Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What I learned this Thanksgiving

Over the last week, Annie and I traveled hundreds of miles to celebrate the holiday of food, football, and family multiple times over.

As we gorged ourselves again and again with turkey, cranberries, potatoes, and stuffing, I took some time to reflect on the season and observe some peculiarities of this national holiday. 

When it hurts, stop eating

Our Cajun masterpiece
At every meal, I thoroughly enjoyed the food that was prepared. At Annie's mothers house, we started the meal with a delicious crab bisque. At my Aunt's, we had an apple stuffing that was out of this world. At our own apartment, Annie and I made a Cajun spiced turkey that was a huge success at our “Friendsgiving”. I had corn casserole and potatoes of every make, model, and variety. I drank champagne, mulled wine, and an amazing elderberry wine that is made near my hometown. Every place we went, they pulled out all the stops to offer the most impressive cornucopia of Thanksgiving splendor.

I tried everything. I ate more in the past week than I'd eaten the entire month prior. I shoveled in carbs like a Labrador, not realizing I was full until pangs of pain radiated through my stomach, into my chest and up through my arm. It wasn't a heart attack. It was a stomach attack.

This is where the Taoist's have it figured out. The Tao Te Ching explains a principle known as the middle way, which has a very practical application here. 

I enjoyed the food immensely. But, just as I experienced extreme pleasure by overeating, I also multiplied the discomfort that came later. If I'd practiced moderation from the beginning, my initial joy may not have been as extreme, but neither would my anguish. Everything is good in moderation. Well, maybe not everything – Meth, for example. And terrorists. But most everything else.

Even the most well trained dogs don't do what they're told every time

Annie's parents have a German Shepherd named Stella. She is incredibly well trained and mild mannered, even when the excitement of a family gathering is afoot.

Annie and I have Ellie, a Basset Hound who knows how to do the basic commands...when she feels so inclined. But in front of Annie's family, many of whom think that Ellie is a trouble maker and spoiled, she is almost always obstinate. We try so hard to show them that Ellie is a good dog, capable of taking orders and being peaceful, but when this miniature hound gets in front of people, she goes from over-sized wiener dog to giant ham.

The instigator
On Thursday night, Annie's grandmother warmed up a bit of left over turkey for a late night snack. She took her plate of poultry to the living room, sitting it on the coffee table before turning to retrieve her brandy from the kitchen. With grandma less than two steps away from the meaty morsels, Ellie sprang into action. She revved her stumpy legs into a gallop and, in one fluid motion, slid her lower jaw across the plate, raking up half of grandma's turkey. As a fish slides down the gullet of a Pelican, that turkey vanished into her canine maw in one gulp.

I wish I could've reprimanded my pooch for the bird-napping, but I was rolling on the floor at that point. Grandma didn't think it was so funny.

People, like dogs, also fail to be on their best behavior. I am notorious for letting my Iowa charm get the best of me, especially when I'm supposed to be making a good example for Annie's family. Using a ham fisted fork to stab my meat like a Neanderthal, spilling my beverage all over the table linens, or chewing ostensibly loud, pausing only to add a cud filled remark into the conversation - these are but a few of the faux pas of which I've been guilty.

I try. I really do, but like any son-in-law, mishap finds its way to me, every time.

Root for your team, even if your in-laws are against them

I am not a huge football fan. It is my theory that in elementary school, you are either forced into a favorite team by your family, or you arbitrarily select a team based on a mascot, affinity towards a city, or a trading card you got from a box of Raisin Bran.

My team has always been the New England Patriots. Since I was in about second grade – before they achieved infamy as one of the most successful teams in the NFL – I've loved the Patriots. I do not know why exactly, but I think it may have been my love for American revolutionary history.

The Patriots played the Detroit Lions on Thursday. Most of the rest of the men in the house were anti-Patriots, on principle. We watched the game in gross fixation on the television, yelling out things that only some of us understood. I'd add in comments like

“Good yardage!”

“Come on! Break through that line!”

I'm not sure I knew specifically what I was talking about when I said those things, but it fit nicely with the general chatter of the room. The Patriots won the game, and in the end, I had the pride of knowing that not only did my team withstand the jeers of it's opponents, I too withstood the ribbing of my in-laws about my team selection. I may receive even more heckling in years to come, but at least I will stand by my team.

Family may not always be fun, but it's better to tolerate them than to not have them around at all

Sometimes family can be aggravating. Sometime you'd rather they never come back. Some are never satisfied, no matter the hospitality you lay out before them. Others cannot overcome a grudge that has been held for far too long. Others still spin such tales of self indulgent boastfulness that you'd like to slap them back to last Tuesday.

But in the end, it wouldn't be a holiday without them. You'd miss the whine of the irritating children. The passive aggressive comments of one who is never satisfied with your accomplishments or aspirations. The cousin who is always competing with you for superiority.

All of that filial drudgery is worth it, when you are allowed one moment of true joy. Like when you see your two month old niece for the first time – even though you and her mother, your sister, haven't seen each other in almost a year.

That is what Thanksgiving is all about.

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