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High Holy Days

November 22, 2018

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It was dreaded.

When I could not go to the retreat of school, it was the holidays – or the endless desert of summer. But summers were simply isolation in suburbia. Stranded in a place cars mattered and I could not drive one. It also mattered that we lived the correct life in that decade between sentience and going away to high school.

That presentation meant the gathering of the step-mother of my father, ignoring the mother of my mother and doing Thanksgiving and Christmas in a 5 week pressure cooker of fear and expectation (interchangeably on most every aspect).

My mother defrosted “The Butterball” (turkey), got the Pepperage Farm stuffing in its blue and white plastic bag, the Ocean Spray Cranberry Jelly, the Best variety of frozen peas (Green Giant?), the Pillsbury Instant Mashed Potatoes and, maybe, if we were lucky, “Cresent Roll” tubes to be popped, split, rolled and baked and then slathered in margarine.

She bought an A&P frozen Pumbkin pie to bake and the Cool Whip to cover it in, and, of course, watercress and its dressing made with “shake in the server” Good Seasons Salad Dressing packet of spices, and spent the morning assembling and heating – after a long week of polishing all the silverware and candlesticks and washing the linens – all only used in these High Holy Days.

There were technological adventures. The Sunbeam Electric Carving knife (I still have scars on two fingers on my left hand from a duel between my 8 year old self and my 13 year old brother) – the electrically heated cloth bag that set into a basket to warm, continuously, the cresent rolls.

The other roles were also heated. Resentment over doing everything from my mother, outrage that paying for everything was not enough by my father, and endless drinking, after 5: This time of year using a ”fine red wine” – the one that Orson Wells sold – never before its time.

We were to help and be silent. We did that. My sister was back from high school in the later years, Grandma Fanny was always picked up and dropped off, but the Core Four, my sibling and our parents and I, were in a constant stress convention.

When would what drink sent my father to another place?

Would that place be happy or angry? My memory was it was not happy.

The food was always “perfect”, the clothing always chafed. I could eat till stuffed that day without fear or guilt or being “outed” as the “Husky” boy my weight forced my mother to deal with at DePinnas.

I was dispatched from the suburban world like a shot to do to high school in Buffalo only to re-emerge in Westchester, where In these covenings I could deliver the reporting the distance facilitated, then college where “it made sense” to stay up there for Thanksgiving. Then the dinners with a girlfriend, then wife, reliving angst and edginess, all the while saying the right thing.

Things have changed. Now we cook like fiends one out of three years and still make all the gravy. But two other families effort a great good time, very far, in rotation from each other. Six offspring join us, with different fiends or, now, lovers, and the wines are quite fantastic.

I have learned that the non-violent, not traumatic demi-PTSD is fully embedded the younger it is inflicted. Since my rotational grind of suppression, fear, compensation and embarrassment started from birth and last through every visit with the now dead, I will never be done with it. I will taste the margarine, be amused at the ribbed cranberry log, and think of the fact that what should have been the happiest of times was a duty.

The obligation to be Happy lives on in Facebook and Instagram, Our expectations seem real enough to cause infinite disappointment when they fail, but I think it is simply less terrorizing because I am older.

Knowlege kills some fear. I still fear eating fish, but I know it will not be served. I know I did what I could, and my parents lead the life they chose.

The lives chosen for us did not really work. For me at least. By the time I was around they were in their 40’s the Thanksgivings and Christmases were shells of hopes from the first decade of failed efforting suburbia.

Like the simulations of cooking, then the pantomimed rituals of family ritual, the remnants of expectation were ashen before my father tried to drink them away, I learned that reality, even the failed gravy today (2 out of 3 still gets you in the Hall of Fame), is better than opening up the jar to heat up in the microwave.

 

 

 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Patricia Kane permalink
    November 26, 2018 9:19 am

    Many of us remember the trauma of holiday expectations and the reality of family dysfunction, but there is healing in having your own family and making new memories on your own terms. Here’s to a healing holiday for everyone.

  2. Elizabeth permalink
    November 27, 2018 2:22 pm

    I have plenty of holiday stories to tell…but I might need a cocktail to get me through it.

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