Saturday, November 7, 2009

Thanksgiving Disaster: What's Next?

We've all had a holiday-related family disaster or two in our pasts. After some consideration, I decided to write about mine, as another sort of jump-start (see: Most Embarrassing Childhood Moments) for my memoir. This year's festivities are quickly approaching, and I think it's important to get into the groove, so to speak, before I even try to cover the upcoming holiday mayhem.

So here it is: Thanksgiving 2008, timestamped and told from the most honest point of view I could muster. Walk with me through this experience as I recall it to the best of my ability.

It’s 11 o’clock on Thanksgiving morning. My car is parked half on the grass, half on the gravel and when I step out, my grandmother is picking her way from the house through the frozen stones toward me. I’m shocked, because dinner’s not till 3, and Grandma has a reputation for getting sick of our antics and bailing out early. It’s strange to me that she would voluntarily arrive four and a half hours early, especially when mom is still in her robe and the sweet potatoes aren’t even cooking yet.

Grandma flags me down as I topple out of the car, stops for a quick embrace, and quickly retreats to her own vehicle. “I’ll be back later. I’ll be back at 3,” she says in passing. “I just stopped by after church. I thought you’d be having brunch!”

We are not having brunch. We are only just arriving from a half an hour shopping trip; we are out of milk, out of coffee, and someone ate all the cranberry bread between 8 o’clock last night at 9 o’clock this morning. My sisters are still passed out upstairs, and nobody has even considered going to church. I haven’t had my morning cup of coffee, so my reaction time is slow. And the bird is nowhere near in the oven; in fact, I’m not even sure it is a bird, because last year the turkey spoiled and no one could stomach the smell so we ate roast beef instead.

That’s fine with me. I believe that every holiday is an occasion for lasagna and that’s it.

This is the classic Thanksgiving at my house. We’ll have a relatively calm family dinner in a few hours, during which my uncle and I will sit together and pepper the conversation with talks about guns, hunting, and home defense via shotgun. My grandparents, each deaf in one ear, will compete to hear and be heard over the chatter and chewing and tales of six-point bucks, misinterpret the conversation at various points, and eventually (though inadvertently) change the subject to death, heart failure, and the relationship between their high school classmates and the local paper’s obituary section.

Traditionally, my sisters and I place bets on how long it’ll take the conversation to turn firmly to death and stay there. The trick to this game is not to let my grandmother know that we’re actually placing bets, because then she’ll make a point not to talk about it. The game becomes significantly more complex in that case.

Someone, at some point, has to try and get me to admit that I like the turkey, since I spent the other 11 months of the year complaining about the fact that we’re not having lasagna like we do for Christmas. If we are, in fact, consuming a bird rather than a beast, I will have to agree that the turkey is good, evading the point that I don’t like turkey at all regardless of how skillfully it is prepared.

After dinner the requisite talk about death and heart failure mellows into easier topics like diabetes and other less-threatening health problems, and we put out dessert even though we all ate with abandon no more than hour ago. Everyone is asking me about school and work and I am leaving out most of the sordid details, but I do admit my tendency to charge what I like to call "bullshit tax" to the most obnoxious of grocery store customers and receive a nice swatting and ten-minute speech from my grandmother.

This pisses me off so that when my phone starts ringing at the dinner table I am all too happy to duck onto the freezing porch and hunker into the corner, next to the pan of turkey fat that no one wanted to look at, in my socks while I plan my escape to the casino later that night with a bunch of my friends.

Traditionally, my aunt will show up around 7 with a jug of wine and most of the family will partake, some openly and some with coffee mugs as if they're just drinking water and ran out of cups. This year she can’t make it and we are clearing out when the door opens and my other aunt arrives, unannounced, packing two kids and a box of cheesecake bars. Everyone sucks back into the house as if by vortex and resumes their positions for a few more hours.

There is no wine whatsoever. My casino plans fall apart. My grandma mistakes them for "clubbing" plans and I receive another speech.

As everyone’s heading out, I escape to my sister’s room (my room was absorbed by other family members when I left for college) with a ziplock bag of ice to chill my remaining beer, which has survived the trip home in a sock at the bottom of my backpack.

No one may be the wiser, but I need it.

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