It was not Norman Rockwell, that's for sure. It was more like Repressed Scandinavian Americans Meet for Processed Turkey Food in Senior Quarters And Pretend it's Something Special. Okay, that's not true. I didn't pretend. I didn't even pretend to pretend.
I was not excited. I baked a couple of butternut squash for the feast, probably the most organic thing that appeared on the table, but I knew it would not be received with more than the usual pleasantries. I stalled leaving; I had nothing to wear (which is basically true), my greasy hair looked like shit, the kids weren't ready (again, basically true), and the beers I'd left out on the step were frozen. And it was cold and windy; basically the moment we left the house, no matter how the fire was stoked, it would start losing heat and be cold when we came back in the dark. And that's another thing in itself, the dark.
But we went because we had to. Grandma told us 12:30, and when we got there at 12:57 it was "Everybody to the table!" As soon as I walked in, I felt a void. I had to spend a few minutes composing myself in the bathroom before I could face anyone. The rote blessing was said: "Come Lord Jesus be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed." Usually my brother, a much more devout Lutheran than I, will add a little something personal. On this day there was nothing.
I was not a nice person. All I wanted to do was to sit in the La-Z-Boy, the chair that had been my grandpa's favorite chair. I was always more attracted to my grandpa than my grandma, but he died thirteen years ago. I still watch Lawrence Welk every Saturday night because that was his favorite show.
It took me until we had left, until we were out of the small town where I had spent numerous nights as a child, out of that terribly sterile senior apartment, that I figured out what was wrong, why I was so hopelessly out of sorts.
I missed my mom.
This was the first holiday without her. She died one month ago. Everybody pretended to be okay, but everybody was aching inside. I finally let it go, in the car on the way home in the dark. I missed her, and I don't know how I can ever go to one of these obligatory family functions again without her.
You know, sometimes I just don't want to leave my house here and the seat by the warm fire, with chickadees flitting about the bird feeder. They seem to know how to live.