Inviting Fear

thanksgiving thoughts

I host Thanksgiving dinner; a tradition passed down to the eldest daughter with a corkscrew and prayer from generations of female masochists.  My theory, somewhere between Ireland and the new world, my great-great grandmother made a deal with God: “Get me there safe and our family will always welcome travelers into our home.”  

Damn scurvy fatigue– couple oranges in her diet and I wouldn’t be polishing silver for twelve.

mag coffee

Preparation angst aside, this is my favorite holiday. No gifts, no decorating and no Merry/Happy political correctness to stumble over at office parties. We laugh, eat, and drink enough to unearth more than anyone wanted to know about Cousin Ernie’s Tinder profile. We embrace the crazy that is us – that is family.

Guests come and go, faces change with the years, but as long as new arrivals bring wine and Charades skills, the door remains open. All are welcome!

Well, that’s not completely true; there is one awful fellow, a real glad-tidings sucker. He barged through my front door in 2001 without a single yam and refused to leave. His name, Fear – and he demands to be fed.

Fear isn’t a new face at the table; he’s intruded on family gatherings in a variety of disguises since Cro-Magnon forgot cranberry sauce. In the 1940s, he sat back and laughed in his German liveries, passing the gravy to newly enlisted cousins as their mothers wept. The uniform evolved, but his ultimatum remained; feed me.

A Nonna-class pot stirrer, Fear identifies relatives susceptible to travel anxiety and zeros in before the turnips cool. Nothing fortifies his appetite more than Aunt Marge peeking at her phone for the latest threat level at West Palm International.

Still ravenous after the main course, Fear saves his big binge for dessert – politics. During election years, his outspoken girlfriend, Ignorance, tags along. Although she typically only mouths off before coffee is served and sobriety restored.

Turns out, Ignorance isn’t bliss. She’s a boozy, internet nourished ‘expert’ on the Syrian refugee crisis. Now a good host can mitigate this problem two ways; control a spirited and respectful debate, or, the more popular option, let Grandma rip off her conservative cardigan and launch the knitting needles. Results vary; in my house – run, Iggy, run!

By no means is Fear alone the root of holiday tension. If that were the case, the mental health industry would collapse tomorrow.  However it’s time we recognize him for who he is – family, the ugly cousin no one admits lurks behind their hostilities.

Gun control, religion, welfare, public policy, you name it – families argue about it. And why? Because family is safe, family is comfort and above all family is forgiveness. Have your rant, have a second helping of Aunt Ethel’s rutabaga torte; you’re still on the Christmas list, but save a morsel of tolerance for dissenting opinions, you never truly understand the source of someone else’s passion.

And when things get heated, as they often do, and Uncle Joe takes a solitary walk to burn off some mad with the extra stuffing, remember it’s not the first time he’s left family behind. He did it in Vietnam – and Fear, was there.