Note: This week is also Chanukah, and we did, indeed, observe the holiday on campus, in an unofficial way. However, I'm going to talk about Chanuka next month, the week it fell in 2000.
So, I went home for Thanksgiving. It was interesting.
By "interesting" I mean surprising and awkward, like I was a little out of step with everybody the whole time. The first problem was actually kind of funny--the others were all excited to eat turkey, but I just had turkey they other week and I kind of wasn't in the mood for much more of it so soon. More seriously...I knew I'd changed and they hadn't, but I hadn't really realized how much I'd changed. And I really wasn't prepared for what that would do to my family.
It was the first time I'd seen my aunts and uncles since I started school, and of course I haven't seen my brother and sister-in-law very much, and they'd all heard I've started a new school so they were all curious about me. Somehow, the main topic of dinner conversation turned out to be me. I don't like talking about myself at the best of times, but I especially don't like it when nobody else really understands where I'm coming from so all the questions are wrong. That I couldn't actually completely answer any of the questions made the whole thing even worse.
"So, Jim tells me you're going to be a minister now?" My uncle asked me. Jim is my father.
"Priest, dear, he said priest, I think," my aunt amended.
"What, he's Episcopal now?"
"I don't think so," she answered.
"Well, as long as he's not Catholic!"
"No, I'm not Catholic. I don't think there'd be anything wrong if I was," I protested. My uncle is a really big, loud person. He kind of takes over a room. My voice seemed very small in contrast, but I couldn't not say anything. Sarah is Catholic, after all. My uncle immediately agreed there was nothing wrong with Catholics.
"They use the same Bible," my aunt added.
"So, you are in an Episcopal seminary?" asked my other uncle.
"No. No, I'm not. I'm not Episcopalian.Not that there's be anything wrong is I was."
"--No, of course not--"
"--But you are in a seminary?" My uncle and aunt spoke together.
"It's a liberal arts school. I have a concentration in environmental studies. We call it a seminary sometimes because we do a lot of work around service, how to use what we learn to serve the community."
"You're doing community service?"
And so on.
Even the food caused problems. I'd arranged to get a local free-range organic turkey, because I couldn't stand to eat anything that had been mistreated. I remembered the deer I'd killed, and I couldn't forget that the only reason I'd felt at all ok about that was that she'd lived well while she was here. My parents agreed, though they did ask me to pay the difference in price.
"Delicious bird," my uncle said, in the course of complimenting my parents on everything. I find him a bit hard to take sometimes, but he really is an excellent guest (and an excellent host, when we visit) and all his compliments are entirely sincere.
My father thanked him--my Dad is, as I've said, a grill-freak, so by extension he also does most of the holiday cooking, grilled or not, while my Mom takes care of holiday baking and most every-day cooking. Anyway, my Dad thanked him and said the turkey was actually my doing.
"It's organic. Ever since he started that new school he's gone all natural on us." My Dad was smiling. He and my Mom have always been pretty into environmental things themselves, and they eat a lot of organic foods normally. He was teasing me. But my uncle gave me a look and my aunt, my other aunt, the one married to my other uncle, looked up in surprise.
"Oh, do you mean it's not really meat? It's made out of tofu or something?" She hadn't eaten the turkey, she had something wrong with her stomach this week, but she could see it. Her husband gave her a look and she blushed, I think she realized she said something dumb, but still...and even my Dad had missed the point. I didn't really care that the turkey was organic as such, I cared about the whole package, how it was raised and who raised it and how much the farmers and processors were paid, and all of that, and I'd gone with the bird I'd bought because I could call up the grower and ask questions. And I'd told my Dad that, all that intricacy, all that complexity, I'd tried to teach him this new way to really think about food, to really act grateful for all the people and animals and plants that feed us, and he'd reduced all of that to an idiosyncratic preference on my part for organic food.
I didn't say anything.
I didn't used to think that everything my family said was dumb. I wasn't one of those obnoxious teenagers you hear people complain about. I didn't think I knew everything, and I never thought my parents were un-cool. I love my parents. I love my family, my uncles and aunts, even if I do find my one uncle a bit hard to take, he's not a bad guy. But all of a sudden it really seems like we're living on different planets. I can't explain where I'm coming from even if I want to, but I can see it hurts their feelings when I don't try.
Afterwards, after the uncles and aunts had left, I insisted on doing dishes. My sister helped me clean up while my Dad and brother and my brother's wife watched the game. My Mom usually cleans up after holidays, but I shooed her away and so she poured herself a drink and put her feet up.
"I could get used to this," she said, happily.
"You should get used to it, Mom," I told her. "You do dishes the rest of the year. It's my turn." Usually in my family cooking and cleaning is kind of women's work, except for my Dad's grilling and holiday meals. Nobody ever says so, and it's not like my Dad never does dishes, but just normally it's my Mom in the kitchen. And if somebody helps her it's my sister, while my Dad and I watch TV or I do homework. Even my sister-in-law is getting into it. She helps my Mom in the kitchen sometimes, but my brother doesn't. I've never thought about any of this before, it's just the way my family does things. I'm not even sure it's bad, but it kind of bugs me, and anyway, I'm a janitor now--cleaning has been my job for almost a year. It feels like my responsibility. I know my way around a kitchen sink and an apron.
"We're paying how much money to turn our son into a janitor?" my Dad asked from the living room. He was joking, though. I know he's proud of me. My Dad's not the sort of guy who thinks a man shouldn't help out around the house, and he's happy I'm finally helping out my mother. My siblings and I stayed up late after we were done cleaning, talking and drinking and having a great time. My sister-in-law is new, of course, but she seems like one of us. Nobody asked me any more questions and I felt like one of them.
Today we ate leftovers and went on long walks and played video games...I had fun. In the evening, Kit came to get me. She came inside for a few minutes and chatted with my parents while I got my stuff together. It was strange to see her, this creature from my other life, in my parents' living room, and of course I'm still not used to seeing her dressed like an ordinary person, in jeans and a striped turtleneck and a black jacket with fake fur trim. Her red hair glowed like a halo. She took my bags outside and left me to say my goodbyes and to juggle bags and boxes of leftovers.
"She's your professor?" my Mom asked. "What does she teach?" The way she said it, she sounded catty and protective. My Dad, in a very different tone of voice, commented that Kit did look young enough to be a student. He asked how old she is.
"Older than she looks, I think," I told him. "In her forties, maybe?"
"She looks good for forty!" he explained, and my mother gave him a dirty look. My parents aren't usually like that.
I made my farewells and left, red-faced.
There was a red minivan parked in our driveway. I approached, and Kit waved from a back window and jumped out so I could get in. It wasn't the vehicle she'd dropped me off from, and when I got in it I saw why--it was full of people. Allen was driving, his wife sat in the front passenger side, their three kids occupied the first bench seat and the back bench seat contained Kit, her husband, and me.
"Nice minivan," I said, uncertainly.
"It's not ours," Allen explained, rather quickly. "We borrowed it from Lo's mother for the week." I guess they all spent the holiday together.
"Did your mother say anything about me?" Kit asked. My face must have shown my answer, because she giggled. Then she became more serious for a moment. "I don't elicit reactions like that on purpose," she explained, "but if someone projects something on me I will reflect it back to them." Then she smiled again. "'I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way,'" she quoted.
"'No place like home,'" quoted Allen, looking at me in the mirror.
"No, there is no place like it," I agreed, as he stepped on the gas to drive us back there.
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