Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgivings 2011, Curmudgeon style

When the kids were little, getting together as a family was simple: I had only to come home.

I always came home. Sometimes -- rarely -- I came home later than expected, having stopped longer than anticipated at a local watering hole. If I came home very late, my wife would turn off the lights, lock the door, and salt the stairs going up to our bedroom with a number of the kids' toys.

She would suppress her evil chuckles while I tried (often unsuccessfully) to suppress my curses as I lurched and lumbered up the stairs.

But the point is, when I came home, the family was together.

Time passed. When the kids began entering their teens, Long Suffering Spouse and I would have to wait, often long into the night, to get the family together. Now, as the youngest is almost done with his teens, the kids still at home are still going out. But I'm not necessarily waiting up. In fact, the kids tend to go out about the time I fall asleep. I snooze in my chair, watching TV through my eyelids, until they return. But the point is, as time went on, getting the family together took a little more effort.

Now we come to the present. Older Daughter and Oldest Son are married. Older Daughter lives in Indianapolis. Middle Son also lives away from home. Younger Daughter and Youngest Son are away at college. Now getting the family together involves serious coordination -- and panic clean-ups.

I took the day off Wednesday, in fact, to get my stuff together. It was a scheduled day off for Long Suffering Spouse.

Long Suffering Spouse is far more organized than I am. Because she has to create a lot of the materials she uses in teaching, and because she has so many different classes, from pre-school through 8th grade, my wife has stuff in several places around the house. The dining room table is her main home office, but she ordinarily has piles of binders by her rocking chair in the living room, bags of papers by her chair in the den, and stacks of folders on what (in other houses) might be the kitchen table. My pile is concentrated around the computer desk in the Curmudgeon family den. But if I were to allow someone else to sweep up all my stuff so as to dog-proof the area, I wouldn't even know what I had lost, much less where to look for it.

Ah, yes -- dog-proofing. Over the course of the Thanksgiving weekend, we were scheduled to play host to both Rodent the shih tzu (the pocket dog owned by Oldest Son and his wife Abby) (see, Christmas with Rodent & The Curmudgeon Clan, Parts I and II) and Cork (don't call him Corky), the much larger golden retriever puppy recently acquired by Older Daughter and her husband Hank.

We weren't supposed to have both dogs at once. As you may recall, we didn't expect to get the family together at all this Thanksgiving. We were reconciled to having Thanksgiving 1 and Thanksgiving 2.

But when Older Daughter got moved to the day shift on Thanksgiving instead of the overnight shift, she became determined to get to get to Chicago before the end of Thanksgiving Day. She almost made it.

She worked her 12 hour shift at the hospital. Then she joined her husband Hank at their church choir director's Thanksgiving party, already in progress. This was controversial: She called us from the party, ripping mad. The choir director was originally supposed to serve dinner around mid-afternoon. Somewhere along the line, however, he pushed the start of dinner back to 6:00.

Six o'clock? On Thanksgiving? There are only three acceptable times for serving dinner on Thanksgiving Day: Halftime of the Detroit game, in between the Detroit and Dallas games, or (if you're feeling positively continental) halftime of the Dallas game. Anything later creates the risk of family tragedy. One too many egg nogs gets consumed and all manner of family skeletons can be unearthed.

Anyway, with the late start time, Older Daughter was in time for dessert at the choir director's party. She wasn't happy about it; she was insisting on leaving for Chicago right away. She managed to get Hank out of the party but they still couldn't get on the road. They had to go home first and bundle up Cork.

Cork travels with a giant cage. I wish I'd had something similar for my children when they were small.

Anyway, by the time Older Daughter et al. got on I-65, the killer Scrabble game that followed our Thanksgiving 1 meal (served between the Detroit and Dallas games) was already almost burnt out. Abby won again, as usual. The kids all play "Words With Friends" (as close to Scrabble as the copyright laws allow) on their smart phones. They compete against each other -- and Abby usually wins those games, too.

I don't participate. I have no smart phone. Also, I have no friends.

By the time Older Daughter called to confirm that she was beginning the long northward trek (and, in turn, almost all of us tried to talk her into waiting until morning) Abby was looking at her husband, and at her watch, and making it clear that it was time to leave.

That's what good wives do -- they pull their spouses out of situations, even while they're having a good time... lest they have have too good a time and make donkeys of themselves.

Oldest Son was beginning to bray. He had knocked back several Sam Adamses during the Baltimore-San Francisco game (he managed to keep a watchful eye on those proceedings while still playing Scrabble) and, while he was still reasonably presentable, he was becoming boisterous. And he needed some non-beer time before he could drive home.

And then, somehow, Oldest Son decided that they would wait for his sister and Hank -- and Cork. The canine cousins needed to be introduced, he said. Abby was not amused. That Cork might swallow Rodent whole in a single gulp did not seem to enter into Oldest Son's calculations. Middle Son proposed a game of Risk.

There's nothing like a board game devoted to taking over the world to hold Oldest Son's interest. And so the game began.

I'd had a few scotches myself, but these were the least of my problems. I was tired. It had been a long day Wednesday preparing for the kids' arrival. (After a day of cleaning, Long Suffering Spouse had made an apple pie, two pumpkin pies, pumpkin bread, a tray of brownies and a double batch of sugar cookies. I was bushed after organizing and dog-proofing my corner of the den. But I cleaned an occasional tray and kept Christmas carols playing on the Bose machine. And I did stay loyally awake.) And Thursday had been a long day, too, even before the kids came, because I had to do errands as required while Long Suffering Spouse got the first of the turkeys in the oven (and the potatoes and sweet potatoes and corn and beans and dinner rolls and, of course, her homemade cornmeal stuffing and gravy).

In other words, it was past my bedtime when the Scrabble game ended. I entered into the Risk game (holding South America against all challengers) while eating Ritz crackers, Wheat Thins, Triscuits -- anything to stay awake. Abby played, too, her continuing efforts to induce Oldest Son to leave being studiously ignored. At one point Abby said she would take the keys and drive home with the dog. "I'll come get you when you crash the car," said Oldest Son. "You might make it to the end of the block." Abby has a driver's license -- but apparently has not driven a car since high school.

I have only a vague idea what time it was when Older Daughter arrived. I think it was somewhere around 2:00am Friday morning. There must have been some warning -- a text or something that was not directed to me -- because Abby had hold of Rodent before the front door opened.

My clue that new visitors had arrived came when the little dog began shaking and barking and barking and shaking and growling, all at a very excited, high pitch. Moments later, I heard deeper growling and barking: Cork had come into the house. When I saw him standing in the living room he was shaking, too. I'm not certain whether this shaking was meant to convey hostility or fear or merely curiosity. What it conveyed to me was this: Older Daughter is here. Now maybe I can go to bed.

Younger Daughter was all over the new canine arrival. "Aren't you the cutest thing? Oh, yes, you are?" She'd become acquainted with Cork on a recent trip to Indianapolis.

Oldest Son laughed. "No wonder Rodent is barking. You're being unfaithful to her." Younger Daughter glowered.

"I am not!" she protested. "But Abby has hold of her."

"I don't know," said Abby, playing along, "I think Rodent is shocked at how fickle you are."

Long Suffering Spouse had, by this time, been asleep for at least an hour, maybe two. She'd sat in my recliner in the corner of the den farthest from the noisy Risk game in the dining room and, at some point, passed out. Who could blame her? I merely envied her.

The new dog noise roused Long Suffering Spouse somewhat. She got up and stumbled toward the front of the house, heading for the stairs to our bedroom, passing the dog, passing her son-in-law, passing her newly arrived daughter. Along the way she said something like, "Oh, I'm so glad you're here. Happy Thanksgiving. Good night."

I followed close behind. I was less articulate. "You're here. Good night."

Abby needed only one hand to hold Rodent. With her other hand, she dragged Oldest Son toward the front door. "So nice to see you. What a lovely dog. Good night."

I gather Middle Son stayed a moment or two, but he had a wedding to attend on Friday and needed to be home hours before. Younger Daughter apparently stayed up awhile to get her sister and brother-in-law settled. And to play with the dog of course. But you can't prove it by me.

Long Suffering Spouse and I were out of bed a few hours later to start the second turkey. (You can't have Thanksgiving 2 with leftovers, can you?) I ate. I fell asleep. My mother-in-law came by for a few hours after dinner. I stayed asleep throughout. She told my wife she was worried that I was so tired. I'm not worried. I was exhausted.

I'd like to tell you we spent the rest of the weekend recuperating, but it would not be true. We got Cork and Hank and Older Daughter back on the road to Indianapolis Saturday night. We got back from dropping Youngest Son back at South Janesville College and then from dropping Younger Daughter at her dorm on Sunday afternoon just before dark. It was then time to start looking for all the things we'd squirreled away in order to dog-proof the house. Then we could start the weekend chores. Much of the conversation in the car between Long Suffering Spouse and Younger Daughter concerned how little Older Daughter realized all that we had to do to prepare for her visit.

Don't get me wrong: I really was happy to have the whole family at home this weekend. But, these days, it's a lot of work.


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

ahhh, the perfect family holiday. at least you got to see them all! woo hoo! and eat stuff! sounds divine...

smiles, bee

Steve Skinner said...

Christmas is just around the corner, bet you can't wait!