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Location: Midwest, United States

I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Things I’m Dreading, part II

I've actually been dreading writing this post because it centers on something so sadly ambivalent for me. But the truth is I have been dreading Thanksgiving.

This is especially sad because Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday. My extended family on my dad's side has always been close, and Thanksgiving was the one time when we would all get together, without fail. My grandma, my grandpa, my dad and I, and my dad's three sisters and their families would all gather at my Aunt Gee's house and have a big ol' feast. It was warm, relaxed, and festive without being fussy or stressful. We ate whenever the enormous spread came together, usually around six or seven. We'd hang out late into the evening, talking, joking, and playing cards. Inevitably Aunt Gee would end up sprawled on the couch with her pants undone, an unofficial Thanksgiving tradition. It was this way ever since I could remember, through college and into my grad school years.

In the last ten years or so, a lot has changed. My dad's youngest sister died after a brief, ravaging illness, leaving behind a young son with cerebral palsy and a husband ill-equipped to be a single parent, and leaving an aching hole in the family. Aunt Gee's husband split, and my dad managed to estrange himself from everyone but my grandma. Then my grandpa began to decline, and after he died my grandma hung on for less than a year.

All of these losses have changed the family dynamic, needless to say. Loss can bring families together, but it can also create or exacerbate tensions. My grandparents were always the core of our family, and the younger generations were bound together by our devotion to them. Now that they're gone, it can be tricky to negotiate our mutual expectations and responsibilities. Despite these complexities, I still value the time I spend with my two remaining aunts and my cousins. But something else has made Thanksgiving increasingly hard for me, something that seems small in comparison to all the changes I've mentioned. My Aunt Gee moved, and I'm just not comfortable in her new house.

Maybe it's partly because our family was vibrant and intact in her old house, and I associate her new house with the diminished version of us. But I know it's much more than that. Her old house was near the historic downtown of her small riverfront city, a cool, funky stone house, situated on a beautiful hill with a dozen mature oak trees in the front yard. It had character, and a wealth of memories from the many days and nights I spent there throughout my childhood. Her new house is a big suburban palace in a recently built housing development. The back yard borders a golf course. It's luxurious, but generic. It feels cold to me.

And for some reason, since she and her family moved there, the atmosphere of her home has gotten less warm and relaxing, becoming distressing in a variety of ways. There are six televisions in this house. Six. One in nearly every room of the house, they outnumber the people two to one, and there are always several on. I often walk into an uninhabited room to find a television blaring (or waiting in vain for an absent gamer to return). And although this house is big and well appointed, sound travels like crazy, so that you can always hear at least one of the televisions playing.

There is also a carnival of artificial smells going on at all times. There are numerous battery-operated air-freshener towers, which spray a shot of aerosol perfume into the air at regular intervals. There are also plug-in air fresheners scattered about. "Unscented" is the scent of choice at my house, and this aggressive collection of smells makes me crazy.

I love my aunt. She's been like a second mother to me all my life, and I've watched her kids grow up. They are good people, and I still like spending time with them, but I find that I enjoy being with them much more when they visit us than when we're at their house. And for some reason, Thanksgiving is the hardest time, because the contrast is so great with what used to be. Since it's been held at my aunt's new house, the Thanksgiving meal has gotten earlier and earlier in the day, and less and less relaxed and fun. It's starting to feel obligatory, and that just sucks.

I wish I could end on an optimistic note. I hang onto a hope that Thanksgiving will morph into something new and better for my family. The holiday has a lot of historical significance for me, and I do want to spend it with these people I love and actually enjoy it. I want O. to think of Thanksgiving as the cool and special holiday I always saw it as, and I want my Old Man to look forward to spending it with my family.

But now it's time to pack up the car and head up to make the best of it this year.


Blogger Kablammie said...

You're a very good writer, E. I've enjoyed reading your blog, though this is the first time I posted a comment.

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope your Thanksgiving turned out to be alright after all. I relate to your feelings, but for myself, I think it was just growing up and having a clearer, more adult picture of my family that was the real source of the change. Either way, I hope it was a nice day.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Esereth said...

Wow, that was a perfect post. The contrast of old and the sadness of the new, you communicated it perfectly.

And there really isn't anything you can do to fix it, is there? You can't take over and make it comfy again. All you can do is let go and live through.

But someday. Someday maybe you'll be in charge of creating the happy and the cozy.

11:19 AM  

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