thankfulness, the quality of the food, and the level of dysfunction within one’s own family. In our family, the Thanksgiving priority was always on the food with a double order of laughter on the side, mackoand so it was, naturally, one of Mack’s favorite days of the year. Our tradition was to travel to Charleston, Illinois, where my brother-in-law spent hours smoking ribs for Mack because she despised turkey, my sister presented an accompanying feast extravagant enough for kings, and we all ate ourselves into comas, but not before splitting seams from all of the laughter.

Without our Mack as master of ceremonies for comedy and for shoveling food into one’s face, there is a whole lot less laughter on holidays, and particularly so on Thanksgiving. In 2014 and 2015, my sister Tracy bravely continued the tradition of preparing the feast, my brother-in-law Jason remained committed to smoking those ribs in the spirit of Mack, and we began a new family tradition of creating a Mack  Perfect Last Bite. But, Thanksgiving is still not right without Mack. Nor, I think, will it ever be. So this year, we are shaking things up a little. No, we are shaking things up way more than a little. This year, Tracy is getting a break from the cooking and Jason is getting a break from the smoke. They will meet Kevin and I in St. Louis, and Savannah and her boyfriend Levi and my niece Zoe will arrive from Chicago to join us. On Thanksgiving morning, all of us will “compete” in the St. Louis Turkey Trot in glorious Forest Park before sitting down to a meal that I am preparing, a meal I have billed as Macksgiving.

Now wait a minute, you say. Mack would never have approved of such physical exertion on the most important eating day of the year. And in so saying, you, my friend, would be absolutely correct. But this year, our feast will feature a long list of Mack’s favorite foods, most of which are a million miles from healthy, many of which are gut-busting comfort dishes that each alone would set you back a day’s caloric intake, and some of which are not even really food at all. Therefore, I believe that Mack would applaud our efforts to run off a few calories before sitting down to Macksgiving in her honor, and I KNOW she’d approve of this menu!

Macksgiving

Appetizers:
Sushi, Thai Spring Rolls, Deviled Eggs

Main Courses:
Baked Smoked Ham, Mack ‘n Cheese with Bacon, Texas Cheesy Potatoes, Homemade Noodles

Sides:
Green Bean Casserole
Spicy Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Roasted Broccoli
Hawaiian Rolls

Desserts & Snacks:
New York Cheesecake with Raspberries
Powdered Miniature Donuts
Flamin’ Hot Cheetos
Funyons
Candy (Laffy Taffy, Sour Punch Straws, and Warheads)
Blue Gatorade

On Macksgiving, Mack  will be with me as I run. She’ll be in my ear, cackling away, slinging gentle insults about my slow pace. Her laughter will whisper in the wind, and her spirit will reside in my own. On Macksgiving, Mack will be with me for every bite, as I enjoy the foods she loved so well. I will prepare my traditional perfect last bite, think of Mack, and offer gratitude for the twenty  years she graced this earth with her beautiful presence. But on Mackgiving, I will still keenly feel the absence of my girl, who was the soul of this indulgent holiday and whose chair for me will always be empty.

A Thanksgiving Tradition for Mack

Thanksgiving is a perfect American holiday because it is a holiday for all Americans, it transcends religious and cultural divides, it encourages gratitude, it focuses on the family table, and it celebrates food. For all of those reasons, Mack loved Thanksgiving, but mostly she loved it for the food. Every year as we drove to my sister’s house for our annual family feast, Mack would say something like: “Thanksgiving is da best, because I can eat three plates of noodles and no one will judge me.” (I can certainly attest that Mack could definitely put down some noodles!). Sharing a meal with Mack was delightful, because her love and appreciation for food was infectious; and Mack’s enthusiasm for food and her joy of eating always enriched our Thanksgiving dinners together. All holidays without Mack are difficult, but I feel her absence more keenly when food is the focus, and so Thanksgivings without her will always be particularly sad days for me.

In bracing myself last year for my first Thanksgiving without Mack, I wrote a blog about Mack’s love of food and her unique philosophy of eating. At most every meal she ever ate, Mack saved a perfect last bite for the end. It was a bite that epitomized the best qualities of the meal. A bite for which she would close her eyes to more deeply savor the food she had just enjoyed. A bite that would linger on her tongue and remain in her brain. Since writing that Thanksgiving blog, I have frequently finished a meal with a Mack-perfect last bite. It is a small and quiet way to honor my girl, but it is also a reminder to me to stop for a moment to appreciate the simple joy of good food. Thanksgiving is a holiday of food and of gratitude, and so it was a Mack-perfect holiday; and a Mack-perfect last bite is a perfect holiday tradition that I will always observe. So go break bread with your families. Go gorge yourselves on noodles (no one will judge you and Mack will definitely approve). And then, end the meal with a perfect last bite to savor, to appreciate, and to remember.

For inspiration from Mack’s perfect-last-bite philosophy, please read last year’s Thanksgiving blog: https://macksmommabear.com/2014/11/26/the-perfect-last-bite/. I think you will see that Mack’s joyous approach to food was, indeed, an inspiration. Love and cheers to you all and my best good wishes that your perfect last bites this Thanksgiving will be memorable.

Ireland 8

McDermott Family Cheers in Ireland, 2002. (Mack is reppin’ the Yankees in her motherland).

 

The Best Idea Ever

Halloween was definitely a Mack-holiday. Costumes and candy are a winning combination for every kid, but Mack set the quintessential example of how best to celebrate and to seize the day with the most kid gusto. She believed that the collection of a giant bucket of candy and the permission to gorge yourself into a sugar coma was simply the best idea ever in the history of the world. She saw selecting the perfect costume and then putting your whole kid heart and soul into it as a moral imperative of childhood. And trick-or-treating through heavy fall leaves in our historic Washington Park neighborhood—where most of the houses were spooked out with deadly decorations, creepy lights, and haunted music—was her favorite night of the year.

I miss Halloween with kids, and last week I purchased a giant $15 bag of candy even though I will not host a single trick-or-treater. Those Halloween sweets sitting in a big bowl in the kitchen all week have reminded me of the Halloween memories I have of Mack. While Kevin, Savannah, and I enjoyed Halloween before Mack joined our family, Mack’s enthusiasm for the holiday inspired us all to make it family favorite. Over the years, the four of us celebrated Halloween with themed baked goods, truckloads of candy for trick-or-treaters, decorations (including an expensive porcelain haunted mansion), and regular costume parties. So on this Halloween day, 2015, I want to celebrate Mack’s love of Halloween, to pay homage to her exuberance for costumes and for candy, and to illustrate her wholehearted embrace of America’s best kid holiday. As per usual, photos speak more loudly than words where Mack is concerned, and the following images exemplify Mack’s enthusiasm for Halloween, illustrate her sense of humor, and reveal something of the evolution (or, perhaps, de-evolution?) of her chosen costumes.

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Mack would never have chosen a mermaid costume herself, but baby Macko had no choice. Mack was always horrified that I had dressed her in such a way, but I have no regrets; because I absolutely adore this Halloween photo of me and my girls!

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Little kid Mack from clown to witch to kitty to devil…

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03-kitty 04-devil

Our old neighborhood was full of young families, and Halloween was a serious event…porches were transformed, lawns became graveyards, and there was one house where Count Dracula invited kids up to a scary porch through mist, spooky sounds, and haunting music. Trick-or-treating in our neighborhood was magical for my girls, and Mack always insisted we do some porch decorations. We were not the best house in the neighborhood by a long shot, but at the very least, we always had jack-o-lanterns and a mechanical bat that flew around the porch.

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Halloween costumes were almost always an easy way to tell my girls apart and to perfectly illustrate the differences in their personalities, as well.

05-are these sisters 06-seriously are these sisters

One year, Mack did not let a badly broken arm stand in the way of her and Halloween; and even dressed as a vampire, she was still the cool kid on the block (Word!).

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One year, Mack was a leprechaun, and it is my all-time favorite Mack-holiday costume. She was a leprechaun every day of her life, so playing one on Halloween was likely her most comfortable Halloween role. (A previous blog explains this perfect costume: https://macksmommabear.com/2015/03/17/mack-day/).

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I’m not sure how Mack came up with this one, but with her Dad’s movie makeup skills, she certainly looked just as awful as she had hoped.

10-injured baseball player 2 11-injured baseball player

Mack trick-or-treated in our neighborhood her freshman year of high school against my protestations that she was too old. She argued quite emphatically that it was cruel to deny her one final participation in her favorite childhood pleasure. When she returned home that night, I watched her dump out the fully loaded pillowcase with the wild eyes of a ten-year-old, and I was glad she had convinced me to allow my high school girl to hang on a little longer to her childhood.

Here’s a costume from Mack’s junior year of high school, where I believe she was channeling her inner self…

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And here Mack is in college, where she brings us back full circle, dressing like a baby…

13-Mack MONSTER

My Big Pink Bunny

The past fifty-four days of my life have been emotionally, psychologically and physically challenging. My sorrow has frequently consumed me. Each and every day has been a struggle, exhausting every ounce of my emotional, mental and bodily strength. By the time my head hits the pillow each night, I am weary and hollow. My eyes are swollen and empty of tears. My exhaustion brings an easy and mostly peaceful sleep, which is often my only solace. As if the first fifty days without Mack were not difficult enough, the past four days have been devastating. Enduring my first holiday in twenty years without Mack has exacted a particularly damaging toll on my already delicate psyche. My tears have been more numerous and more bitter. I have experienced my first, dreaded angry moments in this terrible grieving process. And in my head I have done battle with some terrifying demons who threaten to steal me away entirely.

mack and me       mack and me 4       Mack and Me 2

Because this holiday weekend was so damned hard for me, I thought I should make an attempt to record it. Since I started this blog, I have spent most of my words sharing stories about Mack’s life and celebrating her incomparable personality and charms. But today I wanted to focus on my pain. On my suffering. On my ruined life. But all afternoon and this evening I just stared at a blinking cursor as it mocked my intentions, questioned my courage, and dared me to expose my heartbroken soul. As I struggled to write a second paragraph about my feelings, no more words were forthcoming. Instead, my mind kept drifting to a ridiculous photograph that Mack texted me a year or two ago. She and her roommates had made a run to the Kirksville Walmart to purchase survival items like Ramen noodles, Gatorade and candy and found themselves in the clothing department trying on adult-sized footie pajamas. In the photo, Mack looks like a deranged pink bunny. When I originally received that photo, I laughed so hard that I cried.

Tonight, thinking about that stupid photo was keeping me from crying. Each time my mind drifted to that image, the corner of my mouth ticked upward in defiance of my purpose to pour out my emotions onto the page. On nearly every day that I ever spent with Mack, she made me laugh. And here she was again trying to make me laugh when I was trying to be serious. Here she was again reminding me that laughing was a whole hell of a lot better than crying. I could hear her imploring me to finish up this hard stuff so that something silly or fun could take its place.

I finally decided that perhaps the one paragraph was all I needed to write. Perhaps those words were the only words necessary. But mostly, I think, Mack’s humor rescued me at the very moment I needed to be rescued. I am still battered and bruised from my first holiday without her, and I will be weary and hollow when my head hits the pillow tonight. But thanks to Mack, I found a way to smile today. And she would be amused to know that help arrived in the form of a big pink bunny.

bunny suit