My Dysfunctional Family and Our Snot-Flying Thanksgiving Dinner
When describing your family members, would you say that they're mostly sweet or mostly nuts?
I have a sign on the wall in my living room that states: "Families are like fudge: mostly sweet with a few nuts!" When it comes to my particular family the quote should be changed to "mostly nuts with a few sweets!"
Take this Thanksgiving for instance. I've been known to make plans with friends rather than spend the day with my family-- partly due to the fact that they don't always remember to invite me to their family get-togethers. This year they invited me about a week beforehand so I agreed to go. To be completely honest, one of the biggest draws for me on this particular occasion was the new puppy that my mother had been given as an early holiday present. I've always loved animals, and I find it hard to resist the chance to play with puppies or kittens.
When I arrived, I got my first indication of the day to come when I encountered my sister's husband on my mother's large, covered front porch. He was cooking a turkey on the grill while my mother roasted a traditional turkey in the oven. When I said hello, he gave me a half grunt before returning his attention to his task. He was hunched down in front of the grill in such a way that an image formed in my mind of a group of people bowing down in front of a religious idol.
Shrugging off my brother-in-laws cold greeting, I knocked on the door to announce my presence. Stepping inside I found myself immersed in chaos. My mother was in the kitchen surrounded by various partially completed dishes. Meanwhile my sister's three kids were in the living room watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on television. Each time one of the kids recognized a balloon-- Spiderman! Buzz Lightyear!-- they would shout, point at the television, and then run into the kitchen to tell Grandma. A few times the oldest, a rambunctious five year old, even tried to grab her hand and pull her into the living room to show off whichever superhero had caught his attention.
Meanwhile my mother, the drama queen, was in the middle of a panic attack. There was all this food to cook, lots of preparations to be made, and so little time. My sister, who was supposed to be helping, divided her time between checking on her kids and going outside to smoke a cigarette while arguing with her husband on the front porch.
I resumed my usual role of peacekeeper. I divided my time between helping her prepare food and trying to talk her down. "Don't worry-- we'll get it all done. It's going to be fine, Mom."
A short while later my brother arrived with even more food. My mother's relief at his arrival was short lived. After saying hello to the rest of us he went outside to smoke with the other adults. My mother took one look at all of the unprepared food that he had dropped off and started hyperventilating. It didn't help that my mother could watch my siblings through the window while they stood around smoking and visiting on the front porch.
"We're never going to get done in time... what about the chairs? Your brother was supposed to bring some extra chairs over from his place... where are the chairs?"
For the next hour and a half my mother and I continued to work in her kitchen while she continued to stress out about the time and amount of work left to be done-- regardless of my efforts to calm her down. Every few minutes she'd poke her head out the front door and remind my brother about the chairs.
"Yeah, yeah... in a minute. I'm going!" He'd reassure her, yet he'd remain on the front porch. As an added complication, through the window we could watch him pop the top on can after can of beer from the case he had brought with him. Naturally, that led to my mother worrying about his drinking.
"He's going to be too drunk to drive..."
My mother considered having one of us go retrieve the chairs but both of our vehicles were blocked in the driveway at this point. Besides, asking my brother for his keys would have resulted in World War III, and we both knew it.
Fortunately, my brother eventually left to drive the quarter mile to his place to pick up the much stressed about chairs. I wish that I could say that the chair drama ended there, but it didn't. When my brother returned he was ranting about the poor quality and workmanship of products on the market these days. The backs of two of the chairs were separating from their seats. He assured us that they were fine when he left his house. They do live on a bumpy country road, but I find it hard to believe that the short drive caused them to fall apart.
At this point most of the food was ready. Due to the limited counter space, we put the casserole dishes and platters of prepared food directly onto the long dining room table. We covered them all with lids or tin foil to keep them warm. Once the chairs were in place, I thought that we were good to go; but I was wrong.
It turns out that my brother had invited a friend and his parents to our Thanksgiving dinner. My brother recently went on an "extended vacation" which is his humorous way of saying that he recently spent time behind bars. He met his friend, who was nicknamed "BAD" (since his initials spell out the word), while they were both residents of the county jail. To this day, I'm not sure exactly why BAD was arrested. According my brother, the guy was innocent and charges were never filed. But, his story doesn't stick because the county can't legally retain someone for several weeks without charging them for a crime. All I know is that BAD had been the caretaker for his elderly parents before he was locked up, but he was now staying with my brother because of a restraining order forbidding him contact with his parents.
To make matters worse, my brother got it in his head that BAD and I would make a great couple. My mother seconded his matchmaking schemes. Personally, I can't help but sit here and scream, why?! I'd like to think that I'm one of the good girls. I stay out of trouble, pay my taxes, and I've never been arrested. Why would they think I'd want to date one of my brother's jail buddies?
Returning to our lovely Thanksgiving festivities, my mother was stressing out again. The guests were due at four o'clock but it was already a quarter past. BAD and his parents were staying at my brother's place down the street (restraining order not withstanding). They were only a quarter mile away, so what was the hold up?
"Mom, it's okay. We can microwave plates. It'll be fine..." I tried, but she wasn't convinced.
"Everything will be ruined..." She then turned to my brother. "Why didn't you bring them with you when you picked up the chairs?"
"Then why didn't they follow you in BAD's truck?"
"I don't know... I'll call him," my brother reassured her before going outside to smoke another cigarette. My sister and her husband were already outside and everything was done in the kitchen so I followed him. I'd been listening to my mother stress out for several hours already, I was hungry, and I was getting grumpy. I needed some fresh air.
I watched the puppy running around after my nephew in the front yard while half listening to my brother and sister chatting. He did try to call BAD, but his cell was having trouble with the signal. He confirmed that they were on their way before the call got cut off.
A short while later we heard the distinctive sound of someone revving their engine and their tires spinning out. As the sound continued, we realized that someone had gotten stuck on the muddy, windy country road.
"It's got to be them," I told my brother.
"Oh, crap!" He replied while chugging the rest of his beer and then heading up the hill toward the top of our mother's driveway with my brother-in-law following silently behind him. Sure enough, BAD had driven down the wrong driveway. My mother's is down a pretty steep hill, but her next door neighbor's is worse. By the time he realized he'd driven down the wrong one, he was stuck in the mud.
Fifteen minutes later, my brother-in-law drove BAD's truck down my mother's driveway with my brother and BAD following behind him on foot. It took another ten minutes to help BAD's parents across the yard, up the steep front porch steps, and inside the house.
My mother offered BAD's father the chair at the head of the table, we all took our seats, and our rather unusual Thanksgiving dinner began. It turns out that BAD's father was senile and extremely grumpy. His mother was sweet but she recently had a stroke. She kept trying to join in on the conversation but she had trouble finding the right words. Every sentence featured the words "the water." We smiled politely and nodded at her, but she began to get more and more frustrated at her inability to communicate with us.
Midway through the meal BAD Sr. began sneezing. We're talking the huffing and puffing that knocks whole houses over. To make matters worse, the snot was quite literally flying. When I glanced over, he had a six inch string of snot dangling from one nostril. As he continued to sneeze it was whipping around in the wind and threatening to come flying across the table. One glance at all of the bowls and plates of food spread out in front of him and I completely lost my appetitive. I glanced across the table at my sister and when our eyes met I knew that we were thinking the same thing. Meanwhile, our mother was frantically grabbing napkins and paper towels and handing them down the crowded table to BAD Sr.
Now, you're probably thinking that at this point our disastrous holiday couldn't get much worse, right? I mean we've got cold food, a hyperventilating mother, and flying snot. It can only go up from here, right? Ha! You've never met my family. They take dysfunction to an all new level.
The table got quiet after the snot-athon. So, my mother decided that this was the perfect time to play matchmaker. Mortified, embarrassed, flabbergasted-- I'm not sure which adjective best describes my emotional state at that moment. I mean, how do we go from mopping up snot to "You know BAD, Suzie's single..."?
I made a few attempts to change the subject. When that didn't work, I focused my attention on my glass of sparkling cider while sending up a few fervent prayers to the gods of wine asking them to please magically transform the contents of my glass into the real thing. I tried to sit there politely, but when my mother informed BAD that I enjoy doing belly dancing workout videos I had no choice but to retreat outside.
BAD perked up at the news, "Belly dancing, huh?" he asked as I reached for the front door.
"It's just aerobics..." I muttered before making my escape. My excuse for going outside was that I wanted to feed my scraps to the dogs. But, I remained outside for as long as I could stand the cold.
Fortunately, the BAD family only hung around long enough to eat dessert before heading back to my brother's place. Unfortunately, their departure went as smoothly as their arrival. Since it was after dark my mother suggested that they use the wooden ramp rather than trying to walk down the steep steps on the front porch. Somehow BAD Sr. managed to walk off of the edge of the ramp, scrape up his leg, and get stuck in a ditch. The crazy part was that he was leaning on his son's arm for support. BAD was supposed to be leading him safely back to the truck. I have no idea how he still managed to end up in the ditch beneath the ramp with BAD helping him.
Ever since Thanksgiving I've had friends asking me how it went. They're familiar enough with my family to know that each get-together guarantees new "stranger than fiction" stories to share. Thanksgiving 2012 was no exception. I think it's safe to say that I'll never forget this snot flying holiday!