Thursday, November 24, 2011

Everybody Showed Up For Turkey

The house has been full on Thanksgiving, and that’s a great thing. The children arrived or arose a little later than we would have liked, but hungry and happy. While the finishing touches were being put on a traditional meal, the kids caught their grandparents up on their lives.

It’s interesting how the room with the most well-worn furniture in the house is the place where everyone tends to congregate.
It’s also fascinating to observe the way stories are swapped. There are times, for instance, when it seems like my 85-year-old father isn’t tuned in at all. He has the demeanor of someone lost in his own thoughts, grateful to have the kids communicating with him but not really processing what they’re saying. As he sits there in the octogenarian zone, the storytellers press dutifully on, hoping something sticks. Just when all seems lost, he’ll respond with a question on point which demonstrates that he’s been paying attention all along. We’ve seen it a lot, but somehow it’s still disconcerting.
By contrast, my sweet mother-in-law has a tendency to ask a lot of questions, practicing active listening skills while pressing for details.
I’m convinced that somewhere along the way during her well-heeled upbringing, she was taught in some kind of charm school how to appear interested in whatever you have to say. She makes me laugh sometimes because she has an endearing tendency toward exclamations. During the course of an hour-long dinner, it’s not uncommon to hear her say “my word!” at least three times. Another one you can count on like the sunrise is “how wonderful!” This, of course, makes her extremely easy to like. Like I said, charm school.

There was also a rare appearance by my well-caffeinated older brother, who at times could be a case study for a sophomore level communications class.

You know how conversations, particularly those fueled by small talk, will kind of meander with stream of consciousness? He tends not to recognize that the subject has changed. He’ll contribute something, then two or three other people will speak and lead things down a completely different path, and then out of nowhere he’ll drop a comment related to something so five minutes ago. It can be a little intellectually jarring, as if for him time just froze. You can’t nail him down on a topic, either. For instance, he recently returned from a vacation in Hawaii. We were eager to hear all about it, but he wrapped it up in about three sentences, essentially saying, “The weather and the water were beautiful. I watched the tide roll in and roll out. The people were friendly.” And then he would go back to something he was talking about fifteen minutes ago.
He’s our kids’ only uncle, so they’re grateful for him and both said how good it was to see him.
He and my father have mastered the art of the exit. At almost any holiday, once they’re fed they seem to lose interest in the pleasantries. They’ll announce their departure, and no foolin’ around…they hit the pavement.

That’s okay, though; it gives the immediate family a chance to settle down back on the beat-up furniture and talk about friends and future plans. That quiet, sit-around-and-talk time is one of the things we do best as a family.

It’s been a great holiday so far. Several of our daughter’s hometown friends, also home from college, came over and spent a lot of time with us on Wednesday. It’s the kind of happy holiday reunion I have been hoping for since they took off for different schools. We had seen the girls recently during a football trip to Baton Rouge, but having them in the house takes things to a different level. I hope everybody comes back for leftovers.

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