I wonder if it would be socially acceptable to dump my family and invite myself to eat the holiday feast with the Johnsons, total strangers who live down the block … because I don’t think I can take another year with my overzealous politically inclined relatives. And I predict this year will be a doozy!
Besides, I hear the Johnsons are politically apathetic. So what if the cooking is bland? I can picture my surrogate relations now: They’ll have mellow yellow candles glowing in each window. Zen music will be coming from everywhere in their home. Maybe all they’ll argue about over dinner is the wishbone.
In our family, Uncle Frank, the family’s gourmet chef, hands out meticulously printed menus to each of the 20 dinner guests seated at the long table. His recipes are so confidential, even the Secret Service can’t break the code.
At the last gathering, I knew trouble was a brewing when some of the giggling teens started to draw renderings of elephants and donkeys on the backs of the carte du jour.
Alcohol and appetizers were the precursor for the mix of high-strung personalities and a melding of different generations, as stirred up as the food we were about to receive: corn bisque with red bell pepper and rosemary, Brussels sprouts with pecans, baked spiced butternut squash drizzled with pure maple syrup, ensalada miste verde, and, of course, the main course, crispy roasted applejack tarragon turkey with mushroom bacon leek stuffing.
Ahh, a family with such political appetites, including the “I’m-gonna-save-the-world” United Nations human rights attorney nephew; his brother, the liberal elitist New York Times journalist; the protesting, but creative nieces and nephews in the music business; the high school sophomore who thought he could apply for his higher education at the Electoral College; the “what-am-I-gonna-do-now?” recent Ivy League college grad student; the pompous English professor; and the peacemaking surfer dude, who says, “You know, it doesn’t matter who’s in office, the cycle of political eras just go up and down … you gotta ride ’em out like a wave, man.”
Yes. Thanksgiving. Our annual gathering. Very entertaining for any fly on the wall when everyone attempts to skirt around the political issues at hand. I recall in the year 2000, we turned into the Hatfields and the McCoys. A good old-fashioned foot fight would have been more civilized between the staunch Republicans versus the resilient Democrats. The chit chat seems so harmless now, arguing over the pimpled and absentee ballots at the time rather than the Russians and nuclear weapons.
Then, the leftover hippie from the 1960s spoke up. “The last time I voted was in 1976 for Jimmy Carter.” Uh-oh. I knew that wouldn’t sit right with the rich Cuban-cigar smokin’ uncle. The food was passed around abruptly.
The wide-eyed “Why-is-the-sky-blue?” little ones watched the adults as if it was a tennis match. One of the youngest asked, “What is a gravy boat, anyway?”
“I don’t know, but it sure is starting to thicken!” someone said.
“Why are you all fighting?” Little Bobby asked.
“We’re not fighting, Bobby. We’re having a discussion. A debate, if you will.”
“Enough!” the hippie yelled.
Then, the main platter, the “head honcho” was placed in front of us all: The Big Orange Bird, and we broke into roaring laughter.
Outside the window I saw the American flag on the tall, white pole, and I waved back, gratefully, whispering under my breath, “Good luck, America.”
Janet Lee Berg, a resident of Charleston, worked as a journalist for Dan’s Papers of the Hamptons (and Manhattan) for 12 years. She is the author of “Rembrandt’s Shadow.”