Each year, my mother pressured me—months in advance—to return home for Thanksgiving. She knew how to wage “guilt trip warfare” and that’s no understatement. My husband and I worked in the same high school, and the teachers’ union contract demanded that we work the half-day before Thanksgiving. That did not deter my mother at all. She was never deterred. I, on the other hand, was frantic at the thought of leaving after noontime on the day before Thanksgiving—the busiest travel day of the year, especially driving through the Boston to New York/New Jersey corridor. It was bad enough when we were young and childless. Now we had ourselves and our son to contend with. But she would not be moved. The only saving grace was that my brother was coming to dinner too, and I hadn’t seen him in a while.
When school ended, my husband and I made a mad dash for home, picked up our son, and began the trek to New Jersey. Well before we reached the exit that would take us from the Massachusetts Turnpike into Connecticut, we found ourselves in a long line of traffic. It was to be expected but loathed none the same. My son was listening to music on his headphones, blissfully unaware of our fuming up front. As we inched along, I wanted nothing so much as to turn around and head back home, but we kept on creeping along until finally, many hours later, we pulled into the driveway of my parents’ New Jersey house.
We were exhausted, mentally and physically. Getting up at 5:30 AM, working a half-day and then driving over seven hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the last thing we felt like doing was making small talk. We needed to eat dinner, then crash. Fortunately, my mother had cold cuts in the refrigerator, so we made ourselves sandwiches and tried to unwind. Did I mention that my parents were frugal? Perhaps not. Well, there was one television in their home and it was in their bedroom. So, watching any shows was out of the question. We listened to my mother criticize our school for making us work that morning and tried to explain that it was a union thing…not to be trifled with.
You might be wondering where my father was, since I haven’t once mentioned him. That’s because he always managed to hide himself away, usually upstairs watching television in the bedroom or, at other times of the day, reading the newspaper. He never tried to argue with mother. I guess he had figured long ago that it would be a losing proposition.
Thanksgiving Day dawned. I could hear my mother busy in the kitchen. We had to take turns taking showers because there was one usable bathroom. There was a second half-bath, but no one was allowed to use it because my father had stamps from his collection drying in it. That’s another way my Dad managed to escape my mother’s demands: he would go down to the cellar and work on his stamp collection. He’d been collecting since he was a young boy, and his stamp albums took up an entire wall. Friends and acquaintances gave him envelopes with foreign stamps on them, and he would use the downstairs bathroom to soak the stamps off the envelopes. Just opening the door would cause dried-out stamps to flutter all around the tiny bathroom.
My brother arrived around noon, bringing with him his latest girlfriend. She was, for lack of a better word, a bimbo—not too bright, dressed as if she were going clubbing, but drop-dead gorgeous. Introductions were made, and my husband and I sat down in the living room with my brother and his girlfriend. At some point my brother went into the kitchen to check on dinner. All of a sudden, I heard him exclaim, “What? Seven pounds? You bought a seven-pound turkey to feed all of us?”
My father appeared on the scene at that point. “We don’t like leftovers,” he explained.”
I was aghast! “Dad, a seven-pound turkey can barely feed us, let alone the rest of you.”
My brother came back into the living room. “Let’s go out somewhere,” he said. My husband and I were only too happy to comply.
“We’re going to eat in another hour,” my mother yelled from the kitchen. “Where are you going? Nothing’s open.”
“We’ll probably stop at a bar somewhere and get a drink.” I smirked as I said this, knowing, in advance, what her reaction would be.
“A bar? Who goes to a bar on Thanksgiving? Don’t be late for dinner.”
We piled into our car, me, my husband, my brother and his girlfriend (for the life of me, I can’t recall her name.) My brother remembered a bar near our old high school, so we headed in that direction. After we had finished our drinks, we headed back home. Did I mention my husband was driving? Well he was. Did I mention that he was the world’s worst driver? Well, he was. Anyway, he wasn’t paying attention (as usual) and came within a centimeter of rear-ending the car in front of us. He slammed on the brakes. I was seat belted in but was thrown forward and was very shocked. And from the back seat, I heard, “Oh no, I think I broke a nail!” (It doesn’t matter that I can’t remember her name because I never saw her after that day.)
We managed to arrive back in time so that we didn’t annoy my mother, and she served up a lovely seven-pound turkey dinner to seven people. No turkey sandwiches for us this year. That was when I decided: this is it. From now on, my parents can come up to my house for Thanksgiving. They’re retired. They don’t have to wait for the day before Thanksgiving to set out on the trip. I felt a great weight lift from my shoulders, and I gave thanks for my dysfunctional family.
©Alice Magrane - Sun City Writers Workshop - Las Vegas, NV.
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