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...
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