Thanksgiving began for me, as always, with watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade and Westminster Dog Show. Both of these things are a classic tradition in the Barksdale house, although the parade is usually accompanied by a wide variety of critiques, including but not limited to: capitalism, musical performances, narration, irrelevant family members, New York, network television, football, other people (not in our family), and Christianity. The Westminster dog show is a bit more critically tame. The comments stay more around the cuteness or beauty of the dogs, the way the handlers treat the dogs, the poise and gait of the dogs, and pretty much entirely the dogs themselves (My mom is a veterinarian).
This year, however, this section of pre-Thanksgiving was cut short by the arrival of the Farnsworths: my uncle and his girlfriend, and my cousin and her boyfriend. They did not call us about when they were showing up, thus they arrived entirely unannounced, catching us off guard. My mom’s side of the family does this and things like it, a lot. but, it was definitely good to have them over, as we were missing our two matriarchal seats at the table this year: my father’s mother broke her shoulder and could not attend as she usually does, and my mother’s mother had passed away this summer. There was an unspoken air of tamed grief in our family throughout the second half of this year, and surely that would remain for this holiday.
I must add that my brother and I were also very busy trying to hide our tattoos from the whole family. In memory of our late grandmother, we got tattooed in Portsmouth the day before Thanksgiving. Thus, we were sneaking around the house and especially the shower upstairs, to avoid anyone seeing our body art. My tattoo was on my back and his over his heart, so all we had to do was wear our shirts and we’d be fine. We wanted to show the family, but were cautious about it, because they’re our first tattoos, and our direct family’s first as well.
Now the first part of Thanksgiving at the Barksdales’ is that in a regular year, politics is casual talk; however, this year was different. This year, the Farnsworths voted for Trump. All of them. The very first conversation I had was with my uncle’s girlfriend, Cindy, who wanted to ask me questions about school, theatre, life, and then the supposed rudeness of the entire cast of Hamilton. Suddenly, there he is. My uncle chimes in with a “You know something?” and we were off to the races. The ensuing conversation made me entirely uncomfortable, greatly worried, and deeply saddened, but that is another blog post. This one is about Thanksgiving. So in short, my uncle and I didn’t see eye to eye, but I’d rather listen to him and still have him here than get too angry and stomp out of the room… so I bit my tongue and started drinking!
We soon started playing games, as we normally do on Thanksgiving. The first was Catchphrase, which is one of those electronic handheld games where you try to guess the holder’s word or phrase without them explicitly saying it. The drunker we got, the more fun it became. The second game was Guesstures, which is like high-stakes charades, with a time limit. Everyone assumed that I was going to be very good at it because “of course, he’s the actor.” As a matter of fact, I was not good at it. I was the worst there, and my pride was permanently damaged.
By now the appetizers had come out. Cornichons, an olive medley, shelled nuts, and a variety of delicious cheeses. When the food comes out, the group usually loses its edge, and starts to be a much more content and mellow group. We’re still a boisterous bunch, but at least now we can enjoy each others’ company fully. This was when my brother, who had been cooking all day with my dad, called me into the kitchen. We had planned to show the whole group our tattoos tonight. He had already shown his to my cousin, who confirmed that the family would appreciate it.
My brother and I walked back in, sat down, and played another round of Catchphrase. Before we moved on to another game, we both stood up and announced that we had done something in honor of our grandmother (carefully adding that we had paid for said something weeks ago in advance, in order to not worry our parents about funds). We unveiled the tattoos, and a marvelous thing happened. My uncle began to cry. My uncle never cries.
Light, gentle, loving praise filled the room. Genuine interest in the form of the tattoos themselves, as well as thanks for their motivation. Bringing honor to our uncle’s and mother’s family was what we held at heart, and it filled the room with love. Our family and theirs may have been political opposites, but for the rest of the night we were reunited as one.
The rest of the night went swimmingly, back to the jabs and wild stories, horrible jokes and fond reminiscence. The meal was served, and a grand meal it was. Turkey, bread stuffing, liver gravy, steamed broccoli and carrots, cranberry sauce, and two bottles of red and white wine. Afterwards, with a little downtime in between, the pies. Pecan, apple, and two pumpkin. There was light conversation and another game after that meal, but I was already half asleep, my gut practically hanging off of my body.
The Farnsworths eventually left, and the house was quiet again. My parents went to sleep, and my brother and I watched Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” on Netflix, before we too fell asleep.
Before leaving for Thanksgiving break, one of my friends said that there’s no holiday that’s as good as it was when you’re young, but this Thanksgiving I discovered something much better: realness. A “real” Thanksgiving, where all of our problems made us feel strong together, and where we as a family were one unit, who would do whatever it takes to protect and support each other. And hey, it sounds cheesy and maybe even ignorant, but that’s exactly what it is. I wouldn’t trade it in for anything else.