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T'was the Night Before Thanksgiving

(by Ne’Untae Brown)

T’was the night before Thanksgiving, and I awoke from sleep at 2 a.m. to the aroma of greens, sweet cornbread, and oven-cooked baked beans with lots of brown sugar. I walked downstairs into the kitchen to find the greatest cook in the world, my own personal chef: my mother.

My mama ruled in the kitchen, at our home in the Avondale neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio, next to a huge grass field where I spent a lot of time playing kickball, football, and baseball, and waiting to be fed. I was only an occasional helping hand, grabbing spices out of the cabinet or eggs from the fridge. But on this night, my unexpected presence was a relief, so I washed my hands and got to work. My favorite task was gutting the turkey, which might sound unusual, but I always wanted to be a nurse, so I pretended that I was performing surgery. After placing the neck bone in the deep pot with the seasoned kale and collards, I suddenly had the idea to attempt my mama’s macaroni and cheese, made famous among family and friends for its lusciousness.

Keep in mind, 11-year-old me had never made a meal in my life, nothing more skilled than pouring cereal in a bowl or adding hot water to ramen noodles, but, for some reason I thought I was Gordon Ramsey that night. Better yet, I thought I was Nicole Lynn Brown herself. Mama and I do not look alike, I mean, at all—I’m the spitting image of my father—but I act exactly like my mama. Growing up, I admired absolutely everything about her—the way she dressed, the way she wore her hair, even her handwriting. (I kid you not, my mama has the best handwriting in the world.) But that was as a child. Once I hit my teenage years, we began to bump heads a lot. I just didn’t like her during that period, and she didn’t like me (she told me so herself one day while she was doing my hair). When it came to boys and talking to her about sex, I couldn’t. She was so strict. As soon as I turned 18, I went and got a scorpion tattooed on my lower back. She was beyond pissed about that tramp stamp.

My mom is actually pretty chill, except for holding grudges. That’s my mama all day long. She’ll hold a grudge forever. And over the stupidest things. I couldn’t get with that so, it was a trait I happily fought against. The strongest thing I got from her gene pool is that both of us are homebodies. The only time I leave the house is for work or a vacation. And despite all of the bickering during my teenage years, we remained close.

On the Thanksgiving Eve I’m remembering, I was convinced that we could do a mind meld. What could go wrong? I’d watched her prepare the same meal for 11 years. I got this!

So, boom, I gathered up cheese, milk, and eggs, and salted the water in the stockpot, just below the rim. I placed the pot on the gas stove and watched it come to a boil. I poured the elbow macaroni into the boiling water and held onto the pot handle with my left hand, protected by an oven mitt, stirring to prevent the noodles from sticking. After a few minutes of stirring (and receiving a free steam facial from the boiling water), I smelled something burning.

I turned to my mother and asked, “Do you smell that?” She looked concerned, but checked her greens, cornbread, turkey, and baked beans.