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I am sitting in the back seat leaning my head against the cool window, the hot air from the heater blowing, making me feel sticky. I’m starting to feel claustrophobic and trapped in the too- small backseat, my dad’s seat pushed up against my legs. My parents are chatting in the front seat, lost in some conversation about money or real estate. My dad is really the only one talking; he likes to monopolize the conversation, especially when he has a captive audience. My mom sits nervously perched in the passenger seat, her back positioned towards the window, chiming in every now and then to agree with something he says, even if she doesn’t really mean it. We ride for what seems like an eternity, down the same straight stretch of highway, passing the same empty fields occasionally dotted with houses or animals of some kind. I tune out the current topic of the decrease in real estate sales that seems to have my parent’s occupied, or my dad at least. My mom has her eyes closed and occasionally throws in words like “mmhm” and “your right.” My dad’s lecture only stops when we pull into the familiar cul-de-sac. My grannie’s house is easily recognizable by the large red front door and the swimming pool that is visible from the back yard. The cars littering the driveway and spilling into the street are just an unfriendly reminder of what awaits. The three of us bail out of the truck, armed with Sara Lee rolls and large white fancy napkins, that’s all we are ever asked to bring. We sulk through the rain to the front door, and I can almost feel my feet dragging through the puddles, pulling me backwards. My mom and I look at each other. I know
what she means as she looks at me with a half-hearted smile as she lets out a deep breath and shrugs her shoulders. It’s going to be a long day. We knock on the large red door and no one answers. Didn’t they know we were coming? We can hear the dogs barking behind the door; at least some member of the family came to greet us. We wait a few more awkward seconds before just deciding to go in. We push open the door and walk-in to the empty foyer with only the empty jackets hanging on a hook to greet us. Walking into the living room, the scene comes to life. My two cousins and my uncle sit, stone figures with blank eyes, sunken into the couch and assorted chairs in the living room, staring at whatever football game is playing. Behind them the women are working in the kitchen. My grandmother is supposedly the world’s greatest cook, and requests the assistance of only her two daughters to prepare the grand feast. There is a TV on in the kitchen, displaying the same football games as the one in the living room, definitely not the festive Thanksgiving Day Parade that I had hoped for. Oh well, I had expected it. As we come into the living room and step in front of the television, they finally realize we are there. My parents and I are greeted one by one as my family moves down the assembly line, each person attaching a hug and an unearned compliment, “I love your earrings!” I lie to my aunt about the hideous turkeys with multicolored feathers peeking out from her large mess of blond hair and dangling from her stretched ear lobes. “I can tell you have lost weight!” I almost whisper as I move back and appraise the round figure of my aunt who has never been married. I can’t stand the fake-ness of it all. But I smile and play along, glancing back at
my mom, my co-conspirator in this game. My mom goes into the kitchen and among the clanging of pots and pans, I hear her ask if she can help. They say no, they have got everything, and even though they answer politely, I know why they don’t take her up on her offer. I take a place on the couch next to my only uncle and try to look interested in the game. He is dressed in a red sweater, one I am sure my aunt picked out to fit this festive occasion, and I can smell the cheap beer escaping in his breath as he talks to the television, making suggestions to the players. Enjoying the game is an impossible task. The dull colors and low roar of the fans in the background do not compare to the brilliant colors and shapes of the parade floats that I am missing. My mom comes to join me, one again giving me the shrug and the sigh. I hear my dad and aunts talking loudly in the too small kitchen. They are always trying to top each other’s achievements. They enjoy insulting each other, telling the others their faults in life. I hear my dad insist that my aunt should move out with her family and get their own place, somewhere away from my grannie’s house and money. He then takes shots at my other aunt, the unmarried one, zeroing in on the pudge that presses against her too- tight tan sweater. She doesn’t take insults well and it isn’t too long before I hear her reminding him about his own struggles with weight and his new receding hairline. My granny plays mediator as I hear them move on to the subject of who has been the most successful. There is a lull in the excitement and my older aunt, one who has never been married, comes to harass my cousins. She likes to get on the floor and wrestle with my oldest cousin. They roll around on the floor yelling and before long she puts him in a
chokehold. She cackles this annoying laugh. I am embarrassed for her. My mom and I pretend to laugh as we exchange a glance that would clearly show our disgust… if anyone was paying attention. My aunt has Devan pinned to the floor and makes some kind of gesture that looks like a noogie. I know my cousin is embarrassed but laughs anyway, his crack exposed the whole time. My other aunt, his mom, pretends to be having fun, all the while holding back what she really wants to say. I smile to myself as I think about what is really going on. My aunt that has never been married thinks that Devan’s mom is too lenient with her children; that she doesn’t discipline them enough or show them enough attention. So, for some reason she thinks rolling around with them on the floor, putting them in pain is the answer. My other aunt is well aware of her sister’s feelings concerning her parenting and keeps her mouth shut, clenching her teeth together and narrowing her eyes. She looks to my uncle for support, but he hasn’t taken his eyes off of the game. My granny yells from the kitchen that dinner is ready and all of the women transplant the food from the kitchen into the dining room on the nice dishes. You know the ones, the expensive glass ones, the ones my granny got on her wedding day, the ones only used for days like today. After a bunch of shuffling around and seat switching we are ready to say the blessing. My dad always says the blessing. He isn’t very good at it or anything, but he is considered the “man” of the family, even though my uncle also occupies the table. My dad always says the same line in a serious tone, “Everybody please bow your heads” and the conversation and shuffling stops for a brief moment as my dad speaks his short blessing. I always think it is weird to hear him pray out loud, if it
weren’t for days like today I wouldn’t have known he knew how. He says amen and we all chime in after him. Not a second is wasted as my family begins to dig in. Pass this and that and where is the salt. Someone else always has to cut my meat. I prefer the white meat, and don’t like to look at the unlucky bird who has been sacrificed for this day of family bonding. My aunt starts fixing my cousin’s plates, only plopping a scoop of mashed potatoes drizzled with English peas on my youngest cousin’s plate. I remember when the oldest one would only eat mashed potatoes mixed with English peas, apparently this is a phase that most Pikes go through. However, he is a lot older now, and has expanded his horizons, sampling everything on the table. Most of us are drinking sweet tea, but a couple of people are drinking coke right out of the can. I am an overly picky eater and try to pleasantly stuff this food in my mouth. And they think my mom can’t cook. Luckily the dogs are wondering around the table and I am able to slip them some. Hey, it’s their holiday too, right? I am sure they don’t care if the turkey is dry in some places and soggy in others. Dinner is filled with more loud conversation as my aunts and my dad wrestle for my granny’s attention. I am used to this. My aunts get to spend more time with my granny and my dad has always felt left out. The conversation gets louder and louder as the three overgrown children try to talk over each other, but I’m not even listening. I start to daydream about other things I could be doing or how this could have gone differently. Back in the perfect world we would have all sat down and said the blessing, followed by happy conversation highlighted with laughter, all while eating a delicious dinner. Or maybe I could be eating a romantic candle lit dinner somewhere with the man of my dreams… “Britt, don’t you like your
turkey?” I hear my granny ask. “O yeah, its great.” I shove a large piece of soggy meat in my mouth to prove my point. Yuck. When dinner is over, we get to have some dessert. Good. I’m still hungry because I fed most of my food to the dogs. But dessert doesn’t prove to be much better. I wish they would have let my mom cook. At least the rolls were good. As the women start clearing the table I grab several rolls from the basket. Might as well enjoy something. All of the women argue over who is going to wash the dishes. But this is not the normal argument. They are fighting for who gets to wash the dishes. They WANT to do this. Maybe they are just looking for a way out, if you are washing the dishes you get a break from the game. I take this opportunity to escape. I slip outside and wander around. It’s a little chilly, but at least the rain has stopped. Even if it hadn’t, I think I would still rather be out here. For a while no one seems to notice. I see the old red teeter totter that my oldest cousin and I used to play on. The wooden seats are broken and rotten and rusty iron is showing through the brick red paint. “Britt, where are you?” Someone found me. I turn around to see my mom and feel my shoulders relax immediately as my breath reinflates my body. “You ready to leave?” she asks. “Oh yeah!” I say. It isn’t long until we are joined by the rest of my family as they come out to speak their goodbyes. My aunts and grandmother hug my mom and me, while my dad gets in a last few shots at my aunts. I hear him suggest to my unmarried aunt that if she lost a few pounds she might get a boyfriend, but I don’t pay attention long enough to hear her rebuttal. I’m sure it had something to do with his own expanding gut or his loss of hair right above his forehead. My uncle is still inside, unable to pull himself away from the
TV, or video game that has him occupied, and my cousins both give me an awkward hug, leaning in with only half of their body, before running off to find something more interesting to do. I finally climb back in my dad’s truck and wave to the rest of my family standing in the drive way, their arms are crossed and they all look tired, like this holiday wasn’t the satisfying one they hoped it would be. I climb into the backseat of my dad’s truck and yell “Can’t wait till Christmas!” before slamming the door.