Guess Whos Not Coming To Dinner? A Harried Look at Holidays and Relatives
by Marjorie Dorfman
Do you believe it's almost that time of year again? Just when you thought you forgot about all that special tension and stress the holidays can bring, there they are, right smack in your face. Read on for one way to cope with them, albeit with a laugh or two in the process.
Within the blink of an eye, Thanksgiving and Christmas, better known as "the holidays" will soon be upon us. Now they lurk behind all those dusty corners and that box of Christmas ornaments that comes closer and closer to the light from its home in the back closet with every passing day. Yes, my friends, its almost that time of year again and its only because almost a year has elapsed since "they" have come and gone that the insanity of those intense moments has faded from our memories. But the madness will return, not as General MacArthur did to the Philippines, but rather as an ocean wave and the natural course of all things onshore.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Quansa, a combination of all three, none of these three or something else entirely, the holidays all spell relatives, cooking, turkey, good china, cleaning the house, no peace for the weary and many, many visits from those who come to call. I have often heard it said that Thanksgiving and Christmas are terrible times to be alone and that more suicides occur at this time of year than at any other. I know that sometimes I would be grateful for such a favor. (Not suicide. Being alone!)
Thanksgiving encompasses all backgrounds and traditions and it is the one holiday that the great majority of Americans celebrate in almost the same way. There is always a turkey with trimmings and there are always relatives and friends eating it and, hopefully, lots of good cheer to surround the occasion. One Thanksgiving about fifteen years ago stands out in my mind that was like no other in the history of my family. (Id say this might have happened in Russia where they came from, but they dont have Thanksgiving in Russia, do they?). We were a family of four and my mother was doing most of the cooking. I had invited a friend, my sister had invited a friend, my mother had invited one of her sisters and my father had asked a lonely colleague to join us in our feast of the thankful. What resulted was a comedy of errors that not even the Marx brothers could have duplicated.
The table sat six and so we started out being two chairs short. We kept some folding chairs in our attic and I brought two of them downstairs so that we would be prepared. The turkey weighed about 15 pounds and all of the trappings were plentiful as well; yams with marshmallows and stuffing with chestnuts, just to mention a mouth-watering few selections. The day had arrived and the turkey was already in the oven when the first call came. It was for my mother. Her sister, Betty, who lived in another state, was having trouble with the car. She would be detained for an hour or so. It was barely 10 AM. Dinner was at 5. She had all day to make a two-hour drive. That seemed okay, even on the busiest travel day of the year.
About 11 AM my friend Cindy called and said that her husband from whom she had recently separated had at the last minute invited her to his parents house for a reconciliation and did I please understand why she couldnt come to dinner at our house? The course of true love, especially hers, rarely ran smooth and I could not stand in her way. I was happy for her. Sort of. Her husband was a creep, the kind of guy that made me grateful that I was single. I dont know why she found him so attractive on this day just because it was a holiday. Oh, well, Cest la vie. Anyway, I returned one of the folding chairs to the attic and went into the kitchen to help my very busy mother and sister.
My father was a dedicated physician who had the good sense to stay out of the kitchen. He could not cook, his only interest in food was to eat it and the entire matter had nothing to do with medicine, which was the only topic that really interested him anyway. He was on the phone most of the morning until about 11:30 when he entered the sacred cooking place and asked my mother two fatal questions. Whats for lunch? was the first and the second was: Is it all right if Dr. Davis, who just lost his wife six months ago brings a new er person er lady er friend with him to our joyous gala scheduled for 5 PM? My mother made a face and I rushed up to the third floor and brought down that chair again. I couldnt tell you what my father ate for lunch, but it was more than likely some sort of knuckle sandwich.
At about noon we got another call. Aunt Betty was on her way but there was just one little thing. Her friend Wilma had called her just before she left. Her husband had just died and she had no children. She was all alone today. Could she bring her along? Did one more person really make a difference? Well, maybe not to Aunt Betty or her lonely friend, but can you guess for me what that meant? Yep. One more chair and one more trip to the attic.
I forget how many we were at this point, but I do remember that soon after this my mother made some extra stuffing and sent me out to the grocery for more marshmallows. At about 2:30 my friend Cindy called again, hysterical. Her soon to be ex-husband and she had a fight enroute to his parents house and the lovely gentleman had left her stranded on the highway with her high heels, costume jewelry and overnight bag. Not only did she want to come to dinner, which meant another trip you know where to get you know what, but she also needed me to come and pick her up! She was twenty miles away. I agreed, even though I was concerned. After all, who would be in charge of the chairs in my absence?
When Cindy and I returned it was almost 4 PM and my sisters friend, Wanda had arrived an hour early. (She believed in allowing plenty of time to be punctual, even though she only lived up the street.). But she was there which meant the chairs would stay the way they were, or at least for the moment, or at least so I hoped.
Dr. Davis and his er friend, Chlorese, came. I felt so bad for the woman because not only did she have a name like a noxious household product, but she also couldnt afford a dress to cover most of her vital parts. It was women like her that gave iridescence a bad name, but she was polite enough, calling me alternately Mamie, Marnie, Madge and Margot each time she referred to me in conversation. She kept wondering why I didnt respond. Maybe its because my name is Marjorie.
Aunt Betty and Wilma were the last to arrive at about 4:30, making our entourage complete. I felt at this point that I could relax because not only had everyone who was invited finally arrived, but we also didnt have any more chairs. My sense of victory was dubious. The excitement was gone and most of the tension as everyone sat down to eat a wonderful meal. When everyone went home and we were cleaning up, I remember thinking that both the best and the worst was over. But I was wrong. After all, Christmas is just around the corner.
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