Thanksgiving: A Tale of Two Cities (Part 1) [ 2004-11-30, 5:30 p.m. ]

I’m starting to think I might be a bad person.

I’m starting to think I am not full of sugar and spice and everything nice as once promised, but rather of spite and hatred and eye-rolling snottiness.

I’m starting to think that the heavens looked down upon me and saw someone with no patience and a bad habit of saying things before thinking them through, and then decided that Hey, we could totally have some fun with this snotty bitch if we sent her a nice man who comes from a kind-hearted family that is annoying AS SHIT. Ooh, that will be fun! She’ll never make it! Good one, God! Now for your next trick, see if you can get people to give Halle Berry an Oscar…that ought to keep you busy for a while!

And so it came to be that on Thanksgiving Day, I tried and I tried to be thankful for food, shelter, family, blah blah blah…but really was able only to focus on the steaming pile of shit that was my holiday. Or at least, that’s how it seemed to me. But what do I know? I’m just the bitch from New York…

Kent and I left early Wednesday morning for Cincinnati. Our flight was crowded and bumpy, and touched down about half an hour late. Which meant that after getting our rental car and sitting in traffic, we arrived at my in-laws OVER ONE HOUR LATER THAN THEY EXPECTED US. Which really means that my mother-in-law was convinced we were dead in a ditch for OVER ONE HOUR. Or, worse, that we stopped somewhere and had lunch NOT AT HER TABLE WITH THE ENTIRE FAMILY and probably HAD NOT EVEN SAID GRACE and for OVER ONE HOUR she had been fretting about WHY OH WHY we would ever want to be anywhere that was not her kitchen. Whichever scenario was running through her head at the moment we drive up to Kent’s house, annoyance, worry and general bewilderment were written all over her face. I know this because she was waiting on the porch for us.

But don’t worry! Annoyance, worry and general bewilderment all stepped aside for some good, old-fashioned Mom Tears, her specialty. The Mom Tears flow steadily whenever Kent and I are around. They usually start with a sniffle and end with an arm-squeeze-of-I’m-Too-Emotional-To-Talk and then a general bwuffle-mwah-sniff-snrt-mmmn-nnmhh-wahhh. The Mom Tears first make an appearance under the guise of “Oh, I’m So Happy To See You”, but then come more and more frequently cloaked in “Families Should Live Together And My Life Is Empty And Horrible Because My Son And His Wife (Who Refuses To Call Me ‘Mom’) Live In New York”. These are my favorite Mom Tears, because they sneak up on you and may start tracing watery paths down her face during something as innocent as oh, say…dinner, or reading the paper or just sitting there doing nothing at all. The Mom Tears are a force to be reckoned with, because they have dual powers: first (and foremost) is The Guilt. This is directed primarily at Kent, and becomes a force to be reckoned with when partnered with the Tears’ second power: sheer exasperation. That one is for me, and the neat little trick the Mom Tears accomplish is that when Kent feels guilty and I feel exasperated, Mom Tears play us against each other. So not only are the Mom Tears the only thing in the room anyone can pay attention to, they are dividing and conquering by making Kent feel like I don’t like his mom and me feel like he is incapable of standing up to her and telling her to JUST STOP CRYING FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY PLEASE STOP WITH THE TEARS.

And then we have the Mom Tears of “Oh, God, My Baby Is Leaving And There Is A Hole In My Heart Because New York Is Soooooooooooo (oooo….) Far From Ohio And SNERF-SNIFFLE-BLRUBBER…I Can’t Talk Anymore”. But those explain themselves. Those Mom Tears I can deal with because I experience them largely from a distance, as the rental car is pulling away from Kent’s house, leaving his sobbing mother on the very same porch from whence she greeted us with a hug and a cry and a slack-jawed, “Where on earth have you two been? I hope you didn’t eat anything yet, because I made tuna salad…”

Which brings me to the tuna salad. I have no problems with tuna salad. I enjoy tuna salad and sometimes even prefer tuna salad. But at 29 (and a HALF – as of November 26, I am officially now less than six months away from 30) I don’t think I should have to eat tuna salad if I don’t want to. And I don’t think that I should have to sit down at my in-laws’ kitchen table and say Grace before eating tuna salad which I really didn’t want in the first place. And furthermore, if I am eating the tuna salad at the kitchen table after saying Grace, then I really don’t think I should have to keep answering, “No thank you, nothing more, this is fine, this is GREAT, no more chips, no thank you, really, it’s all good and great and fine and NO THANK YOU, I do not need any more tuna salad, REALLY, I SWEAR, I AM FINE.” Yet, somehow, that is exactly what I found myself doing. Because as soon as my mother-in-law ushered us into the house, she would not stop with the “I hope you kids haven’t eaten yet” and rushed us into the kitchen where five place settings and a loaf of bread greeted me. Before I could barely get my coat off or properly say hello to my sister-in-law, we were sitting and holding hands and saying Grace and being passed a giant bowl of mayonnaise and tuna fish. And while I proceeded to eat the fucking tuna, I must have turned down the offer of a soda or more chips or Miracle Whip (gag) three times each. And had to keep reassuring my mother-in-law that Yes, the tuna is fine. Really, it’s fine. IT’S FINE, NO MORE MOM TEARS PLEASE.

What kills me is that every. single. time. Kent and I go to Ohio, I tell him that I dread the production his parents feel they have to make upon our arrival, and every. single. time we go to Ohio, Kent looks at me as if I have three heads and says, “Nah, they’re fine. They won’t be making a big deal out of it, they probably won’t even be home/awake/crying on the porch…” And then, inevitably, we walk through to door to tears and fanfare and have to sit at the table and eat something unappetizing, no matter what time of day or night it is. Kent always promises that he and I will be able to spent time alone, that we’ll be able to go out to eat alone or go to the movies or just go for a drive, but we walk through the door and it is nonstop family crap until we drive off for the sweet, sweet promise of sitting at the airport with magazine and a $4 cup of coffee.

And last Wednesday was no different, Kent and I were held captive for our entire visit, and every time we were alone (i.e., right before falling asleep), he hugged me and apologized and offered to buy me things.

We shook his parents up a bit, however, at my insistence on cooking dinner Wednesday night. They hate to cook and get flustered if the freaking mail comes late, so I knew the idea of cooking for us would send them into a tizzy. Which meant that if I didn’t take matters into my own hands, it would be some shitty dinner at some shitty restaurant, at 5:00 p.m. So, I took matters into my own hands, and made dinner. My mother-in-law hovered over me until I had to FIRMLY tell her to GO INTO THE OTHER ROOM AND RELAX BECAUSE I HAVE IT UNDER CONTROL. Which she sort of did, but first she made me wear her apron (I hate aprons) and then took pictures of me cooking while wearing the apron (I hate having my picture taken even more than I hate aprons). Cooking in her kitchen was a challenge, though. She had no cutting board, no decent knives, no blender, no spices, no wooden spoon, no saucepan, no nothing. She did have one drawer which looked like this:



It was crammed full of utensils and knives – loose, with no blade guards or anything! – and plastic take-out forks and old straws and lots more useless and old crap. It was scary and appalling and pretty darn dangerous, I think. The food snob in me reached over to the compulsive neat freak in me, and the two of them clutched each other in horror while the snotty daughter-in-law in me imagined the internet fodder that drawer would provide.

While I cooked, Kent helped with the béchamel (“Ooh, what’s that?” which was my in-laws question to just about everything, including the butternut squash, the fennel, the roux, the peas, the basil, the request for a wooden spoon…) and my in-laws recounted their attendance at the Bush rally two nights before the election. I just kept chopping.

I went upstairs to wash my face and change clothes while dinner cooked and when I came downstairs, my sister-in-law Amy was washing dishes and polishing silver, looking none to happy about it either. I raised an eyebrow at her and she shrugged and gestured towards the dining room, where my mother-in-law was laying out a fresh tablecloth. “I thought we’d use Grandma’s china and silver, since you’re cooking a special dinner!” she twittered. Inhaling deeply to keep from screaming that MOTHER OF CHRIST IT’S JUST LASAGNA SO GET OFF MY BACK LADY, I told her that sounded great. Then gave Amy a sympathetic shrug as she polished away at silver that had not been used in probably 10 years (silver plated, the snotty daughter-in-law would like to emphasize).

Dinner itself, however, turned out well. I made butternut squash lasagna and roasted root vegetables and sugar snap peas and between Kent, Amy and Me, we finished two bottles of wine. Halfway through dinner I stopped feeling like I just needed to SCREAM, and once lubricated with a few judicious glasses of wine, I had a great time catching up with Amy. If you can’t beat ‘em, drink more, right? Advice that would bite me in the ass on Thanksgiving, when the tap ran dry, so to speak. Stay tuned for part two, in which I out myself as a liberal and am hit on by Kent’s 23-year-old cousin.

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