Friday, December 03, 2010

Thanksgiving - Part two

The atmosphere at The Grandmother’s is vastly different from Papa’s. It’s like leaving a school assembly that only had one or two mouthy students, then walking into a circus tent chock full of clowns. Paper plates replace china, swear words multiply like Mormons, and there are running, screaming germ breeders everywhere.

The two families couldn’t be more different – a fact thrown into glaring affect as soon as I arrived at Papa’s. Stepping out of my car, I waved at a group of laughing cousins seated at a patio table. The tallest one waved back and came toward me, grinning and blowing smoke out his nose.

“Hey Al”, Tim said, wrapping me in a bear hug. He carried the crock-pot full of dip toward the house and I followed with the bastard ass Italian crème cake. I was already planning to force every single one of them to taste it, whether they wanted to or not.

“Hey whore”, shouted Tim’s wife Ellie as I passed the smoking section. “Menstrual chunk”, I deadpanned back, wrestling with my purse and the cake holder. The others laughed.

Pushing open the heavy, sectioned glass door I walked into a wall of barking dogs. There are seven – Gucci, Sonny, Dixie, Mimi, Gracie, Scooby, and Bud. For as long as I can remember Papa has been surrounded by dogs. They climb on top of him while he lounges in the recliner, sit in the front seat and get their own ice cream at the Sonic drive through, go on boat rides and trips to the city. They’re his babies. And just like any other member of our neurotic family, we’ve learned to accept them and deal with the ruckus they cause...if a little grudgingly.

And, just like every other time I’ve walked in that door, the chocolate brown cocker spaniel, Bud, charged me like a bull and nipped the backs of my calves. He’s so fat that he looks like a barrel, giving the impression that if you tipped him over he’d just roll away. Unfortunately, it’s just an impression. I’ve tried rolling him, shoving him, running from him, shouting at him...everything. I finally developed a routine that semi-works: I hang my purse low and angle it between the two of us as I walk in, screaming at him, “SHUT THE FUCK UP BUD, I FUCKING HATE YOU, YOU BASTARD!” (or something close), giving Tess (Papa’s girlfriend) time to whack him away with the newspaper. It’s the best I’ve been able to come up with. Once I’ve been in the house for a few minutes, though, he’s fine.

“Hey Pop,” I shouted at a corner table. “Hey darlin’”, he boomed back, getting up and following me to the kitchen. My Papa is a big, big man with wispy grayish brown hair, a jowly face creased with laugh lines, and simply enormous earlobes. With blue eyes full of mischief and a contagious laugh, he’s always reminded me a bit of Santa Claus without the beard. His plodding walk – feet turned slightly out, head held at a high angle and arms crossed behind his back – never fails to make my smile.

Reaching my side he rocked back and forth on his heels, arms still behind his back, and looked into the crock-pot. “Mm, The Dip! You’re early! I’m proud!” Nearly everything he says has an exclamation mark on the end and there’s no doubt about where I got my powers of vocal projection. I stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek, then left him and a few others digging around for tortilla chips.

As I was rounding a corner of the island, waving and saying hello to various aunts, uncles, and neighbors, I was slammed into from behind. “OOF! Gggrrroff!” My cousin Christine had, as usual, launched herself at my back and hung there – arms tight around my neck, sending me staggering about the kitchen, trying to shake her off. She knows I hate it and she does it, I’ve gathered, to draw attention to our physical differences. She’s a rail (though she certainly feels heavy clinging to my back) and I have not, nor will I ever be, that tiny. She’s always been the pretty, petite one; I’ve always been the smart, curvy one. I often speak to her using words I know she doesn’t understand – she’s got her bullets, I have mine.

“You love me”, she screeched in my ear. I finally managed to shrug her off and with a long suffering sigh, answered, “Yes, unfortunately I do.”

After making sure the kid was safely ripping the children’s play area to shreds with the others, I made my way back out to the patio. My cousin Dooby and his wife Marie had driven down from Virginia for the weekend and I was excited to see them. “I missed my lesbian life partner”, Marie said as we hugged. We laughed, then relayed the story behind her greeting to the rest of the group. We’d both gotten wildly trashed at the Halloween party and there was a lot of lap dancing and suggestive picture taking.

For an hour we all sat, taking it in turns to make the others laugh with one story or another. When it wasn’t my turn, I found myself observing more than listening. I’d heard most of it before anyway.

Tim leaned against the brick wall, towering over everyone even while slumped. At 22, one of the youngest in our group, he managed to beat us all in The Game of Life. Recently married to a single mom with a five year old son, he’d secured a great job and bought his first house - a long way from the child of a mother in and out of rehab and the teenager caught cashing stolen checks. He’d met Ellie and her son and quickly became a family man.
Dooby paced restlessly, playing with his cell phone, while Marie sat with her legs crossed, calmly puffing on a cigarette. They’d been together for a very long time and had finally taken the plunge into marriage just a year ago. They argue often, but not in a way that causes concern. Somehow their personalities complement each other – Marie almost always appears bored and unconcerned with everything (except when she’s drinking) and Dooby gives passionate speeches about whatever strikes his fancy.

Having nursed him through his younger brother’s death and an addiction to pills, and staying with him after more than one affair early in their relationship, I’ve come to think of Marie as a bit of a hero. In the beginning I thought her foolish, but somehow she managed to pull Dooby back from the brink of destruction and piece him back together. Every now and then he’d glance up from his phone and look at her, the adoration on his face clear as day.

Soon after Christine and I had horrified the other men with a frank discussion about sex toys, it was time to go inside for dinner.

The huge kitchen quickly clogged up with traffic while everyone attempted to fix their plates. Being a veteran of the bob and weave technique, I was soon settled at the dining room table and tucking in to a plate across from Pop. “Mm, this looks good”, he shouted. I nodded, turning my lips up in a grin, mouth stuffed full of macaroni. He always says that, no matter what kind of food is in front of him.

By the time we’d made it to dessert and I’d forced them all to have a slice of my cake, (“Mmm! That’s good”, Pop said immediately.) we were in the midst of a discussion on what college my sister was going to attend.

“Where have you applied”, my Uncle asked her. He’s one of those bible thumping sorts now, but I remember when he was a drunk, getting into fist fights with my dad on the front lawn. I often find myself missing the drunk, as I’m much better at handling them than I am the “shove the bible down your throat” religious fanatics.

“I think I’m going to go to a small college close to home for a year, to get used to things. Then I’ll transfer to Charleston”, she replied.

“Charleston has one of the highest STD ratings of any college”, mom chimed in.

Puffing up, deep frown pulling his mustache down in a highly comical way, my Uncle glared at Leigha. “You know how to fight that, don’t you?!”

Leigha looked around the table, searching for help. So I gave it to her.

“Yeah”, I said, pumping my fist in the air, “wrap it uuuuuup!”

“NO”, he shouted. “Abstinence...”

“does not make the heart grow fonder”, I finished.

While he harrumphed and sputtered, everyone else laughed. Except for Papa, who ignored the whole exchange, rolling his dessert around in his mouth like a cow and staring past our heads at a western on the big screen.

Packed full of food and moaning miserably, the sexes separated. Tess and the older women attacked the kitchen, fixing up leftover plates for people to take home and washing dishes. The older men crashed in the living room and watched sports through slowly closing eyelids, while the younger ones congregated outside on the patio. Us younger women moved to the table in the sunroom and discussed mom and Ray’s coming nuptials and the possibility of another Charleston bachelorette weekend.

Then Papa summoned me from across the house, bellowing my name and sending the dogs into a barking fit. Lounging in his recliner, he informed me that I was in charge of the name drawing for Christmas again this year. “You got it, Pop”, I said happily. Nothing like being able to ensure your name goes to the person with the biggest spending problem.

I wrote down all the names, tore them into little strips of paper, folded them and dumped them in a Solo cup. Then, armed with a notepad and pen, I danced around the house and had everyone draw. I shoved Christine and Dave away from my notepad and ignored whispered pleas for cheating. There would be no cheating for anyone but me!

As I passed through the living room for the second time, finally finished with the list and very pleased with myself for getting a good name, Papa said, “And she didn’t even hear me!”

“What”, I said, turning in confusion. “What happened?”

“I paid you a compliment and you didn’t even hear me!”

“What did you say”, I asked.

“Nope...I’m not going to repeat myself”, he said, pouting.

I turned to my sister, determined to get an answer. Papa so very rarely compliments anyone on anything other than how well they cook. And when it comes to me, his loving insults are par for the course. “What’s that ugly green blob on your foot”, he asks me at least once a week, referring to my four leaf clover tattoo. Or, “Woo-wee! Where’d you get that new dress, Jackass?! Columbia Tent and Awning?”

“What did he say”, I asked her.

She smiled. “I can’t believe you didn’t hear him! He said he was proud of you, that you’ve been doing so good lately.”

“Well. I’ve been doing well”, I corrected automatically. “Well”, she repeated, rolling her eyes.

“Aww, Pop”, I said, grinning at him.

“Better keep it up”, he replied gruffly.

Feeling happy and tired, I checked on the kid then rejoined my cousins. Slowly everyone started to drift off – hauling hyper children out to their cars, toting high stacked plates, and distributing hugs. As I said goodbye to everyone, I realized that there’d been no fights at all. No arguments, no crying...not even any drinking. I wondered how much of that had to do with the absence of my father and how much of it had to do with how “well” I, the main instigator, was doing.

After making plans for Marie and Christine to pick me up, I kissed Papa goodbye and took the kid home to settle her for the night. We were going to make a beer and cigarette run into town, then meet Dooby and Dave on the dock.

It’s tradition. No matter how cold it is, the younger group always congregates on the dock or on the porch and drinks. We tell more stories, sing old songs (like a degenerate family Von Trapp), and watch the stars through puffs of smoke.

Out of all the traditions, it’s the one I look forward to the most. Not because we drink and talk about disgusting things, but because, unlike the family dinner, it’s not a requirement. No one says we have to spend that extra time together, but we always want to.

Marie, Christine and I spent the trip into town and back listening to old school rap music and dancing. Every now and then a deer would pop out of the tree lined darkness and we’d break, squealing and cursing, before going back to our dancing.

Back at Papa’s we walked, giggling through the yard and out to the dock. Huddling in deck chairs and clutching cold beers, we rolled our eyes when Dooby pointed out a streak across the night sky and started lecturing us on atoms or something. We mimicked him and argued that it was just a mark from a plane, sending him further and further into professor mode.

“How do you know all this stuff”, I asked him with exaggerated interest. “Did you study it, read it in a book somewhere?”

“I read books”, he said. “I know all kinds of things about science. I’ve...” He droned on and on, knowing I was poking fun, but too interested in hearing himself speak to let it deter him. Marie looked at me as if to say, “See? See what I have to deal with every day?”

Two hours crept by before we finally called it a night, hugged, and headed in opposite directions – Dooby, Marie, and Dave crept back into Papa’s, Christine drove back to the city, and I trudged up the steep hill back to my dark house.

I eased through the door, relishing the sudden heat on my frozen face and fingers, and went through my night time routine quickly. “One more month”, I thought as I finally crawled between the sheets, exhausted, “one more month and we’ll do it all over again.” The cooking, cleaning, decorating, shopping, working, parenting, and socializing...all repeated for both sides of the family.

I knew I should be thankful that the day went pretty smoothly, getting progressivly better and ending without any of the usual family drama. But all I could think before drifting off to sleep was, “I wasted all that money on Xanax and not one person got drunk and threw a punch. I hope Christmas kicks it up a notch.”

38 comments:

Sharon Longworth said...

Absolutely cracking - I think this is the opening chapter to your book, so I'll just sit patiently now and wait for you to publish.

jerrod said...

I was done at menstrual chunk.

Toyin O. said...

Funny post.

dys·func·tion said...

This is awesome! Thank you for sharing, it gives me warm feelings and a stupid grin. Congratulations finding the joy in an unconventional gathering.

Beta Dad said...

Did you check your Xanax supply? Maybe all the relatives got into it before you arrived.

who said...

Jerrod, menstrual has a phonetically similar musicular meaning but also under the tranz of lunar cycles.

so jerrod wipe that grin off your face or i will send the son of Jer-el over to your house to do it for you.

or just cover it with your mouth, that works to, thank you.

and owo, excellent post

Sara said...

My family can never get through a holiday without someone storming out halfway through the meal and slamming a door.

Two years ago on Mothers Day, it was because I put cheese in the mashed potatos. My sister boo fucking hoo'ed about it until I said FUCK IT really loudly and started over.

Jesus, my family is obnoxious.

JUST ME said...

Your holiday was like 30 times more intense than mine.

Glad you're doing so well. :)

Mollie said...

If I had had liquid in my mouth, I would've spewed it all over the laptop screen. Too effin funny "menstrual chunk". God I wish I could say stuff like that to my in-laws without preface and debrief.

I am follower now. Mine is:
mollieisokinuk.blogspot.com

Nari said...

Great post. I think I would enjoy family dinners more if I could go to yours instead of mine.

I tend to despise big Thanksgiving dinners with lots of family...but then again, I don't like people.

My humor, though enjoyable to some (by some I mean me), is not as widely appreciated by the in-laws. I have a feeling all humor was banned years ago but my hubby insists the ban began following my first visit to the family table.

Don't fret about the Xanax. Thanksgiving was clearly the calm before the storm,

Haley said...

I've always wanted to experience a big family thanksgiving dinner. In Alaska we never had enough relatives around, and my chances have gotten even dimmer now that I live in Italy. I imagine it can get draining though, good luck with Christmas!

Big Daddy Cool said...

I laughed hard enough my clerk came in to see if I was choking. Well played....

U.S. States said...

I really enjoyed both parts of your Thanksgiving story. I especially liked the part about Bud the brown cockerspaniel in part two.

BarkyMag said...

Loved both these posts. Made me laugh on a cold foggy morning. You call your family dysfunctional but your love for them shines through.

Baglady said...

I'm with Sharon on this one. When's the book coming out?

I love the different rhythms of your family, the in jokes and the beautiful portraits.

Devisha said...

lol.double lol.like<3

Ed said...

What would the holidays be if you couldn't tell a relative, "Fuck you, whore!"?

And Tuesday, that's what.

The mad woman behind the blog said...

And I wanted to compliment you on your ability to tell a tale of family that you begrudgingly adore and telling it so well only to find out you were nearly stoned. HMPH!
Love you even more.

Helle Kristine Tumbridge said...

I loved reading this, both honest and warm. It struck a cord with me. My family are dysfuctional characters too, and I love them. It's all a matter of the right mindset, a sense of humour, good food, good drink, and these kind of family gatherings are enjoyable in their own unique, special way...

bbonnieblue said...

thanks for letting us in on your memory making and loved the vision you drew for us. It's more fun when it happens at someone else's house.

Bonnie

http://bbonnieblue.blogspot.com/

Janie B said...

Great post...have you published any of your work? If not, you should get on that. You are a hell of a writer!

Barbies4Sale! said...

Congratulations on becoming a "Blog of Note"! Truly a great decision on the part of the blogger team as the best blogs, are always written by those who share. Barbies4Sale ~ Ken

Philip said...

Just a special bit of writing. You know that I think you are exceptionally talented. I'm with Sharon on this, I see this (or some fictionalised version of it) unfolding into something longer. It also stands on its own as one of your best.

otherworldlyone said...

Sharon: Thank you! I wish I could sit patiently and have it publish itself. :)

Jerrod: Would you prefer blood clot? I just didn’t think that one had as much umph, but I could be wrong.

Toyin O: Thanks.

Dysfunction: Thank you. Those warm feelings are probably the beginning of your inevitable attraction to me. Don’t fight it. :)

Beta Dad: They wouldn’t dare.

Who: I’m afraid Jerrod is ill equipped to deal with Superman’s father. But don’t worry, I’m pretty good at handling him. Thanks.

Sara: Maybe so, but they sound a bit like mine. Maybe we should put them all together and watch them explode.

Just Me: Intense. That’s a good word for it. Ha. Thanks, love.

Mollie: Swallowing is always better. (TWSS) You can say things like that to your in-laws without preface and debrief! If someone doesn’t get your joke or looks confused, rather than explain, just yell, “YOU SUCK AT THIS GAME!” and storm off. It’s what I do.

Nari: If humor were banned at our gatherings, I’d make it my mission to cause a ruckus. Not that I don’t kind of do that anyway. Thanks for coming by. And you’re right…I have a feeling Christmas is going to be even more of a mess since Thanksgiving was so calm. Ugh.

Haley: There is nothing dim about living in Italy, you lucky heathen! I tell you what, we’ll swap places for a few weeks. You can have the BIG family experience, and I’ll have loads of Italian sausage. :)

Big Daddy Cool: Thank you!

U.S. States: Thanks. I hate that fucking dog.

BarkyMag: Thank you so much. It’s true – I love all of those assholes.

Baglady: Sigh. If I knew how to go about it, I would have begun already. Thanks. Fnnarr!

Devisha: Double rainbow! Thanks.

Ed: Oh, things like that are reserved for the holidays.

Mad woman: Stoned. I was stoned? (Who’ve you been talking to, eh?) Thanks, lady.

Helle KristineTumbridge: Very well said – exactly. Thanks for coming by.

Bbonnieblue: Isn’t that the damn truth! No muss, no fuss.

Janie B: I haven’t published anything yet, no, but that’s always been the plan. Thank you very much.

Barbies4Sale: Thank you, that’s nice of you.

Philip: Oh no, I think it’s true essays all the way for me. I’ll leave the compelling fiction to you. But thank you very much for the compliments.

ABG said...

nyce header pic

OllieAnne said...

ahahaha i love the picture of the toilettes!!

Kelley said...

really funny! reminds me of my family. you've definately sparked my interest.

ThatOneGirl said...

'wrap it uuuup!' and a fist pump. Definitely reminds me of something I would say. Great blog. I'm awaiting more!

Shannon said...

Wow, I love your blog just based on your About Me section.

You're my new hero.

shanimalcrackers.blogspot.com

Ben Aidoo said...

I've known about Blogs of Note for sometime, but had not paid much attention to it. Two days ago, I was looking around for something to read when I stumbled upon it again. This time I clicked it, and I'm glad I did. Well, I feel like a kid in a candid store. I like every article I've read so far, and yours: they're hilarious and fun to read. Congratulation for your blog's selection as Blogs of Note. If you could, stop by my blog at www.ezyonrelationships.com and leave a comment.

rubbish said...

Looks like you've made the big time now. Hope you're going to remember us little people who used to read you when you weren't so famous :)

Elisabeth said...

I am glad to see, after reading this and about The Grandmother, that someone else's family get-togethers are so completely opposite from each other. I found you through "Blogs of Note" and intend to keep reading! Funny stuff.

Files4Share said...

WoW !!
nice..
I came across your blog, it's nicely written! Feel free to check mine out if you want. Maybe we can follow one another? :)

http://share4files.blogspot.com/

Helle Kristine Tumbridge said...

Actually, I have followed you for some time from my secret and slightly more sexually deviant blog. This is my professional face...

Fortunes Fool said...

Love it! And reading your blog!

ErRy K's said...

hi owner , i'm visiting here for awhile . . (^__^)V


>>eRRy<<

Sally-Sal said...

I think you definitely do need to write a book. I read that, and for a little while, it was like I was at Thanksgiving.

Except without the dip, of course. :)

I love your writing, I love your stories. And I love getting lost in what you're telling, and I'm always the tiniest bit sad when the post is over.

K. said...

I highly recommend you read "The Dead" by James Joyce, if you already haven't. You'll find it in "Dubliners".