The Insanity of Family.
People say that Einstein defined insanity as repeating the same actions over and over again, each time expecting a different outcome. While I may not be able to confirm the speaker, the quote rings true. Sitting here, after just agreeing to help move furniture (again) for a relative, I can’t help but think that I am insane. That my entire family is insane. To more aptly understand this sentiment, you’ll need to understand a little about our family.
You know how your family has that one obnoxious relative that always has to be the center of attention? That is every member of my family. At a Thanksgiving table, a family conversation goes something like this:
“And bless this food to the nurishment of our bodies, amen,” says Grandpa. “Who wants white meat?”
Three hands go up. Uncle Ed takes a bite of the turkey from the tray and Grandma smacks his hand. “What, ma? I just wanted to see if it was as good as the Turkey we had back in 1976 when we first moved into this house. Remember that Thanksgiving, Pop?”
The grandchildren sit in rapt attention as the Uncle and the Grandfather engage in a trip down memory lane. Sure, they’ve heard the story about the busted furnace and cooking the turkey in the fireplace because the stove wasn’t working; they’ve heard a million times before. But each time, it still captivates them. Like the story of the pilgrims, this one never loses its gleen.
“Mama,” says the youngest. who has never heard the story. “Why do we have Thanksgiving here and not at our house?”
“Because this is where we’ve always done it and we all gather here because it’s tradition,” she replies.
And so goes the night, until three hours have passed and the entire family decides to pass out in front of a Notre Dame game, with visions of Floating Bart Simpsons dancing in their heads. I had a Thanksgiving like this once. I was the straggler to a friend’s Thanksgiving celebration and let me tell you, I was mortified! I didn’t know at what point I should jump up, throw my napkin into the Oyster Dressing and begin shouting obsenities at the person unfortunate enough to be seated across from me. So instead of taking it upon myself to figure out when, I decided to take my lead from my best friend, seated next to me. Aparently, though, he wasn’t much up on Thanksgiving traditions, because he didn’t jump up and drop the F Bomb on his mother, brother, sister, or uncle. His two sets of grandparents (both sets were there) sat quietly discussing the weather in Texas while we all carried on a single, rather civil conversation about the pending football championship at the local High School. “Oh, now *there’s* something to be thankful for!” the father exclaimed. “We finally have a winning team!”
By the end of the meal I was convinced that my friends were space aliens or worse–Canadienne. The Quebecois had invaded my neighborhood and begun the secret assimilation of our nation by usurping and destroying Thanksgiving, that sacred time when Americans come together and scream, shout, and generally mistreat members of their own families at the expense of a cornucopia of food so lavish that even the kings of France would have been impressed.
It wasn’t until years later, when I observed similar rituals at my in-laws’ homes that I realized that I come from a different Thanksgiving tradition. In our tradition, there are no less than seven conversations going at varying levels of intensity and volume, fluctuating from outright anger (“Hey! Shut the fuck up!….no, mama. We’re not arguing, we’re just having a Spirited Discuss–I said shut the fuck up!”), to damned near hostility (Note the aforementioned napkin in the Oyster Dressing). This conversational style, when mastered, can be exhilarating. Unfortunately, my family has not mastered it yet. So the entire thing looks something like this:
“And bless this food to the –Hey. Get your hand out of the giblet gravy, you dumbass–nurishment of our bodies. Ame–I said NOW!” says grandpa.
Twelve sets of hands immediately begin throwing food onto twelve place-settings of china. Glasses are knocked over, forks fly across the room with abandon. At the end of the ‘serving’, the only things remaining in tact are the twelve varieties of beer bottles, the four bottles of wine, and the fifth of Canadian Club that mysteriously appeared on the table sometime during the prayer.
“What’s that doing there?” asks Grandma, eying the whiskey.
“Nothing,” says the relative responsible. “It’s just sitting there.”
“Where did it come from?”
“God made it.”
And thus that ends the conversation, or so thinks they. What they don’t know is that two seats away, another uncle and a married-into-the-family evolutionary biology major are discussing the finer points of Evolutionary theory. The anti-Evolution uncle turns and says. “You’re goddamned right! God made it.”
Stunned, the first uncle, who happens to believe in evolution, is shocked by his unwitting complicity in undermining Darwin. The biology major, from up north, gets frustered and turns to her husband. “This is all just so Queer.”
Two seats away, that word registers with a friend of one of the relatives–the gay straggler who had no place to go so tagged along and just so happens to have been engaged in a discussion with me concerning who is the better entertainer, Liza or Barbara (Liza of course…see, I’m NOT gay!)–and upon the registration of the word queer, he stands up and it is at this moment that I realize he is familiar with the Thanksgiving ritual. With the fluidity of Ricky Martin and the accuracy and speed of Nolan Ryan, he throws his napkin into the Oyster Dressing. Grandma turns to Grandpa, smiles and says, “Well now that we have that out of the way it’s time for dessert.”