The last Thursday in November has as many different traditions as there are families in this country. Each one of us holds our own individual traditions sacred. As well we should. Because those traditions revolve around loved ones. And there's nothing more sacred than family and friends. There's nothing more comforting than that which comes from familiarity. Everyone knows each other's disturbing little secrets and foibles. There's no surprises. And as frightening as one's own family may be---as much as you may dread the ominous sound of the doorbell---you know, when all are gathered around the table and the insanity has begun.....you belong. Whether you wish to admit it or not, there's no other place on Earth you'd rather be.
I've spent many Thanksgivings away from my family. While I was married, trading off every other year was the fair thing to do. For both of us. And while her family was perfectly delightful and welcomed me with open arms, it just wasn't the same. The food was always good.....But it wasn't my Mom's. The conversation was always lively.....But it wasn't with my brothers. The warmth and togetherness was always palpable.....But I still felt cold and alone. Those holidays were always enjoyable.....But it just wasn't home.
Home. The sights.....the sounds.....the smells. We knew what to expect when we crawled out of bed in the morning. Knowing what the coming day held in store is why we kept coming back. Even after we had gone our own directions in life and started our own families, we always managed to make our way home for Thanksgiving. You may think it's odd that we weren't trying to develop our own individual traditions to share with our children. But if you'd ever spent a Turkey Day at the Yellowbeard household, you'd never want to miss another.
The food would be more than be enough to keep you glued to your seat. But under my roof, there is so much more to hold your attention. My immediate family would be enough to warrant a visit. An entertaining bunch to say the least. Then, on special occasions---like Thanksgiving---the fringe characters decide to pop in. The cast is never exactly the same year to year. I guess the nutjobs get together and decide amongst themselves who's gonna be swinging by. The trip would be difficult for some, since this is the first generation for many of them to be walking upright.
While we're never certain about the identity of the majority of attendees, there are a select few who are welcome regulars. Like I said before, my immediate family---my brothers, in particular---is an interesting crew. What makes this lot fun is our fondness for the absurd.....for the bizarre.....for anything inappropriate. The weirder the better. And when it comes to weird.....Well, you get the idea.
Aunt Rita definitely falls in that category. Looks like a tall, wrinkled praying mantis. Funny thing is, she hasn't changed in 40 years. I swear to all that is holy, the woman hit a hundred when we were kids and stayed there. You would think as old as she is, she would have learned at some point how to apply lipstick. The term "lip"stick should have been a clue. She usually has so much red on her face she reminds me of a cheetah that just gutted a gazelle. And after a half dozen Bloody Mary's, Rita wants to start kissing everybody in sight. I love my aunt to death, but seeing her stagger around the house in a permanent pucker, wig cocked to one side, sends me screaming out the door. You can tell the ones who didn't escape.....They're covered in red blotches.
Her husband, Uncle Bob, managed to thwart the wrinkle Demon. How? He ate him. Anytime a wrinkle tries to crease Bob's face, a fat bubble pushes it smooth. The man is every bit of five feet tall and measures in at a cool metric ton. He's one of those guys whose hairy belly always seems to be poking out from under his shirt.....and the top of his shirt.....and the sides of his shirt. As much flesh as there is surrounding Bob, I'd wager 50% of his weight is hair. Even his teeth are hairy. The only part of his body that remains hair-free is his head. The best part of his visit is the running bet my brothers and I have on how long it takes for Uncle Bob's comb-over to lose it's grip and stand straight up. That usually happens on his fourth trip around the table. Unless he loses his dentures biting into a drumstick, then the hair stands up a bit sooner.
Aunt Rita and Uncle Bob never go anywhere without there son. The best way I can describe my cousin would be if Ric Ocasek impregnated a platypus and the egg was incubated in the armpit of a syphilitic wildebeast. Bingo. Throw in "confirmed bachelor" and that about sums him up. Bob, Jr.---BJ for short ( I kid you not )---has this obsession with wanting to show me his hernia scar. Forget the fact that he had the surgery when Reagan was president, it's just plain creepy. What's even creepier are the pictures of his poodles he can whip out of nowhere at the drop of a hat. I love animals and will gladly sit through a slide show of someone's pets. But when those pets are dressed like the cast of Oklahoma!, it kinda puts me off.
There are others, but those three are my favorites. Like I said, the weirder the better. It can get pretty noisy and chaotic. And sometimes things get out of hand. While the chaos may put a brief damper on the festivities, it never seems to last long, and everyone settles into the comfort of being around family. Because that's what this day is supposed to be about. Family. Breaking bread and laughing at the same stories you heard last year. And the year before that. And the year before that. Looking around the table and knowing that as screwed up as those around you are, you wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world. Because this is where you are meant to be. This is home.
So, after the meal has been consumed and the table cleared and you have given thanks for all that makes your life meaningful, sit back in your favorite chair and put up your feet. The murmurs of those still hanging on to the day will drone on harmlessly in the background as the Dallas Cowboys take the field. It's hard not to smile. The food and family would be enough. But we get a second helping of dessert every Thanksgiving. The sweetest kind. In the end, whether the Cowboys win or lose, the results will be the same.....Another batch of memories to make us smile. Another day of laughter. Another day of family.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE! FROM MY FAMILY TO YOURS!