Last week, I attended our Thanksgiving luncheon at work, despite my reservations about how it would go with me being a vegan. Last year, I chose to take the coward’s way out by staying away. This wasn’t so difficult, as I was still new, wasn’t yet in management and had duties that left me working by myself most of the time. This year was a bit different since my role has changed so drastically. Accordingly, I thought it advisable for me to show up.
I brought my own food, with the idea that how much of it I would use would depend on whether there was anything else available that I could eat. Good thing I did. I had the idea that there might be salad or plain vegetables, but the only thing for me turned out to be a dinner roll.
As I sat down at a crowded table and spooned out my broccoli onto a plate, I felt a little like I did back in junior high and high school, taking out my yarmulke to eat my lunch in the cafeteria. It’s strange how, at my age, such things come back to me.
One of my coworkers inquired about what Thanksgiving was like for me. “Do you have Tofurky?” she asked.
I patiently explained that, while some vegans go that route, we go out to dinner with family so that everyone can order what they want. I thought I was telling the truth, too.
Then, on Sunday, I called my parents to check in only to discover that plans had changed. Apparently, my sister, who drives just as far as we do to be with our parents, threw an unholy fit about how if she was coming all that way, at least she should be able to get a traditional turkey dinner at home. Mom caved in to her demands, as she always does. The fact that my wife and I have no interest in such a dinner was not even a factor.
In my mother’s favor, she did buy an eggplant to prepare for me. My wife, who does not enjoy turkey, is not pleased. My parents are “kosher at home,” meaning that we can’t even bring most of the foods that my wife enjoys. I am wondering whether we should just stay home and eat what we want.
To make matters worse, we are scheduled to do even more driving, from my parents’ house in the Central Valley to my sister’s house in the Bay Area, to celebrate my father’s birthday. Supposedly, this is so that my niece can join us and so that my parents can meet her boyfriend, with whom she is now living.
We have a history of really horrible Thanksgivings in my family, going back decades. Until I was ten years old, we spent most Thanksgivings with my paternal grandparents. For reasons too complex to get into here, my mother never got along with them. There were a lot of horrific fights over the years, with my sisters and me usually in the middle. We loved my grandparents, but felt guilty about doing so when my mother hated them. (Later, I learned that much of her animosity was warranted.) Between my parents’ screaming arguments and the ones they had with my grandparents, I was scared to death of marriage for years. It’s something of a miracle that I ended up with a truly wonderful mother-in-law. I feel badly that my wife got the raw end of the deal.
I related in this space last year how, the first time I brought my wife to my parents for Thanksgiving (we weren’t even married yet), my sister and my mother had it out in a screaming, cussing match worthy of a telenovela. I was embarrassed. She’ll never marry me now, I thought. I am very, very lucky and blessed that my wife doesn’t give up so easily.
So what will this Thanksgiving bring? I’m afraid to find out. While the idea of family getting together over good food is lovely, the fact is that most of us do not live up to the Norman Rockwell ideal. I believe it is important to recognize when a family is so deeply dysfunctional that it is really better if those involved do not gather in a single location. This is particularly true when Thanksgiving feels more like Festivus, with its “feats of strength” and “airing of grievances.”
What I do know is that, high on the list of the many things for which I am thankful will be the fact that my wife and I am able to support ourselves and don’t have to live with family. At least for now.