Saturday, November 24, 2007

Holidays from Hell

You must visit Julie's blog and read The Ghost of Thanksgivings Past and discover what holidays were like for us when we lived in California and went to Mama and Daddy's for Thanksgiving. You will quickly realize that it was not a Norman Rockwell painting. For one thing the visual is all wrong. Daddy was 20 years older than Mama, a short, skinny man with naturally black hair his entire life. Mama is still slender and would die before she let her hair go white; indeed she has no idea of how white it is because she hasn't let it get there. And the turkey didn't look like that! No, it was all dried out and falling apart.

In addition to the sarcasm and short temper and the overcooked food that tasted of cigarettes, there was one misery that stood out for me and made me want to spit nails. You have to understand that when I was growing up, if I was one minute (I am not exaggerating here, one, 1, a single, a unitary, one minute) late, I was in trouble. Usually Daddy took my library card away, but sometimes I also got grounded. So, I tended not to have much patience for people who were allowed to be late in his house.*

And Colleen was invariably late. Dinner would be scheduled for 2:00. Everyone else would be there by 1:10, since it is rude to arrive just in time to eat. At 2:00, Colleen would be nowhere to be seen. At 2:15 Daddy would start to carp and complain and generally carry on and make everyone miserable. Talk about how inconsiderate she was, how she always expected the world to stop for her, how no one else counted in her universe. This would go on until she arrived, usually well after 4:30.

During this time I would suggest that we eat at 2. That if Colleen arrived and had to eat alone she wouldn't repeat the behavior the next holiday. And how would Mama and Daddy respond to this sensible suggestion? Why, they never responded at all. I could have not been in the room for all the notice they gave me. One year I had mentioned this to Forrest's new wife a week or so before the holiday, and when it was happening she looked at me and said to Forrest, quite loudly, "Joy's right. They totally ignore her when she suggests that we not wait for Colleen." And they ignored her, too!

And when Colleen finally arrived, everyone would act like she was on time, we would gather to eat, and the parents would say not a word. If I said anything, she would look at me like I was crazy and give some excuse for why she couldn't get there on time and act like it was just this once, and Mama and Daddy would scold me for making a fuss. And I would quietly boil, having fantasies of butchering the three of them and dancing in their guts. How I managed to get through the holidays the first few years we were back from Fairbanks, I don't know. I was certainly reminded why I had left California in the first place and really regretted going back.

Finally, after the kids and I had been back in California about two years, and we had gone through this routine for Mother's Day, Father's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter twice, I had enough of it. Realizing that doing the same thing and expecting different results really is crazy, I changed my tactics. That Thanksgiving I called Mama a few days ahead and asked when dinner was going to be served. And she said, 2:00.

"Fine," I told her. "I've made reservations for 2:15 at Black Angus for my kids and me. If our butts aren't on your chairs by 2:10, we will go have dinner there. I am never waiting for Colleen to grace us with her presence again in my life."

About 45 minutes later I got a call from Colleen. "Joy, Mama just called me. She says Dad is tired of us kids being late for holiday dinners and he says that at 2:00 he is locking the door and if we get there late we can stand on the porch and watch everyone else eat. So, be sure you're there on time!"

There are three points about that.
1. Daddy was so generally unreasonable and demanding that of course Colleen would believe Mama when she cast him as the villain.
2. Colleen never was late for a meal in that house again.
3. While I had thrown Colleen to the wolves, she called to save my bacon.

*Except Aunt Flo, who is always late, one couldn't be upset about that and besides, she would never be late to a meal because she would be there early to help.

Norman Rockwell, Thanksgiving


lilalia said...

The Colleens-of-the-world are very difficult to negotiate with, aren't they? My Colleen comes in three hours late for a date, ticky-tacking on her high heel shoes, somewhat out of breath for rushing the last 10 yards before the door, and says something like, "Sorry, I missed the bus". THE, as in singular, bus. A bus that runs every ten minutes, which leaves the other two hours and fifty minutes of her lateness unexplained.

I've taken to making arrangements that have nothing to do with time, food, or a particular event. For example, I tell her to pick me up and we will go out to lunch on Wednesday. So I am at home, doing what I like to do, and if she hasn't picked me up by two o'clock, I make myself a nice bowl of soup.

If she then shows up at four, we go out and I just drink a cup of tea while she eats and tells me all about the dramas in her life.

I've given up trying to understand their psychic. They take up too much space in my mind through all of their behaviour.

It was nice that your Colleen told you about your father's apparent decision, but from my point of view, she is silly not to realise everyone is pulling the wool over her eyes: you, your mother, and your father.

Maya's Granny said...

Actually, Daddy never knew anything about it. And, since Colleen was always late, she had no idea that no one else ever was.

J at said...

I don't even really remember her being late, perhaps because after those first 2 years, the problem went away, and for so many other years, she wasn't late. I do remember how miserable Grandpa could make everyone when he carped on and on about something, though.

The food would have been better at Black Angus. Do you think we could have snuck some fruit salad in our pockets on our way out the door? ;)

You were pretty smart to come up with a solution, I think. She could afford to be generous, because YOU weren't part of the problem. There was no way for you to solve it without throwing her to the wolves. Now, if only Aunt Flo had been the only one cooking, even Aunt Colleen would have been early!

Joy Des Jardins said...

We all have a Colleen somewhere in our family J. They do tend to create 'Holidays from Hell.' Thank God you managed to have a most beautiful sense of humor and a very sage attitude about it all.

joared said...

Just goes to show family holidays conjure up different kinds of memories for different folks. Interesting how people can make life so miserable for one another. I would have been tempted to tell your Dad, "Don't get your knickers in a knot." However, if punctuality in this situation was critical, then seems the guests should have respected that fact. Personally, I liked your solution. Too bad nobody listened.