Friday, November 20, 2015

thanksgivings past, volume one

there's a sort of crazy that only comes from family, and family holidays are good times for that crazy to manifest brightly.

in my childhood, thanksgiving with grandma and grandpa was a minefield of shifting rules and bizarre disapprovals.

i'm going to paint you a skeleton portrait:

my father's brother was obsessed with new zealand (where he had lived for a year or so), mad magazine, and trotsky-era russian politics, which he talked about as if it were current events. he also had a GIANT LIFE SIZED portrait of JESUS at the head of his bed, which you might think would make his catholic parents happy, but it did not, primarily because my father's brother had converted to russian orthodoxy, nobody knows why.

you know how old guys mumble and they don't hear well and they blame their failures in communication on you because you're inattentive or too lazy to speak up and you are disrespectful? yeah, well, i suspect that my grandfather was one of those guys even before he had his stroke.

putting up the thanksgiving leftovers in my grandomther's slovenly kitchen was s difficult task to which her sole contribution was the valuable effort of retiring to the organ to play hawaiian music for the duration of the cleanup. nevermind that nobody in his or her right mind likes hawaiian music played ineptly on a console organ.

with televisions blaring. from two rooms.

you know how some people say they don't watch a lot of teevee and then they ask you about how you like THEIR favorite shows and when you say "i don't know, i don't watch a lot of tv" they say "neither do we, but we just like (insert names of a half dozen shows you don't watch here) and hint darkly that they can't imagine why you don't have an opinion on them because you're only putting on airs. you've seen the way they "don't watch a lot of tv", and it involves two televisions being on at maximum volume all the time.

and you cannot talk while a show is on.

you should also not show disinterest in a show by reading or playing a game, either.

for thanksgiving, one television was set to the macy's parade in new york and the other was set to the gimbel's parade in philadelphia and my uncle and grandfather locked in a dead serious and unspoken contest over how many people were in the room watching the superior parade from the superior city and by proxy, deferring to the superior person.

also, children may play poker and memorize the odds for drawing to a straight, but children should not ask "who dealt this mess" nor refer to a "lousy hand", because children do not use language like that.

children in particular are targets for broad disapproval, and it was easier for my parents to try to correct the behaviors of us kids than to drill us in the wildly shifting rules.

and it was some years before my parents were able to explain this to us: "sweetie, grandma and grandpa are just fucking nuts and we just want you to pretend to be apologetic for breaking rules that weren't in existence ten minutes before."

i remember the fantastic night on which i decided to join my parents for their walk after an evening meal. i had never been interested in the walk. why were they so wild about walking around the neighborhood after every meal? we didn't do this at home.

and then: ohhhhhhhh.

"did you HEAR the thing he said about bagels?"
"did you SEE him lift a hair off the lip of the milk bottle WITH HIS HANDKERCHIEF?"

it was an escape. all the unreasonable things were out in the open. my parents KNEW about them. they knew *I* knew about them. and now we all knew.

and before we rounded the last corner to go back in the house, my parents turned to me very solemnly and explained that NONE of this conversation had happened, and that when we got back in the house, we were going to start talking about all the nice lawn ornaments we had seen.

so we did.


Kristin @ Going Country said...

I read some of this aloud to my husband. It was very funny to read, though probably not funny at the time.

We both cringed at the two televisions on at a time. And I know just what you mean about people who say they don't watch a lot of TV, but then talk about it as if it's an accepted activity for everyone.

I don't watch TV. Period. And I mean that literally. So I have no patience for TV talk.

Cookie said...

I saw so many elements of my own relatives' behavior in here. I'm sorry that you experienced this pathology as a part of your history, especially as a part of your childhood. But it makes us who we are. And you are awesome.


Related Posts with Thumbnails