I’m going to avoid the trite little jokes about how you’re forced to spend time with and act interested in people you see once a year. I’m also going to avoid going on a tirade about the mind-numbing number of churches with some quip about “Thanks-Living” on their oft-abused signs (You already pervert the Gospel, much you also massacre the English Language?). I’m going to bore you with tales about my sun-shiney happy times in Louisiana with estranged family, and force you to like it. . . because that’s what Thanksgiving is all about.
For some reason or another, that I’m sure sounded perfectly reasonable at the time, my mother raised me to resent my father’s side of the family. You would expect this behavior from divorced parents, but mine are happily (now anyway) married. I’m sure there were some conversations taken out of context, mild offense, blended with the typical awkwardness of “involved” parents and newly-weds learning to flesh out their new relationships. But for whatever reason, not only was I not allowed to participate in this side of family, I was encouraged to resent the 2 times per year I went to their house. Opposed to my maternal family, my father’s family is one with some attachment to its history and culture. My Grandfather moved to America during WWII from Germany, and still speaks with a very noticeable accent. My father himself has been to Germany several times. But along with this situation, I was also banned from discovering or learning anything to do with Germany. Other than Hitler . . . because, you know… he’s German.
I’m not turning this into a pity-post, just giving the background. Of course, at some point in my adult-hood, I realized that they probably weren’t so bad, and were certainly not the evil cloned spawn of Hitler himself, and made very real and reasonable attempts at building some form of relationship with them. I made sure to visit if I was in town, staying even after the awkwardness became tangible in the room. I barely know them, even today, so conversation was . . . fitful, at best.
However at Thanksgiving this year, with, I believe, all of the family in the house for the first time since I was a child, I realized how truly deprived I was. I have several cousins, some of whom I can’t name. But what struck me was how incredibly similar to them all I was. My mother’s side of the family is filled with typical southerners (no offence . . . not that any of them read this… because only 1 family member knows how to use the internet over there). I love them all, but am obviously the black sheep. At Thanksgiving I’m typically the only male to not show up wearing camouflage, straight from a morning hunt. They’ve long-since given up trying to convince me to freeze my buttocks off on a deer-stand with them, and now don’t bother much with asking about what I’ve been up to, since they won’t really understand anyway. My lovely and dear Grandmother makes an effort though . . . and that’s all anyone can ask. I have no real friends there, and nothing in common with any of them.
But at my father’s family’s house (is there a more convenient way to phrase that in type?), I glanced around when I got there (I was told the wrong time to arrive, thanks Opa) and saw nearly every person there surfing the net on a laptop! People were emailing pictures back and forth to each other. After catching up a bit, one cousin asked me, “Oh, do you have a facebook account?” and it dawned on me: these are my people! Geeks, every last one of them. Geeks, and strangers.
It’s been literally years since I’d seen some of these people, although I once saw a cousin at a shopping mall and didn’t recognize her until after I left, I think she still thinks I’m rude. I’ve been left wondering if there really is a way to make up for lost time? I mean, my cousins all seem relatively close, and all enjoy relationships with my grandparents that I am envious of. But with all those times lost, memories, childhood experiences, the natural bond you form with a grandparent as you grow, can I ever have a similar familiarity with them? Only a couple of them talked to me there at all. And who can blame them, I’m not sure I’d act much differently, especially if I believed the only reason was there was out of obligation, and was sure to leave immediately.
So…all of that added together with my arriving late and missing dinner (not my fault), and my subsequently hungry children, made us have to leave sooner than I would’ve liked. My daughter loves to play with her cousins at my other grandparents’ house, so we spent all day there on Friday, and didn’t get to go back. I’m doubtful that I’ll ever truly know any of them. And that’s a shame. I think we would’ve been good friends, and had great relationships.