Thursday, November 30, 2006

Family Gatherings, Take Two

I love holidays with my family. Food, fun, and running joke fodder can all be found within the confines of a house that, depending on the holiday, the side of the family, and the house, should not be able to hold as many people as we cram into it. Every holiday is full of the delicious chaos that I've grown to know and love.

But I have to tell you, as much as I love my extended family, they are a little, um... shall we say, eccentric? Odd? Sitcom material?

Thanksgiving is all about traditions for my Dad's family, and I have figured out over the years that "traditions" translates to "a huge list of do's and don't's. For starters, Grandmama has only taught one of her granddaughters the "secret family recipe" for the dressing that must be made every year, and she has supernatural senses that let her know if the dressing isn't exactly right (in fact, I seem to remember a story in which she chastized my cousin for not wanting to pull the chicken off the bone with her fingers...). And if she arrives while the food is still being prepared, she personally watches over the baking process, including giving instruction on how to properly stir the not-quite solidified dressing. But not to worry, my dear grandmother does not descriminate -- she is this way when it comes to any dish. I mean, heaven help the soul who puts marshmallows on the sweet potato casserole instead of brown sugar, or does not have a proper Ritz-cracker-to-cheese ratio on the pineapple casserole.

The meal is always at our house, which means Mom is in a reasonable state of panic if everything is not ready before eleven. We always have to have a table decoration theme worthy of a Southern Living magazine, and it has to be different every year for fear that one of the in-laws will notice that, "Lord have mercy, Debbie reused Thanksgiving decorations!" My mother also puts a quick stop to any wonderfully impish Weasley-twins ideas my sister and I might have, and has ever since we threatened to put live creatures in the pinecone arrangement two years ago. She was not very amused last year when we managed a clever little trick with the salt shakers on the main table, especially when the first victim turned out to be Grandmama (and why I was the only one who got in trouble, I will never know). But it's still fun to dream of troublemaking schemes, even if we can't get away with anything.

Table conversation is sometimes like walking on eggshells. One must not talk of religion, politics, or football while at the table, but inevitably someone will break this unspoken rule. My personal favorite is from a clever little stab like trying to get a cute little member of the second generation of cousins to say "Roll Tide!", to which someone (Mom or Dad, most likely) will reply, "No, no, you're saying it wrong, it's War Eagle!", and Kate and I mentally add a tally to the cumulative "number of times we've heard that one." And during the meal, everyone who made something must be complimented on their dish. This is often a tricky situation, as it is imperative that the right dish be attributed to the right person, otherwise you're likely to step on Aunt Kathy's or one of the cousins' toes and start a feud. ...okay, I lie, maybe not a feud. At most, maybe a hissy fit.

The new traditions are already starting, too. It's weird to have our cousins' children running around; Matthew and Andrew, who are respectively 8 and 6 (I think... o_o how old are they now?), MUST watch my old Land Before Time videos after the meal, and it has been this way ever since they learned to put the words "little" and "foot" together and somehow make it sound like a ferocious demand. The first two years, I didn't mind. In fact, it was kinda cute -- they were carrying on an obsession that had, at one point, been near and dear to my heart. But I never thought my once-sweet memories of happy little dinosaurs would turn into ghastly torturous sprints down Memory Lane, chased by the haunting sound of high-pitched voices singing all the songs that the rest of my family had long ago suppressed from memory. It's utterly beyond me why my little first-cousins-once-removed have not discovered the magic and wonder of 80's and 90's Disney movies -- I mean, at least I can shamelessly sing along with those without finding myself thinking things like, "Thank you, Lord, for sending us the Ice Age!"

And, as we progress through the afternoon and the little cousins leave (at which point Kate and I dive for the storage bin of Disney movies), the adults begin their "new" tradition: dominoes. I don't know who got my grandmother and my aunt into dominoes in the first place, but most of my adolescence is tainted with memories of that sharp crack of a domino being slammed on the dining room table so loud that our neighbors across the street could testify that Aunt Kathy has one domino left. But I guess I shouldn't complain -- their last game obsession was Spades, and that one went on so long that even I, the one who on a game-by-game basis still has mild difficulty remembering the rules of Uno, learned how to play. All the same, I usually find myself in the TV room with Kate and an old Disney movie we haven't seen since I was six... and when we run out of those, it's up to whoever is quicker at the draw as to whether we watch my Aladdin DVD or her Beauty and the Beast VHS.

The one thing I most look forward to comes after everyone else has left our house. We pack up all the Fall decorations that Mom put out back in September, put them away, and get out our family Christmas tree (artificial, of course; have you ever tried to get pine sap out of carpet? Ugh...). Kate puts Mannheim Steamroller in the stereo, we put up the tree, Dad does the lights (and I help, sort of ^^;), and all the jam-packed bins of Christmas ornaments come down from the top of Kate's closet; in those bins we have collected more ornaments over the years than could fit in the local Hallmark store, not to mention the collection of around-the-house decorations. We have more decorations than I can consciously recognize anymore -- I'll point out something with a "When did we get that?", to which Mom says, "Oh, don't you remember? We got it the year that..." and rattles off a tale from a Christmas that I do remember, but the recollection as to the origin of the decoration still evades me. Sometimes it makes my failing memory feel better to believe that she makes up a new Don't You Remember story for things that she, in reality, bought in the summer from a clearance sale and managed to pack it away before I caught a glimpse of it.

And with the changing of seasons comes the transitions to other holidays... maybe next I'll get to write about my Mom's family and the chaotic Christmases in Huntsville. Ah, good times...

14 comments:

Caroline said...

Good lord. At my family's dinners, topics besides religion and politics (with a liberal dash of football) may as well not even exist.
*hugs Fred and George*
Happy Late Thanksgiving/Merry Early Christmas, then, my dear distant, unrelated twin.

Jobber said...

As far as I can tell, my family doesn't have any taboos, saving for mentioning the word "sw-ell" or making fun of the music dad chooses to play in the background. The former causes uncontrollable laughter, the latter, a loss of music (which is always good -- the music, I mean, not the loss of it).
This thanksgiving was more with friends than with extended family. And it was strange being a visitor there -- of course it didn't really feel that weird.
A merry first of December to all, and to all a good night.

Elizabeth said...

*wonders: Why sw-ell? There's got to be a story there...*
It is really weird "going home" for Thanksgiving, wasn't it? I was just getting used to Kate coming home after two years, and this year it was surreal to be on the other side. Of course, there was still more than enough housework to be done (Mom and Dad said, "It wouldn't be the same without Kate and Elizabeth doing the vacuuming!" -_-). Yippie.
Indeed, a joyous December to all (only two more weeks until freedom, guys!), and don't let the Christmas lights explode or catch anything on fire. The fire alarms are unbelievably annoying around here...

Jobber said...

I'll have to post the full story sometime. Here's a movie-trailer-esque run-through:
Watermelons.
Grandmothers.
Mississippians.
Bellyache-inspiring laughter.
Hope's #1 tip for Covenant freshmen, and pretty much the last thing she told me before I left for orientation week:
Don't set of the dang fire alarms!

Elizabeth said...

*puts on a Fedora* Fire alarms... why did it have to be fire alarms...?
Those dreadful alarms sound like angry steroid-fed cicadas on a loudspeaker. Not only could they make you go deaf, but they're unbelievably annoying.
...watermelons...?

Jobber said...

Watermelons.
By the way, I just figured out what your blog title had to do with anything. I am slow sometimes

Elizabeth said...

Er... the post title or the blog title? Because I must admit, while the post title DOES, the blog title sort of does not. Sort of. It's hard to explain how it does. o_oa

Jobber said...

No, the blog title makes sense -- it may not make much sense, but it does make sense. I may only get the very most basic idea of what it means, and may be missing multiple layers of meaning and inside jokes...but still.

Elizabeth said...

Okay, I confess, the quote is a new addition because it's from a show. I just came across it the other day.

BUT... ^^ It's really cool that you caught onto the idea I had that made me post the quote in the first place (it's a slightly vague attempt at being philosophical, which I have never been very good at whenever I actually TRY). It's one of those little connections that I know I understand, but I couldn't possibly explain it to anyone because it only makes sense to me.

*breathes in*

Needless to say, you have officially made my day. ^^;

Jobber said...

Oh...well, *nervous laugh* I'm glad I made your day, really...but I was talking about the title, not the quote. Oh, wait, now that I look at it I mean I figured out the address, not the title or the quote. Yes, I figured out that, one of your nicknames being 'E' perhaps, the 'e' part of the "The-magical-e" had something to do with your name.
As I said, I am very slow.
I did notice the quote. Matthew and I should discuss it tonight and tell you the worldchanging conclusions we come to.

Elizabeth said...

Ha ha... uh, Joben, I think we had another wacky, fun-filled episode of "Elizabeth Can't Read"... I thought I read that you DID understand the blog title (which actually confused me, made me look for a meaning within my blog title, and find a vague enough thing to make myself sound good), but I somehow missed the key "not" in the sentence. ^^a Eh, heh heh... oops...

Aaaand we laugh, carry on, and completely forget that I have this wonderful habit of making a fool of myself in my own blog's comments. WHEEE!

While I'm curious to see what you and your roommate will come up with, I can tell you the full backstory of The Magical E sometime. It takes a little bit of sign language to tell the story ^^; And I don't care, you are perfectly allowed to make my day, even if I have trouble with reading comprehension!

Jobber said...

No no! I am confident that you read it correctly. I did indeed say I understood the title. The problem was it was the address, not the title!
I'll go post something philosophical, I think

Elizabeth said...

What is this, an Abbot and Costello routine? (Third base!)

No worries, I still can't read. Sometimes I can't talk, too, and that gets really fun... I mean, I told Anne today that cold weather is bad for bar catteries. It's really hard to drive a bar if the cattery is dead.

Jobber said...

We must keep Anne entertained. Jonathan Taylor and I were splaying our hands all over the library counter to illustrate calculus rotational volume problems at the library yesterday, and she just held up her notebook and said "want paper?" not knowing that trying to accurately represent three axis and two rotating curves simultaneously with only two hands was actually quite fun.