Every Thanksgiving my husband’s huge, extended clan gathers at their family farm. It’s idyllic for those relishing the outdoors, country cooking, family lore, and slapstick humor. When my husband was younger, his family’s culture felt smothering. He left to have bolder dreams, and in leaving realized his family’s gifts. Now, returning to their unquestioned, unchanged ways soothes his soul.
These paternal relatives fascinate our children. Unaccustomed to deeply rural Western Carolina accents, they wondered when their cousins moved from England. My son asked his uncle why he always carried a rifle. His uncle’s response, “I might need to shoot something,” sent our middle daughter racing for pen and paper. My miniature Margaret Mead explained, “I’m collecting observations.”
Only my husband and his sister wandered outside the expected zip codes. The remaining 100+ spread themselves across three churches and two counties. By choice, most spend their time together. I suppose it’s this physical and social sequestering that squashes a reciprocal fascination with our lives.
Once (just once) I offered to supply Thanksgiving breakfast. The family matriarchs determine all food-related design and implementation, but I hoped to be helpful. My mother-in-law asked suspiciously, “What would you have?” “Bagels,” I responded. “No, Honey. Huh-uh. It’s a Christian holiday.” Thus, like those before and after, Thanksgiving began with sausage, bacon, tenderloin, scrambled eggs, and biscuits. She hoped it held us until lunch.
Annually, one great-aunt asks another, “When did Little Grandma die?” (Note: “Little” has no obvious meaning.) After laboring through calculations somehow involving a World Expo, the aunts identify the date. When I offered to store their math for the following Thanksgiving, they were puzzled. “This is just what we do,” one said. Interrupting the conversation, one of my kids said, “We don’t have a little Grandma. We have an Elf on the Shelf!” My kids continued, detailing their elf’s antics. No relatives spoke. Finally Aunt Ivy Nell addressed me. “We’re sorry, Sugar. We don’t know your people’s customs.”
My husband’s family is kind, loving, and welcoming. They don’t exclude, they simply map their traditions, habits, and worldviews onto any who enter their circle. Truthfully, I’m not sure I return their generosity. This Thanksgiving I’ll try. I’ll remember we’re all negotiating this world’s humor, complexity, love, support, conflict, and disappointments the best we know how. Wish me luck. I’ll wish some for you, too.