Chapter II: Dinner With Regret
The long road lay ahead. We sit and chat along the way down to Maryland, watching the little changing scenery outside the windows of the S. U. V. Talking about this and that. Listening to the lids clatter on the containers in back of Thanksgiving dishes my Mother brought for dinner. Making small talk, because of the small mind that sat in back, next to my sister. Yes, I am referring to Bastard. My step-Father asks if he may be a little forward and, in a whispery tone, begins to inquire about my love life. I was a bit...taken aback. It's not every day my family is wondering about whom I am bedding and it's rather strange to hear Barry asking. Unfortunately for me, I am currently alone, which is not what you really want to be reminded of during the holidays. Of course, Barry was not being mean-spirited, far from it, he was actually trying to be a "Dolly Levi", a matchmaker. But, before he could give me the goods, so to speak, the conversation in back needed to include Barry and I so, we switched gears to talk about this later.
After passing through Pennsylvania and into Maryland, we begin the trek, literally, over the river and through the woods. And farmland, and woods, and more farmland. My Aunt couldn't find a home near a city, not even near a town. I wouldn't even call it a village. It's in the middle of nowhere. You need to pass the barn, three cows and a silo in order to get to her home. Coming from a cosmopolitan/urban environment that I do, even though I live in the "garden state", I find myself humming the song from Deliverance, wondering how I would ever get home if I were left here, in the middle of nowhere. "Squeal like a pig!", is ringing in my head.
We arrived at our destination and I see my Aunt at the door. She greets us and I am a bit shocked at how much she looks like my beloved and departed Nan. I had never really seen my Nan's features in my aunt before, as I do in my Mother, and it's a bit disconcerting but, comforting at the same time. It's as if, in a strange way, my Nan is still here, through her daughters.
We go in, their overstuffed dog underfoot, and make the rounds with the family, all of which I hadn't seen in a year. Everyone is looking different, and the same. A little older, a little sadder. We all know this is the last time we'll be together in this house and it's always kind of sad when there's change in the air. We gather around the island in the kitchen, where the alcohol is. Of course. We nosh on the cheeses and pepperoni, cream cheese stuffed celery, which I have always loved. We drink and toast. We catch up with each other about our lives. We compliment each other on how great we look. It's nice and comforting, being in the bosom of your kin and feeling that closeness with people who, even though you only spend maybe one or two times a year with, you still have that immediate love and acceptance, that familiarity that you only have with your family. We move from the kitchen to the living room, my Aunt has always had a beautifully decorated living room that no one is allowed to be in, that old fashioned "show room" that people had back-in-the-day. I guess, with this being the last dinner in Maryland, we were granted this special privilege.
My Mother sat with me on one of the armchairs and we picked up the conversation that I started in the car with her husband. The man they want to set me up with is cute, around my age, great shape, well traveled and...rich! Thanks for the early Christmas gift, I am thinking to myself as we gush and giggle about this whole situation. I hear the various conversations going on around the room between my cousin, second cousins, sister, and the rest of the family. It's good to be home, in a manner of speaking. I needed to get away, I needed this. I needed to be gossiping with my Mom, and smelling the turkey cooking, and hearing the warmth of voices I haven't heard in so long.
Dinner is ready. The turkey is gigantic. My Uncle Jerry does the honors, and I am in shock. There is no seating arrangement this year. You don't understand, THERE IS ALWAYS A SEATING ARRANGEMENT and you better not change or there's hell to pay with my Aunt. She decided this year that we could sit anywhere we wanted. Well, she did tell me that she's hitting seventy next year. Dear Lord, my Auntie Mame is going to be seventy. Well, I guess she's finally mellowing with age (don't you believe it). I sat on the end, as usual because I am left-handed and next to my cousin Dawn, who I have always been partial to and we ALWAYS sit together. Actually, looking around the table, we all sat where our usual seat assignments have traditionally been. I guess my Aunt knew what she was doing all along.
Dinner was wonderful. The prayer from my Uncle was sweet. I was full of food and the comfort of home. We had dessert, too many desserts and sat at the table for hours after dinner, drinking and talking. I must confess, I had to resist the urge to become MORTIMER the stage performer. They are family, not an audience, I kept reminding myself so, I sat back and enjoyed the stories being told, some of them including the...more embarassing moments of my childhood. No, I won't recount them here, they are just family stories and they will remain just that.
Finally, inevitabily, things were coming to a close. Our lives, our other selves that we are when we aren't together, needed to be gotten back to. We all began to say good-bye and hugged, kissed, promised to ring each other. I said farewell to my Aunt Janet and Uncle Jerry and Maryland and off we went, back throught farms and woods and back over the river. To home.
But first, I had to travel back from Philadelphia.
With my beloved sister.
Coming soon: Chapter III Thanksgiving, Again?