Thursday, November 25, 1999

Giving thanks for a family not in crisis




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Thankful? I'll tell you why I'm thankful. I'm grateful my parents were careful not to let me or my brothers know how really weird our family is. I think about this every holiday, but most especially on Thanksgiving Day when I am not distracted by shopping or colored eggs or trying to decide whether it is politically incorrect to celebrate at all.

        Here's the truth. Our family is functional. Plus we love each other. We do. There is something desperately wrong with us. We are completely out of step with modern life.

All My (hateful) Children
        There is no support group for people like us — unless you count the one we were born with. There is certainly very little media coverage of us. Every time Hollywood makes a movie about a family at the holidays, it shows people who hate each other.

        This is in addition to the soap operas where people hate each other but sleep together anyway, then marry each other during sweeps week. Therefore everybody is related to everybody else. For instance, All My Children'sErica Kane has been married nine times. Lots of former lovers and half-brothers and half-sisters and mystery cousins and uncle-daddies.

        But nobody likes anybody.

        Marriott Hotels is running a national advertising campaign: “For $49 to $64, we'll give you something for the holidays even your own relatives don't know you want. A night without them.” The accompanying photo shows two old men arguing, an old lady with the vapors and another one shaking her fist at the camera.

        They hate each other.

        Ally McBeal hosted Thanksgiving dinner on Fox television. It was your basic, typical, TV celebration. That is, it was revealed that Ally's mother never liked her daughter because Ally got all the attention from Mr. McBeal who has been trolling bars picking up women. Including, of course, one of Ally's best friends, who was at the table. Along with her husband, who is Ally's former lover.

        Did I mention that they all hate each other?

Bumps in the road
        This is not to say that my own, personal family has not hit some bumps in the road. For instance, for having had only two brothers, I have enjoyed an enormous wealth of sisters-in-law. Whatever differences caused their marital rifts, they did not bring them to the holiday table, and we did not sort out our problems on Jerry Springer's show.

        As I say, there is something dreadfully wrong with us. I guess we are just hypocrites. Naive. Incurably small-town.

        My mom's neighbors, Wayne and Bill, have been together as a couple for years. Their house is always filled with laughter, and during the summers it spills out onto the picnic table on their lawn. So, if they are part of the real-life America, that is, bitter and hateful, I think we would know it by now. They appear to genuinely love each other.

        Maybe it is something in the water.

        Anyway, today I will not shout at anybody. Nobody will leave the table in tears. Unless the Szechwan green beans are too Szechwan.

        We will eat a turkey my mother cooked. She will worry, as usual, that “it's a little dry this year.” My sister-in-law will take pictures of us with our mouths full and eyes closed, bad photos in the tradition of our father, who is no longer here to do the honors.

        One of my brothers will toast Dad's memory. We loved him until the day he died. Still do.

        One of our kids will spill something. Nobody will mind. My nephew will ask if he can have wine. He can't. Everybody will swear they can't eat another bite. Then they will have pumpkin pie. My son-in-law will insist on doing the dishes. We will let him.

        My husband will empty the garbage. My daughter will retrieve it, looking for the missing salad fork. We will watch football games. Or more accurately, snooze through football games.

        And I am so naive that I suspect that there are lots of other families doing the same thing.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at laurapulfer@enquirer.com. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears on WVXU radio, NPR's Morning Edition and Insight's Northern Kentucky Magazine.