January 2019 . . . .

“Oh my god — I’m that guy!”

It’s January and perhaps now we can finally talk a little about this year’s Thanksgiving family get-together meals. But before I get started, I want to let it be known that I miss Turkey (the food — I’ve never been to the country and cannot actually miss it until I do) and Romaine lettuce, which is acceptably green and crunchy, and pecan pie (I am counting calories and pecan pie really is higher math), and some other things that seem to be troubled by the rules of engagement in our modern food world. Instead, we had chicken, good old reliable and unruffled chicken, with dressing . . . and it was noteworthy in its adequacy. The cranberry relish, on the other hand, was marvelous, the potatoes good enough for government work, and there was wine, but I didn’t drink any wine, because I don’t. Quit judging me. Yes, you were.

There were other things to eat and I ate them, too, but so what? The point of this essay is that the Thanksgiving meal is mostly about talk, and talk we did. Talked about all those things that have stewed in the back of our minds since last Thanksgiving. And, oh boy, there was drama, but now two months later it is no longer as fresh as a new paper cut (with that self-effacing annoyance that it ever even happened because who here hasn’t gotten a paper cut and wondered why, oh lord, why me?). So, here’s a review:

It may be your opinion that we either caused or exacerbated a problem by spending the whole week together. Actually, it worked very well. Because more of something is always good, right? Can any of you imagine this? Spending an entire Thanksgiving week together? Madness! Mayhem! And I would like to tell you that we have broken the code on Thanksgiving, but even I cannot lie that baldfacedly. But here’s what I think. I think we argue with my relatives and friends because I’m supposed to. If you can’t talk to those folks, get the toxins out of your system, well, who can you talk to?

Which is my theory as to why it is actually a very good idea that we have Thanksgiving in a rented house at the beach. Because no one has the home-field advantage. You can’t escape into your comfort-zone cave, or fetch the car keys and drive off (well, you can, but where are you going to go?).

And I will say right now that this essay seems to be taking a maudlin, basic-cable drama turn, so I’ll nip that in the bud right here. What I’ve actually discovered is something about myself. I miss arguing with my family the rest of the year and I like Thanksgiving. Quite a bit.

Here’s the short list of reasons why: my family is pretty smart. I mean, we argue about some important topics, such as how loud do you really need to yell “Bingo!” when you’ve filled a row or column in your card? Correct answer — “Not that loud, you hurt my ears. And can you take that game downstairs, I want the whole living room to myself and this TV program on how dolphins and some kind of diving bird work together to catch herring.” Or: “Are you still watching that documentary on baseball? The season is over, move on!” Correct answer — “Why don’t you carry the garbage down to the curb and hop on into the dumpster, too?” And “Who took the last piece of key lime pie?” Correct answer — “My name is Inigo Montoya and you must die!” With lots of applause for the last one’s rhyming scheme, naturally.

We also fuss about politics, religion, science, the bad traffic on the way to the grocery store. The bad traffic on the way home from the grocery store. We do not fuss about there being no coffee. There is always coffee. I mean, we’re not animals.

By the way, I am the paterfamilias, a role with no authority whatsoever. I can start an argument, but rarely win — even if I’m right, which is a rarity, but still statistically possible. I get cranky when they all gang up on me, play devil’s advocate, or devil’s Uber driver, or devil’s sous chef, whichever is necessary to move the ball downfield. But not really cranky. I don’t turn up the football game and pout. And it is mostly my fault that we will take an argument to the illogical extreme, or at least what we think is the illogical extreme. Some of you probably throw stuff, or jump up to try and remember the combination to the gun safe. That’s not our thing, however — to end Thanksgiving once and for all. Just make it memorable.

In the end, we still like each other in my family. All these years later. And there’s a new generation of adults, my nieces and nephews, and my own daughters coming up, taking responsibility for leading the discussions. No one is off the hook — escaping from the rest of us trying to be in their business. We talk about each other’s problems — the real ones and the ones we just seem to make up out of the evidence we reveal about our lives. For example, my family thinks I’m nuts. I have no idea how this conclusion was reached. Was it my leading a discussion on “mansplaining?” Was it my monthly blog, posted for everyone to see? A rehash of the phone calls I’ve made to customer service? My home-made bumper-sticker affixed to the wife’s car? “Hot Flash! Pull Me Over At Your Own Peril!” (This last is pure fiction — but funny, right?)

They expect such behavior from me, and no one takes it particularly seriously. Counseling is suggested, but not mandated. Also, I try to turn the tables on myself before they can, and say “I’m just blustering here, but . . ” or “Pardon my uncredentialled bombast, but . . ” and they know I’m about as full of shit as I can be full of turkey, which is a lot.