November 22, 2007
Custom made
I love my family’s traditions. I love them now, that is, now that they are the result of years of evolution, of decades of strained development. I guess it takes all of us time to find out what works for us, whether it be a lift of the naked hips to take us over the edge or the choice of whisk over fork when making that flan. It takes time that’s made up of both mistakes and laughter, and now I think we’ve finally got it.

In the ‘70s the holidays were all about the party. I’d stand at the top of the stairs in footy pajamas, long after the Muppets had ended and the adults began smoking, yearning to be in on the fun. It seemed effortless, my mother’s baking of profiteroles and brewing of a dark roast and my father’s pairing of a syrupy port with a much less sweet joke. I loved that I could hear laughter into the single digits of the morning, the kind that I know led to tipsy flirting and fighting, the way it sometimes does for me now. My sister and I would come downstairs the next morning to an immaculate kitchen, save the thumbprint-covered wine glasses, the pride of a mother too concerned to let the good china sit soiled overnight. I’d spend that day gorging myself on foods I could not spell, on Beef Wellington and brie and pate, and wondering just when it would be time for me to wear perfume too.

In the 1980s the holidays were about reaching out to the family, the ones from neighboring states who we didn’t see at any other time of the year. These were moments of proving ourselves, of showing that we were together and loving and successful and lucky. We’d take our cousins downstairs and play pool with them in the billiard room my father built upon our return from England. We’d talk awkwardly about a cousin’s new Ford truck and our bad flight over Spain until the sting wore off. Then I’d wonder why we didn’t make time to see these people more often. Upstairs, Mom was a frenzy of arms and dishes labeled with steno pad sheets (“Sweet potatoes!” “Dinner rolls!”) and was progressively coming as close to manic as she ever would. Dad fulfilled his duty by keeping the relatives mildly engaged in bowls of fresh nuts and the promise of a custard pie. We preserved these days in a series of Polaroids, some saved for us and others sent home with the lucky attendees. In all of these, I’m the one in the lower right, the youngest of the clan, the one with braces and feathered hair the shade of brown that’s the envy of no one.

The 90s, just as were those of us coming of age at the time, were all about us. We abandoned all attempts to do what should be done, what would make extended family happy and look good in reunion slide shows, and started to do only what fit. The decision may have been a democratic one or more unspoken, an understanding reached after years of watching our exhausted mother begrudgingly turning the oven on at 3 a.m. and our introverted father flip on football rather than entertain. At Thanksgiving, this meant bundling up in the New Jersey cold and heading out for Japanese, a cuisine we reserved for that Thursday in November. Dining out made us gleeful. We’d don our best, even if many in the restaurant thought the Pilgrims wore jeans, and were thankful for the absence of strain and pounds of peeled potatoes and sibling competitiveness as to who could be most helpful with the green beans. My friends commented that we were odd. I loved that we were different.

Today we will eat Thai. We will have spring rolls and Kee Mao and absolutely nothing containing even the most remote traces of crab. We will order in so that Dad will be more comfortable and not have to lug oxygen from home to car to table. There will be no children’s table, no ringing cell phones, no drunken uncle spending too much time with his niece’s school friend, no worry about whether the turkey will shrivel if the cook chooses to jump in the shower early. We will top off our outfits with black heels and perfume and transfer all our indulgences from cartons to Mom’s finest china. I could not love this more. And we will be thankful that Dad made it through, that he’ll get the chance to root for the right team in Saturday’s game in Gainesville. Thankful that he chose my mother to wed, the woman who wakes up every other hour to ensure that his breathing is steady and that we haven’t left a mess in the family room. Thankful that my sister always chooses us, that she provides this little sister with companionship and commiseration about those parental quirks we’re trying so hard to love. And over plates of sticky rather than wild rice, we will be beautifully content with our nuclear foursome.


20 Comments:

Blogger Sizzle said...

this is a great post. :)

Blogger Beth said...

I'll second that, sizzle!

Kris, your paragraph about the '70s was dead on. I, too, remember hearing the adults having a good time, wondering why I had to go to bed so early. And God, I miss footy pajamas!

Blogger jessabean said...

Hoping you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Thai sounds delicious right now!

Blogger TX Poppet said...

An amazing post. How I wish my family could grow and progress like yours rather than trying desperately to cling to traditions that never were.
Wishing you and yours a peaceful, joyful Thanksgiving.

Blogger Paige Jennifer said...

Thai is great - don't get me wrong - but I just stole a bite of my sister's artichoke-sausage-parmesan stuffing and, well, I'm in heaven.

Happy Thanksgiving, Kris - it sounds like a perfect gathering!

Blogger Neil said...

That was a beautiful way of showing the changes throughout the years, while still showing the constant -- the love.

Blogger Kim said...
Blogger Mel said...

Happy Thanksgiving, dearest Kris. I'm so thankful for friends like you! :)

Blogger EDW said...

That was gorgeous. Thinking about you, with a glass of wine, in the Motherland of NJ.

Blogger M@ said...

We had lamb! I was thankful to celebrate Thanksgiving this year with neither prayer nor televised football, or any combination of the two.

Blogger Jen said...

What an awesome post. You have so much to be thankful for. We need to bring footy pajamas back...I can still remember getting a running start and skidding across the kitchen floor until I smacked into the fridge. LOVE your writing.

Blogger Gunfighter said...

Brilliant.

I can only echo what Neil said.

Glad you had a good holiday.

GF

Blogger Parisian Cowboy said...

Hum, think I'll have to come back here. Cheers from France.

Blogger Karen said...

That was really beautiful.

Blogger WanderingGirl said...

Awesome! I hope it was truly spectacular!!!!

Blogger HKW said...

Happy Thanksgiving - what a lovely family you have.

Blogger Chris said...

This was an incredible post.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Blogger KB said...

I *heart* you. I'm so glad to see that your dad was able to celebrate with you. Happy Thanksgiving.

Blogger T.J. said...

What a fantastic post. You truly have a gift..thanks for sharing! :)

Blogger Jorge said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Boo.

This is my new favourite line: ...even if many in the restaurant thought the Pilgrims wore jeans...

You are the greatest!

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