In the US, Thanksgiving is the second of a sequence of four late season holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. It is a time for family to gather, and give thanks for all they have. Of the four holidays, Thanksgiving is the most inwardly seeking. It is the only time of the year set aside for people to focus on the things in life that mean the most to them. On the other hand, Halloween has transitioned from a day for remembering ancestors to a holiday for children with candy and costumes. Christmas, somewhat out of favor from a politically correct perspective, is a time of celebrating a gift bestowed to humanity by God in the form of his only son. But it has become excessively commercialized to the point where the real meaning is becoming lost. New Year’s Eve is a forward-looking holiday that focuses on the anticipation of the changes that a new year will bring; although, more often than not, that translates into a chance to partake of too much alcohol.
Norman Rockwell, in a painting entitled ‘Freedom From Want’, captured a family moment with everyone smiling around a dinner table while a kindly looking grandmother is proudly presenting a huge roasted turkey. It is one of those feel-good pieces of art that has become an iconic representation of what Thanksgiving is supposed to look like – a smiling family gathered together to enjoy a delicious feast.
While Thanksgiving remains the one holiday that remains closest to its roots, in terms of how it is celebrated; all too often, it is a time of family arguments and tension. It might be because too many people won’t look inward to find the things in their life for which they should be thankful. It might be because some people will always want more than they need, and are bitter about what they don’t have. Others are blind, and just don’t see what they have. Where the greatest gifts one has is friends and family, too many people think of material goods and wealth.
Paul didn’t particularly like Thanksgiving. In fact, he hated it; though it hadn’t always been that way.
There was a time, particularly when he was a kid, that it was one of his favorite holidays; ranking right up there with Christmas, Halloween, and his birthday. He really enjoyed the feast prepared by his mother, and had stuffed himself to the point where he thought he’d burst with just one more bite. It had been a rite of passage when the men had deemed that he was old enough to finally be allowed to join them in watching the game, rather than going to his bedroom for a nap. Of course, he — like most of the men — ended up taking naps in front of the television, dozing off while digesting their meals.
Then he had a daughter and his life took a turn for the worse. For the first few Thanksgivings after her birth, he stood at the head of the table, proudly carving the turkey. He’d been thankful for a wonderful wife, a pretty daughter, a good job, and a loving home. But his pretty little girl turned into a spoiled selfish little brat; and it was obvious by her actions that his wife had encouraged that metamorphosis. Holidays became more about placating Annie than about a celebration. The choice was simple: praise her, or put up with a tantrum. He didn’t praise her, but his wife ... well she thought Annie could do no wrong.
There hadn’t been a good holiday since Annie had turned five, and Thanksgiving had become a farce. That had been the time when he had stood at the head of the table ready to carve the turkey, wondering why his wife had turned her back to him. In the process of becoming the low man on the totem pole, his daughter turned into brat, his job into a refuge, and his home into a house. He found that he had little for which to be thankful.
Today, he was waiting patiently in the living room with keys in hand to drive the family over to his in-laws home for Thanksgiving dinner. His wife, Judy, was still in the bedroom doing that magic women do to make themselves look more attractive. His daughter, Annie, was in her room listening to music. They needed to leave soon in order to be in time for dinner.
He walked over to the front window of the house and looked outside sadly wishing it was a workday rather than a holiday. It was a nice bright day outside, although the air was frigidly cold. The weather should have helped stave off the depression that was slowly building with each passing minute, but it didn’t. They were going to be late and, somehow, he was going to get blamed for it.
His wife stepped out of the bedroom. Based on the results, it appeared that the time spent in the bedroom making herself pretty hadn’t been a waste of time. She was wearing a nice conservative dress that looked great on her. He was reminded once again why he fell in love with her whenever she dressed up like that. She was a great beauty, even at her age.
“You look good.”
“We’re going to be late. Aren’t you ready to go yet?” she said ignoring his compliment.
His shoulders sagged as he replied, “I’ve been ready for half an hour.”
He was wearing a plain white shirt, tie, dress pants, and a sports coat. He called it his ‘goin’ ta church’ outfit, despite the fact that he only wore it to work when there was an important meeting with clients. It was his newest outfit. Most of his clothes were a little threadbare.
“I’ll get Annie.”
“I’ll warm up the car,” he grunted.
He went out to the car carrying the pumpkin pie and the bottle of wine they were taking. He loaded them into the trunk before starting the engine to let the car warm up. The minutes ticked past, and no one came out of the house. He sat there waiting, impatiently drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. Five minutes went by. Then ten minutes. The car was nice and toasty by that time. Still no sign of the women.
Using his cell phone, he called his in-laws, and let them know they were going to be late. His father in-law wasn’t very warm over the phone. In fact, his voice was pretty frosty. That was unusual, and he wondered why. Normally, the two men got along great.
He was about to give up and go in the house to see what the problem was, when the front door finally opened. The two women came out. They were bundled up against the cold in long coats.
Once they were settled in the car, he asked, “What was the delay?”
Annie answered, “They showed my two favorite music videos back to back.”
“We’re going to be a half an hour late,” he said thinking the delay was more than what would be required to watch two music videos.
Annie said, “So?”
“It’s kind of rude,” he said pointedly.
“It’s not my fault,” Annie said defensively.
He would have corrected her, but his wife was giving him ‘that look’. He knew better and didn’t require the reminder from his wife to keep his mouth shut. One word and Annie would throw a tantrum right there on the front lawn. They’d never make it over to the in-laws for Thanksgiving dinner.
“Let’s go,” Judy said wanting to end the conversation before it escalated into an argument.
They were thirty minutes late arriving at Judy’s parent’s house. Upon arrival, the two women went into the house, while he was still getting the pie and bottle of wine out of the trunk. He trundled up to the front door and rang the bell. His hands were full holding the pie in one hand and the bottle of wine in the other. He wasn’t about to wrestle with the storm door and the regular door.
His father in-law opened the door saying, “You could have just come in ... Oh, you’ve got your hands full.”
“We brought some wine for dinner and a pie for dessert,” Paul said holding out the bottle of wine.
His father in-law, Bert, took the wine and backed out of the way so that Paul could enter the house. He looked down at the wine and said, “Hey ... this is supposed to be a good wine. At least, that’s what the reviews say.”
While entering the house, Paul said, “I picked it up at the wine store the other day. It was on sale. It was marked down just enough that I could justify buying it.”
“I’ve always wanted to try this one,” his father in-law said knowing that it usually cost about thirty-five dollars a bottle.
“I hope it lives up to its reputation,” Paul said.
Bert knew that Paul had purchased the wine. The two men shared an interest in sampling various presses of the grape. Paul always strove to get a high quality wine at a good price. Judy would have just purchased the cheapest and biggest jug wine in the store. In the past, she’d brought over wine in a box. Both men had just stared at her, incredulous. Annie must have thought the box wine was great otherwise she probably wouldn’t have drunk half of it. The two men chatted about a couple of wine reviews while delivering the pie to the kitchen.
They arrived in the kitchen just in time to hear Sue, Judy’s mother, say, “Do you think that’s appropriate attire for Thanksgiving?”
At first, Paul thought she was talking to him. Then he looked over at Annie and groaned out of embarrassment. She was wearing a skimpy halter top, and short shorts, with five inch heels. She looked like a low class stripper. It was definitely not an appropriate outfit for a family gathering.
Angry, Judy said, “Mother, why would you say such a nasty thing?”
“All I asked was if she thought it was appropriate attire for Thanksgiving.”
Annie exploded, “I don’t have to stay here if you’re going to insult me like that.”
“Annie,” Judy said in placating voice.
It had been a simple question, but Annie flounced out of the room acting like she had been a victim of a horrible verbal attack! The drama queen inside had been released, and was going for an Academy Award. She was muttering about stupid old hags, who wouldn’t recognize fashion if it bit them on the ass.
Judy followed after her calling, “Annie! She didn’t mean anything by her question. She doesn’t know how young women dress, today.”
Paul felt the acid churning in his stomach. Was it too much to ask for a family holiday without an Annie tantrum ruining it? Always he was left behind looking like an idiot.
Turning to his mother-in-law, Paul said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know she was dressed like some kind of stripper. I wouldn’t have brought her if I had known. She was definitely out of line with her comments about you.”
“Well, it’s too late to worry about it now. Dinner is almost ready.”
Paul put down the pie on the counter and asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“You could start putting the cold foods on the table,” Sue said patting him affectionately on his arm.
A lot of mothers she knew complained about their sons-in-law. Paul was a good one as far as she was concerned. He was always kind, he was always ready to help, he wasn’t abusive, he didn’t drink to excess, and he made a good living. He supported his family with a good income. He did everything one would want in a son-in-law.
It was a shame that Judy wasn’t nearly as good of a daughter as he was a son-in-law. She should have been the one helping to set the table. Instead, she was out chasing after Annie, trying to calm the girl down. She was trying to placate the wrong person. She should have been apologizing for Annie’s bad behavior.
Then there was Annie. It seemed wrong for a grandmother to dislike a grandchild so much, but Sue had little that was nice to say about the girl. Of course, she didn’t think there was a single grandmother in the world who appreciated being called an old hag by a granddaughter. If so, she hadn’t met any.
Paul shuttled back and forth from the kitchen several times, carrying various salads, cranberry sauce, and relishes. Sue had cooked up a storm and there were going to be leftovers galore. The table had been set up with the inserts that would extend it for more people, but there were only five places set.
Upon returning to the kitchen, he asked Sue, “What about Ben and his family? Aren’t they coming?”
“I’m afraid to ask why.”
“They didn’t want the kids to be around Annie,” Sue answered with her eyes misting somewhat.
She had spent a lifetime creating a close knit family. It had been a good family, but Annie had managed to rip it apart. That hurt. It also hurt that Judy encouraged Annie in doing it. It was a betrayal that Sue felt deeply.
“I don’t blame them,” Paul said.
Last Thanksgiving, Ben had caught Annie giving his two girls advice on how to use sex to climb the social ladder at school. Ben had been livid, and rightfully so. His daughters were twelve and fourteen. Annie was twenty-five.
Paul had been furious at Annie. Of course, Judy had defended Annie, stating that it was just a little tongue in cheek advice that the young girls should have known wasn’t serious. Annie just said that the girls should know the value of the area between their legs. Paul read her the riot act, but she just flounced away.
It had ended up being a huge family fight with everyone in the family involved. Ben took his family home, swearing that he’d never spend another holiday anywhere near Annie. Bert and Sue yelled at Judy. She had driven off with Annie in the family car. Paul had been left at the in-law’s house without a way to get home. He finally had to take a taxi home.
The fight continued when he reached home. He spent six months in the doghouse for having yelled at Annie rather than defending her as he was supposed to do. He saw nothing there worth defending. What Annie had done was wrong. Judy didn’t see it that way.
“When I invited you and Judy over I explicitly told her not to bring Annie. This morning she called to tell me that she was bringing Annie over, anyway,” Sue said.
“I didn’t know,” Paul said rubbing his forehead. He was getting a horrible headache. That was becoming a normal part of the holidays. “To be quite honest, I was surprised you invited us, after last year.”
“I didn’t think you knew that Annie wasn’t invited. When I told Ben she was coming, he canceled.”
“You should have told me. I wouldn’t have come. I’d have driven them to a restaurant instead of here. At least that way you would have had a nice holiday with Ben’s family.”
“I know you would have done the right thing.”
Bert stood looking out the front window towards the driveway with his hands on his hips and a frown upon his face. Finally, he snorted in disgust and said, “Another Thanksgiving ruined.”
Afraid to ask, Paul asked, “What now?”
“They drove off!”
“We’re putting the food on the table,” Paul said with his irritation leaking through into his voice.
“When has that meant anything to Annie?”
Paul said, “If Judy drives her home, she won’t be back in an hour. All the food will be cold.”
“We’re not waiting for them this year. We’ll start without them,” Bert said.
Last year, the Thanksgiving dinner had sat on the table getting cold. Bert had been furious that everyone left without eating, except for him, his wife, and Paul. He felt sorry for Paul. The food might have been good, but emotions were so high that no one was really tasting what they ate.
Sue came out of the kitchen wondering what had been keeping Bert. The turkey was ready to put on the platter, and that was normally his job. She looked from one man to the other. The expressions on their faces told the whole story.
“Let me guess: They’re gone,” Sue said.
“Yes,” Bert agreed.
Waving a hand as if to dismiss the problem, Sue said, “The turkey is ready. We’ll just enjoy a nice quiet Thanksgiving dinner together.”
“Should I leave?” Paul asked.
“You’re always welcome at our house,” Bert said patting him on the back.
It wasn’t long before the table was set, the turkey carved, and the plates loaded with food. The three sat at the table with food enough for eight waiting for Bert to begin the traditional prayer.
Bert looked down at the table and said, “Lord, we are thankful this day for our continued good health and the bounty which you have bestowed upon us. We are thankful for our friends and ... family. Amen.”
Paul had noticed the hesitation at family and knew what Bert had meant. He was thankful for most of his family, but not all. He understood. The fact was that Paul was thankful for most of his family, also, but not all.
Bert took a sip of the wine Paul had brought over. He smiled and said, “This is an excellent wine.”
Paul took a sip from his glass, and nodded his head appreciatively. It was a very good wine. “It lived up to its reputation.”
“This is good,” Sue said, tasting her glassful.
The three ate dinner discussing safe topics, such as politics, religion, and the state of the world. They avoided any and all mention of Annie. It didn’t matter that they all agreed on the subject of Annie, it was just a sore spot for them all. The dinner came to an end and everyone was feeling full.
Paul said, “Why don’t you two enjoy yourself in the living room? Sue spent all morning cooking up this feast. I’ll clear the table and take care of the dishes.”
Sue was about to insist that it wasn’t necessary, but a little shake of Bert’s head convinced her not to argue. Her brow wrinkled for a fleeting second and then she smiled at him.
“That would be nice of you.”
“My pleasure,” Paul said.
Paul took his time clearing the table and washing the dishes. It was a nice mindless job that left him free to think about things. He resolved that this was the last family gathering to which he was taking Annie. He knew full well that Judy wouldn’t go without Annie, and that he would be expected to stay at home with them. He was sure his parents would take him in without Annie and Judy.
Sue came in and took care of putting away the leftovers. He noticed that outside of a small plate of turkey slices and a bowl of stuffing, most of the leftovers were packaged in freezer bags and stored in the freezer. He knew that he wasn’t going to be given a plate of leftovers to take home for later. Sue was sending a message to Judy.
When the kitchen was clean, Sue put a hand on his arm and said, “Bert and I would like to talk to you a little bit.”
“I figured as much,” Paul said figuring that this was going to be his last visit with his in-laws.
Paul followed Sue to the living room. He was pretty sure that this was going to be a ‘thanks for being here, but this is the last time’ kind of speech. She gestured to a chair and he stood by it until she had taken a seat on the sofa next to Bert.
Shifting around uncomfortably, Bert said, “There’s no way to sugarcoat this, so I’m going to just say it. Annie and Judy are no longer welcome in our house.”
“I understand. I don’t blame you a bit,” Paul said.
Sue said, “You’re welcome to come by any time.”
Paul stared at Sue wide-eyed.
Bert said, “We’re serious. You ... are welcome here.”
“Thank you. It means a lot to me,” Paul said.
Sue said, “Today was kind of a test and Judy failed it. I told her not to bring Annie. When she said that she was bringing Annie despite my wishes, I told her not to come here. She said that she was coming, anyway. She didn’t want Annie’s feelings to be hurt.”
Bert said, “Annie is a bad seed, and Judy can’t see it.”
Paul said, “I know. I just don’t know what to do about it. I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried to discipline Annie, but Judy just goes around me. I’ve argued with Judy. She says all the right words, but then acts like she has always acted.”
Bert said, “It takes two parents to raise a kid, not one parent and an enabler. You’ve always been the parent, but that’s not enough. It’s obvious that Judy lets her get away with murder.”
“There are times, like today, that I’m really embarrassed by them. I don’t know what to do about it,” Paul said.
“We know you’ve tried. You’ve done the best you can,” Bert said. “There’s nothing you can do, now.”
Sue said, “I’ve tried to talk to Judy, but it’s like to talking to a wall. As far as she’s concerned, the sun rises and sets just for Annie.”
Sue glanced at Bert. It was one of those significant looks that suggested some more unpleasant business was about to be discussed. Bert nodded his head.
Sue said, “Have you thought about leaving Judy?”
“No. I take my wedding vows seriously,” Paul said. “It said in sickness and in health. I figure, Judy’s sick.”
Bert said, “Son, that’s a remarkable sentiment for today’s world, but I fear your loyalty is misplaced. She has violated her wedding vows.”
“What?” Paul asked wondering if Judy had an affair.
“She vowed to forsake all others. She’s broken that vow,” Sue said.
“She has forsaken all others, including you, for Annie. She doesn’t put you ahead of anyone. There’s no one else in the world to that woman, other than Annie.”
“That’s the sickness at work,” Paul explained.
“Son, it’s more than just a sickness. Annie is twenty-six years old. Judy is wrong in how she’s behaving. You’re the big loser, there,” Bert said.
Sue said, “I know this is going to embarrass you, but I know she has not been meeting her marital obligations.”
Paul colored. When Annie was thirteen she had come charging into the bedroom once, when he and Judy were working up to a little romance. After Annie threw a fit about how she was scarred for life, Judy cut off sex when Annie was in the house. Even when Annie wasn’t in the house, Judy refused out of fear that Annie would come home. There had been more than a few fights over that.
“You don’t have to live like that,” Bert said.
Sue said, “I know it isn’t right for a mother to tell her daughter’s husband that he should divorce his wife, but you should leave her.”
Paul said, “She’s sick.”
“She isn’t going to get any better until she’s realizes that she’s going to lose you if she doesn’t get her act together.”
“It’s called tough love.”
“I couldn’t do that to her,” Paul said.
Bert and Sue exchanged looks that spoke volumes. His stance was bittersweet. On one hand, his loyalty to their daughter was everything a parent could want. On the other hand, Judy needed to have her comfy little world shaken up a bit.
“Son, you have to put Judy in a position where she has to make a choice: you or Annie.”
Paul said, “I know exactly what the answer would be. Her words would say me, but her actions would say Annie.”
Bert said, “Actions speak louder than words.”
“I’m afraid so,” Paul said.
Bert said, “Maybe it’s time you gave up on words and started acting.”
“I’ll think about it.”
Bert looked over at the clock and said, “The ballgame is about to start. Let’s watch it. We’ll have dessert later.”
“Sounds good to me,” Sue said.
Paul nodded his head while thinking that he should probably be calling a taxi for a ride home. Almost as if he was reading his mind, Bert said, “I’ll give you a ride home after the game.”
“Thanks,” Paul said. “I don’t want to put you out.”
He wasn’t going to mention that he had brought money to pay for a taxi this time. Last year he had to stop at an ATM to get the cash to pay for his ride home.
“It’s no problem at all,” Bert said while patting him on the shoulder.
He turned on the television, and a commercial came blasting out. He adjusted the volume down, knowing that he’d have to raise it once the game actually started. The local station was pretty bad about using a louder volume to broadcast commercials.
The game progressed. Bert was asleep within five minutes of the game starting. Sue nodded off a short time after that. Paul sat there not watching the game, but thinking about the state of his marriage. He’d never thought of his marriage in terms of Judy not keeping her marriage vows to him, but the fact of the matter was that his life with Judy was not a marriage.
Most of the time he blamed Annie for his problems. She demanded that all attention was fixated on her. There was no doubt in his mind that she had intentionally worn that outfit knowing it would create a scene. Showing up dressed like a stripper to a Thanksgiving dinner was definitely a show stopper. There’s no way that anyone could expect otherwise.
He had thought of his wife as a victim or suffering from some kind of mental illness. Somehow, it had progressed far beyond that point. Annie and Judy had a sick relationship in which each fed off the emotions of the other. Judy, despite her protests to the contrary, was happy with the way things were. The little tantrum over the clothes had given Judy a purpose, a reason to do something. If Annie wasn’t throwing a tantrum, Judy’s life would be boring. Annie was happy being the top dog in the house.
What was his role in all of this? He was the chump who was paying all the bills for the self indulgent life of his daughter. Was he a victim? Maybe he was, and maybe he wasn’t. He knew that he’d been acting like a victim.
The more he thought about it, the angrier he got.
Edited By TeNderLoin
Edited by Morgan