Survival Of The Bravest (Ode to Thanksgiving)
Every family has one. You already know what I'm talking about. That one person in the family who can either make your holiday meal a memory to cherish or turn it into another year of therapy. Whether the hot button issue is politics, religion, child-rearing methods, or even sports, everyone prays in their own way that no one will forget themselves in the midst of the feeding frenzy and accidentally let slip that word or phrase that will trigger an all out blood bath.
In our family, as in many families, that person is my dad. Now let me just say that I love my father dearly. He is Italian, moody, gruff, and can sometimes be downright nasty, but I know that he would give his life for me without hesitation, he just doesn't know how to show it. He was raised in an era of male bravado and domination, and is physically unable of showing how much he cares unless it is a life-threatening situation. He also just turned 80, so none of us have held out much hope that he will ever change.
Until Thanksgiving. Now, the holiday was almost a total bust right out of the gate, when I could not find giblets for my grandmother's stuffing recipe ANYWHERE. I sent out an emergency text to the fam to be on the lookout, while preparing myself to have to dream up a new stuffing recipe that will blow everyone's socks off. Suddenly, my mother responds with "I've got them!" When asked where she found them, she simply responded "Don't ask how I got them. Just know that I did." Okay, Don Corleone. I resigned myself to the fact that I would spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder, waiting for her to call in the favor. But who cares! We got the giblets! It was the first save of Thanksgiving.
Back to my dad. We had planned to eat at four, so when he showed up at 2:45 asking where the snacks were, I thought to myself "This is going to be the longest Thanksgiving ever." Between prepping the food for the holiday and all the cooking and baking I had been doing for my side business, I had basically been in the kitchen since the Friday before. Toss in work hours and patient visits, and making a spinach dip or some other appetizer went right out the window (a mistake I will not make at Christmas).
To everyone's surprise, he was jolly, merry, and only came into the kitchen a couple of times to say "Smells good in here" rather than his standard "When's the food going to be ready?" or "What's taking so long?" He actually had a great time sitting and watching football with my younger brother and playing with my 6 and 10 year old nieces. Finally, it was time to sit everyone down to a wonderful meal of turkey, Grandma Ruth's famous stuffing, sweet potato casserole, sauteed mushrooms, rice, salad, and everyone's favorite....rolls. For once I was actually able to make myself a plate and eat with everyone else instead of retreating to one of my niece's rooms for a 20 minute power nap.
Then it happened. Just as we were letting our guard down and digging in to that second helping of stuffing and homemade gravy, my father looks at my mother's youngest sister (who happens to be his favorite person) and says, "Okay, Patti, I want you to explain Critical Race Theory." There it was. The turd in the punchbowl. The fly in the ointment. The can of worms that had just been blown open, showering our beautiful holiday meal in vermicelli. Now, I don't know about the rest of the folks at the table, but I now know every single detail of each food item that was on my plate, not to mention the pattern on the china. After a split second of groans and nervous laughter, everyone suddenly became completely engrossed in their food, with the exception of my father and my aunt. Then came the second save of Thanksgiving 2021. My aunt, who has worked at the local university for at least fifteen years, launched into the most intelligent and informative explanation of Critical Race Theory that I have heard so far. I won't go into the details, because that is not the focus of this blog. Let's just say that after what felt like an eternity (but was probably only about 4 minutes), my father seemed satisfied and could only say "Okay. I can understand that."
The rest of the day went by without incident, and when my parents left he even hugged everyone. When it was back down to just me, my brother, and my sister in law, I couldn't help but wonder out loud "Who was that man who just spent four hours here wearing my dad's duck sweater from 1985?!" Truthfully, it didn't really matter. It was the most relaxing Thanksgiving I've had in years, and I've been enjoying leftover stuffing for two days now.
Thanksgiving was saved by my mother's shady acquisition skills and my aunt's inherent ability to intelligently bullshit her way through a potentially disastrous conversation. And to be honest, while my dad may often be a grumpy, opinionated SOB, he's MY dad, I adore him, and I will cherish every Thanksgiving I have with him.
We do it all again in a month. Fingers crossed.