This year was the first time in a long time we haven’t had an invitation to M’s house for Thanksgiving. M had for years been holding Thanksgiving for her extended family plus friends like us who did not have family nearby and the occasional stranded student. I’m not sure if this year she decided to cut back, if some younger relative has now taken over the big family feast, or whether she just got tired of our faces, but I am grateful for all the past years’ hospitality.
So after weighing the pros and cons of cooking at home versus eating out we decided to drive down the river to Nottaway Plantation in Plaquemine Parish and have Thanksgiving dinner there. Back when my late mother-in-law Eloise lived in Baton Rouge, we would take her there for Thanksgiving dinner.
The reason that we chose Nottaway is that in those days they had menu service (a limited fixed price menu) rather than a buffet, and Eloise did not do well with buffets, as big, bustling spaces made her dizzy. The grounds were pretty, as was the drive there. Nottaway is on the west bank of the Mississippi River, about 45 minutes from Baton Rouge. Every year we would remind Eloise that the restaurant is a 45 minute drive away. Every year as soon as we crossed the river she would ask John if he was sure he knew where he was going. We adopted that cheerful air of false patience that one does with elderly annoying relatives. “She’s getting older,” I counseled myself, “Naturally she is forgetful.”
It wasn’t until several years later that realized I may have been making a big mistake. By that time, a retirement home was not sufficient for Eloise and she moved to an assisted living facility near her daughter in Tennessee. We visited at Christmas, and all of us picked up Eloise to take her to church with us. As we got outside, she turned to my brother-in-law and asked, “Do you want me to drive?”
The look on my sister-in-law’s face was priceless. She muttered something under her breath about her mother thinking she could drive. I thought to myself, “You mean you really think she is serious? She’s joking, for Pete’s sake.”
And then I flashed back to all those trips to Nottaway, when my MIL asked every year if we were lost. Maybe I was the clueless one. Maybe she was joking, for Pete’s sake. Okay, maybe not the best of jokes and maybe a little repetitive, but why did I ever take it so seriously?
It is a shame the way we stereotype the elderly. It is easy to forget that aging bodies contain the same variety of personality that younger ones do. I have a dry sense of humor myself, and frequently find myself thinking, “How could you think I was serious about that?” So why didn’t I recognize the same thing in Eloise?
And now I am getting old myself, so maybe the joke will be on me.
Meanwhile, as we drove south along Highway 1 approaching the city of Plaquemine, my husband asked, “Are you sure we didn’t pass it? Have you seen a sign?”
“It’s on the other side of Plaquemine,” I reassured him, but reached for a map just to be sure. Just then, we drove by a sign that said “Nottaway Plantation, 9 miles ahead.”
“See that? Nine more miles. Check your odometer,” I advised, as I refolded the map. “Oh, and you are definitely your mother’s child.”