Sunday, October 29, 2006

It's Open Season on the Holidays!

October is nearly over.

It's nearly time for my annual abject October depression to fade. I get horribly melancholy in October because I'm living in Florida, and I get dreadfully homesick for the old Rhode Island stomping grounds (sometimes we walk, sometimes we run, sometimes we stomp because we're just in that kind of mood) and a genuine New England autumn. There's simply nothing like it; the scintillating colors of the turning leaves that can be so vivid, you feel like it will burn your eyes with their "flames" licking about in the wind. No camera can do it justice. Then, there's the crispness of the air getting colder, sometimes even bringing a frost at night; it's so crisp that it will snap your senses awake, making everything that much more intense. And the smell.... of the leaves, rain, wood smoke drifting around as fireplaces are put into use; to me, it feels like the first real air that I've breathed in months. It compels you to inhale it deeply, and though everything is gradually turning brown, it's some of the freshest air there is.

The depression just had a major relapse. Why, oh why do I torture myself so?

There's no autumn here, and I don't care what anyone says. This includes my wife, who is one of approximately three people who were actually born here. Having lived here all her life, she has no idea what four real seasons are like. "We have them, they're just more subtle here!!" she tells me. Balderdash! It's summer here practically all year! There's positively nothing that can be done here to replace the feeling of a New England autumn. The same goes for the rest of the holidays in the "Holiday Season". Heavy on the quotation marks, as it's anybody's guess as to when what holiday's season actually IS. If you follow the "logic" of retail stores, the Christmas season begins somewhere about two weeks before Labor Day.

Thanksgiving is fairly nebulous; it just isn't as significant to me as others. Maybe it's the detritus left from the large family gatherings on Thanksgiving when I was a kid. Plenty of servings of turkey, dressing, lima beans, guilt and mental cruelty. Somehow, I got the filthy memory-sludge off of the rest of the holidays, but for some reason, Thanksgiving still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up (Note to self: Have back of neck waxed). Maybe it was the hypocrisy at the time; there we were, gathered around the tables (Man, I should never have left the "children's table", it was the only place where any fun occurred. I think my cousin is still coughing out black olives every time he drinks a glass of milk), and saying all the words and going through all the motions of being Thankful. Yet, the taste of dysfunctionality was so thick in the air, no amount of parsley, sage, or rosemary at the time could overcome it.

Don't misunderstand me; a LOT has changed, and gatherings of my family aren't like that at all now. Mind you, it wasn't easy undoing generations of skillfully not communicating, of lavishing non-attention on one another, and the garish masks and gesticulations that were supposed to mean that we were a family. You think A.R. Gurney makes up all the stuff he puts in his plays? Think again! I swear, he's writing about us. However, once my siblings & I grew into adulthood and scattered to the four winds, we began to question why the hell it was like that? We came to the conclusion that it was all a bunch of dragon fewmets. There's no good reason to believe in dragons, nor that they therefore leaves fewmets lying around. Similarly, there was no sensible rationale proving that there was a good reason to continue the family "traditions". Over time, we started from scratch and made a family, a real family, where one hadn't existed, time out of mind. We took the "unwritten family rules" out back, ripped them up, spat on them, burned them, and then buried the ashes just for emphasis. There's a rumor that some urination was involved, but I will not comment.** They had become un-unwritten, as my therapist from eons ago had me write them out; the rest of my immediate family was astounded at the list because it was so very accurate. Thus was the tide turned, and a lot of fetid, toxic sewage got swept out to sea, until it washed up on the shores of New Jersey, where nobody even noticed. Sure, we had to kill some of the extended family, exile a couple of others, and not leave forwarding addresses for one, but in retrospect, honestly, they had it coming. Hey, they had their chance:

"Do you renounce the family BS and all its ways, and will you sign this oath to become an honest and compassionate person instead?"
"I'm very disappointed in you and your behavior. Maybe if your father hadn't married so far beneath his station-"

What have we learned from all of this? That some family "traditions" not only should not be carried on, they should be introduced to some of the cherished traditions handed down from the Spanish Inquisition.

Start all over again! Make up new traditions. I know, that's a contradiction in terms.... but it beats trying to pretend that the sweet potato dish with the burnt marshmallows on top that one relative kept bringing that was mmm-mmm good. No, no.... it was so awful, the fact that Tang was one of its ingredients was actually one of its best features, .

So, this Thanksgiving, give your first thoughts and prayers to the billions of people who are less fortunate than you are. Not out of obligation because "that's what you do at Thanksgiving", but because you have some compassion. Consider doing something, however small, to make a difference. However small it may be, and even if nobody else but you knows about it, it matters. It truly does matter.

Then, take a gander around the table. Be genuinely thankful for the people who make a big difference for the better in your life. But, if there's anyone there ruining it, or that you just can't get yourself to be Thankful for on Thanksgiving because they're the same rotten way the rest of the year? Politely, but firmly banish them from the table (What did God make basements for, after all? Which is another thing wrong with this place, there aren't any basements!)(But I digress), and enjoy the meal peaceably. No false fronts, and let's not be so formal that we pretend that stealth-flipping peas at one another with a spoon isn't as damn funny as it really is.

Laughter, genuine smiles, and warmth; those are things that are worth giving thanks for, and making memories of. Really, we should keep Aunt Betsy from drinking too much wine; a mere one glass is all it takes to get her to maniacally giggle every time someone mentions the word "giblets". Nonetheless, tradition demands that we give her the second glass; her resultant "Dance of the Razzleberry Dressing" is an hilarity that makes us all feel like it's a real celebration. And it reminds us of one more, small thing to be thankful for:

Video cameras.

**Absolutely needless footnote that could ruin the warmth of this whole story, so read it at your discretion:

A friendly reminder: It's not a good idea to urinate on something burning, no matter how appropriate it is symbolically; the resultant smell is even worse than that of the accursed sweet potato dish with the burnt marshmallows on top. The hint of scorched, deep-fried Tang that will haunt you for the rest of your days.

If you just read that and it ruined the ambiance of the story, don't blame me! I warned you, after all; be Thankful for it!

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