There were wonderful things about this Thanksgiving. Our meal was well-prepared (YAY!!! Thank the Gods for small favors!!!), and we spent it with our great-aunt and great-uncle from Michigan. There were some not-wonderful things, too. I'm just going to share the events of Thanksgiving 2005 in the form of a bulleted list and not bother to edit, so bear with me.
*My brother had gotten there on Tuesday with his wife and was staying at our mom's apartment. There was already a good deal of friction because they'd brought their three cats to a pet-free home (including one *very* rambunctious little black kitten, who was a precious doll-baby but constantly underfoot) and because my brother decided he needed a fresh turkey instead of "that frozen Butterball stuff." My mom was very hurt by that comment--"You grew up on that Butterball stuff! In fact, I seem to remember you *liking* that Butterball stuff!" Both of them expected me to intervene, too. *sigh* I just basically grunted non-committally at both of them and said, "You know I don't know the difference 'cause I'm allergic."
*And my grandma was there. She was being her mean self and picking fights with my mom, brother, *and* SIL. I didn’t know what to say or think; just wanted to avoid her.
*My mom was also squabbling with her brother-in-law, my favorite aunt and her favorite sister’s husband. (They, at least, were staying in a hotel like L’Ailee and myself.) I don’t know why they don’t get along, but I felt sorry for my aunt. That was easier-I told them they have one thing in common, and that’s loving my aunt, and it’s not loving to put her in an awkward position. They acted like they heard me and then went right back to squabbling. My aunt said she tried that line too, though.
*There was snow on the way to Virginia. But it didn't stop the Amtrak! Slowed us down, but didn't stop it, thank the Gods! We got to Richmond early Thursday afternoon, where Mom picked us up (“I just hope your brother and his cats aren’t tearing up my kitchen”) and took us to our hotel. She was kind enough to wait for us to take a quick bath (taking them together saves time!) We brought luggage to Mom’s house with us. I’d loaded a few bags with non-perishable food and had things like cheese in a carry-on cooler, too. Plus Mom likes us to “dress for dinner,” so we were in our play clothes, as Dorkfish and I still jokingly call them, and had good clothes and makeup with us.
*We missed the Macy’s parade, which was just fine-it would’ve depressed us having to watch it on TV. We did see most of the National Dog Show afterwards. There are some freaky-looking dogs out there! My mom had to watch Miracle on 34th Street. The holiday TV tradition I was waiting for was Survivor, in which we give thanks that we aren’t them!
*We had two kitchens to work with--the one in my mom's apartment and the one in her apartment complex's clubhouse, which she had rented. This meant there was my brother's turducken in one oven and what he called "a plain, straight-up turkey" in the other. The weather in Richmond was beautiful, so the walks in between were pleasant. Everyone else seemed to migrate from one venue to another, too. The Dorkfish was unhappy at being pressured into making a plain, straight-up turkey rather than a fried one; both my wife and his told him to think of sandwiches later. Both these birds were ginormous oven-strainers, too, leaving me with only three inches on the top shelves. In the meantime, I was using *all* the burners and a world of dishes and trying to make biscuits (which my brother and favorite aunt pronounce "the best in the world", so I had to make them), Pillsbury croissants from the "whomp" can (I hated having to make those, too, but I was also pressured), and pies on the top racks of both ovens.
*Let me pause to give thanks for my lovely assistant L'Ailee, who fetched my Lubriderm from my purse when my hands got chapped, cut up vegetables, washed dishes, and cleaned up after me. My brother thought she was underfoot, but wished his wife would do the same; I think he was just jealous that mine was within kissing distance. His wife was trying to keep three energetic little cats out of Mom’s kitchen--the oldest two are just a year old-so that was a job in itself!
*But really, nobody was helping much besides the relentlessly useful L’Ailee. We were officially going to have Thanksgiving in the clubhouse, but both it and my mom’s apartment were crawlin’ with kinfolk. I got tired of commentary from the relatives very quickly. A couple of uncles joked about how at least L’Ailee wouldn’t be getting hair into the food. (“I’m more worried about getting my fingertip into the food. She’s the best-designed food processor I’ve ever seen in my life,” I responded, which made her smile.) The aunts were making suggestions, some more helpful than others.
*The nastiest was from my absolute bitch of a grandmother. From the second I came in, she was starting in with comments like “Don’t make anything too spicy” and “I hope there’s something normal that I can eat” and telling us allllll about her diverticulitis. Dorkfish and I had taken the advice we saw in the Washington Post’s “Lean Plate Club” and loaded up a plate with healthy things like our favorite cut-up vegetables and a few cubes of low-fat cheese to nibble on as we cooked. Well, my grandmother had the raw nerve to tell me, “That’s why you don’t lose weight-eating while you cook.” Loud, in front of everyone. I got upset. I marched my big but well-defined ass into the living room, hands on hips in front of the TV, and said, “Thank you ever so much for warning me about some cut-up bell peppers and carrot sticks that I’m eating while I stand and run from one kitchen to another. Maybe I should do like you and sit in front of the TV in the living room eating a Krispy Kreme instead.” Thankfully, most everyone else saw my point.
*My great-aunt is hilarious! We’d never had her at Thanksgiving before. At 87 years old, she complained about not having much of a love life. To a group of us women, she explained that because “the doctor said he can’t take that Viagra anymore”, her 92-year-old husband and she can only make love once a month. We were all amazed, except for one aunt (who is a bitch too, more on her later) and my grandmother, who just acted disgusted. She loved the Amtrak story I told y’all. She told us corny jokes and enthusiastically described the Hawaiian hula dancers at the Macy’s parade. She wanted us to tell her our stories. She can talk forever, and we can just keep her talking, too! Also, she’s a Democrat! I thought I was the only non-Republican in that family. What’s really cool is, she lives in Michigan, near Detroit. She has grown close to my 20-year-old girl cousin, who moved up near Detroit, and her fiance, L’Ailee’s boy cousin, who still lives and works in Ontario. Amazing how ties can be created. L’Ailee, her cousin, and my great-uncle, who comes from Russia, were speaking a mixture of Russian and English to each other in low voices at one point, having a heart-to-heart talk. Several of us said this a lot: “Amazing how a year can change things.” This time last year, L’Ailee’s cousin and mine didn’t know each other, Dorkfish and I were still engaged rather than married, I was unemployed and starting to recover from surgery…
*There was, for once, almost no political or religious discussion. This is because there was serious opposition for once. I was very lonely as a Pagan and Libertarian in the middle of Republican Evangelical Christians. Now there's political diversity. My great-uncle and SIL are independents, my wife and her cousin are also Libertarians, my brother is Green, my 20-year-old coulsin votes for "whoever seems to care," and my 19-year-old cousin says, "They're all crooks, liars, and control freaks." The 19-year-old killed the religious discussion dead in true redneck fashion. An aunt (not his mom) approvingly mentioned Pat Robertson, and he spat out, "Shee-it, what the hayull is that sorry ol' peckerhaid flappin' his gums about now?" Excuse me, I have something in my eye...
*L’Ailee was SO THRILLED to have a member of her own family there! So there’s a technique for dealing with in-laws-get your sibling or cousin involved with one of their siblings or cousins, and you’ll feel more comfortable at family gatherings. Maybe this will help me when we do Thanksgiving in with her uncle in Canada next year.
*Dorkfish and I enjoyed cooking at first, but eventually squabbled in the kitchens, what with all our bumping into each other. “If you want those green onion biscuits that bad, you’re gonna have to let me use the oven.” “Sure! I’m only making the *main course*…”
*”If we do it two years in a row, it becomes a cherished holiday tradition!” That was my rallying cry. The new cherished tradition is “the Cousins”-that’s our word for our generation, ages 9 to 31-daring each other to eat or drink something incredibly vile for money. Last year it was the Jones Sodas in Turkey and Gravy and Brussels Sprouts; my wife and brother, who will eat anything that doesn’t eat them first, split a hundred and twenty dollar pot and ran to the bathroom to gargle. This year, Dorkfish had bought enough fat-free chicken broth to float a battleship. So we could chill one of those lovely new pop-top cans for our beloved cousins. As the turkey was finishing up, I walked into the parlor at the clubhouse and announced, “I have here a ten-dollar bill and an ice-cold can of chicken broth. If you drink one, you can have the other-how bad do you want it?” To prove that the can was cold, I touched it to my sister-in-law’s neck and made her jump. Dorkfish added ten, our wives each added ten, the nine-year-old added three dollars, and so on. Bills were piling up on the apartment complex’s coffee table. The baby-boom women were shaking their heads and looking kind of disgusted, the baby-boom men were adding to the pot, and our great-aunt and great-uncle were laughing their asses off. Finally, Future Stepdad, who can afford it, plunked a hundred down onto the table, and Dorkfish, L’Ailee’s cousin, and the oldest and youngest of my boy cousins started fighting for the right to drink the chicken broth! My oldest boy cousin eventually chugged the can like a beer and earned his four hundred and thirty dollars. Then he went behind the bushes either to get sick (his version) or kill the taste with a purloined Budweiser (what L’Ailee and I saw, but we weren’t gonna start anything. Besides, he’s 19.)
*My mom argued with her least-favorite sister and my least-favorite aunt. Honestly, I only tolerate this aunt because she raised my only girl cousin, whom L’Ailee and I adore. This aunt apparently thinks my mom is a slut and raised us badly. My mom pointed out how her daughter met her fiance (at me and L’Ailee’s wedding.) Grandma just had to sit and watch the fireworks; she kept trying to get them both torqued up. My SIL joined us in the kitchen while they debated their points. Then other cousins drifted in. Then we reached capacity when my favorite aunt asked if we were okay. “I don’t hear nuthin’. I’m just concentrating on making dinner,” I said. Everyone chuckled ruefully, and she hugged us all. “You’re all great kids,” she told us. “I know I didn’t have any, but having you all as my nieces and nephews is better. Those two have their own issues with each other, and I wanted to remind you that they had them long before any of you were born, so don’t let anything they say get to you.” See why she’s my favorite? We fed her samples of vegetables and let the youngest eat a spoonful of pecan pie filling.
*Eventually, we changed into our good clothes and ate dinner. I came in with two of my mom’s gold ornament picks holding my hair up; everyone giggled, except my grandmother, who snapped, “Oh, will you ever grow up?” Mom just said, “Thanks for finding my picks for the tree” and snatched them out of my hair before I got to the table. Good thing—those things get heavy on your head! Everyone seemed surprised at how good I looked in my purple floral dress. L’Ailee sewed it for and *on* me, so it fit perfectly. “Oh, and your makeup looks great!” For once, not one of my aunts had a suggestion regarding how I could fix myself up. Living with L’Ailee really does make a positive difference in my appearance. Speaking of differences in appearance, some of the relatives, including her cousin, teased her after dinner because she set off her pretty black Anthropologie dress’ v-neck with, as my great-aunt put it in the kitchen, “one of them bras that makes mountains out of molehills.” (“I believe that’s what it said on the tag,” L’Ailee joked in her quiet, deadpan manner.)
*Oh yeah, dinner! Our dinner went GREAT!!!! From the salad to the squash to the turkey to the pies, every dish on the groaning table got raved over by somebody! Even my grandma said little and ate much, TTG. “That kill the taste of the broth?” I teased my cousin when he went for a second helping of stuffing. (I made two kinds of stuffing, one vegetarian and one not.) I felt so clever because we color-coded the bowls on the side dishes—green for vegetarian, yellow for not. (My favorite aunt is a vegetarian.) I knew everyone would like my pies, but I was so relieved that they liked everything else, too. My brother and I kept smiling at each other across the table. My mom beamed when her siblings told her she’d taught us well and my great-aunt said she should be proud of us.
*The rest of the cousins and my SIL decided they needed to clean; we thought that was a great idea. We three sat down and rested with the cats while they laughed and sprayed each other with the hose in the sink. My least-favorite aunt and my grandmother got upset that L’Ailee and I snuggled up together. “Look, they worked hard all day to make us a good dinner, and they do that at home,” Future Stepdad said. My great-aunt chimed in, “You know what they are to each other, so what’s the point in making them pretend?” The self-righteous bitches backed off. (Sorry, but I don’t like ‘em. I love ‘em, but I don’t like ‘em, and blood’s the only reason I spend any time with them whatsoever. I’m certain they’d say the same about me, and that’s okay.) We debated whether we wanted to hit the Friday morning sales. (In case anyone still cares after reading all this, Dorkfish and his wife did, but L’Ailee and I had a train ride home coming, and we just wanted to rest our nerves as well as our bodies in the hotel room.)
*Another thing we kept hearing was, “This is the new generation’s Thanksgiving.” As we kissed our fiances and spouses and talked about dating, as we dared each other to drink cold chicken broth, as we danced to favored CDs we thought wouldn’t offend our parents too much, as we fixed julienned squash with basil as well as a traditional green bean casserole. I guess it was. It seems weird. I mean, it was their Thanksgiving too, you know? We certainly wanted everyone to enjoy it. But when we were dancing in a circle to random selections from Sinead O’Connor’s “Throw Down Your Arms” and M.I.A.’s “Arular” and Big and Rich’s “Coming to Your City”, I saw this look on my mom’s face. It was the look on my grandmother’s face in 1984 when Mom had all her friends over, served dinner buffet style, and played Bruce Springsteen and Van Halen. It’s not an altogether pleasant look. I just hugged her neck and kissed her cheek when I saw it.
*She and two of her siblings want us to do it again next year, and my cousins had a good time, and my great-aunt and great-uncle said how much they loved it, so we can’t have done that bad. We got home on the train late Saturday morning. We love the thought that the Dorkfishes took our train—that afternoon, they took the exact same train, headed back South, to Florida! My mom’s full house is now empty again; she’s in withdrawal, but I know she’s glad to have her home back, too. I’m glad to be back in my life, with my wife, in my city. Thankful, as a matter of fact.