By SEAN McCARRELL
(PILOT GROVE, Mo., digitalBURG) – As is tradition around the holidays, friends and family get together to share in the joyous occasion of awkwardly explaining the last year of their lives to one another in the most positive way possible.
The most fascinating aspect of this, other than finding out why cousin Michael really dropped out of his online bartender school, is seeing family from one part of the country, with its own customs and norms, acclimate itself to a different part of the country. Let the fun begin!
My extended family has its annual Thanksgiving one-upping contest/gossipfest, oops, I mean dinner, the weekend before the holiday. So for the last several years my family and I have spent Thanksgiving with our dear friends from Michigan. Robert and Elisabeth Hays, who have two grown children, swap years coming down to our quiet hometown in mid-Missouri, and this year it was their turn.
Elisabeth and my mother have been best friends since the early ‘80s when they lived in the same apartment complex in Southern California. Now, every other year, she and her husband, Robert, drive 13 hours from Grand Rapids, Mich., (population: 700,000) to Pilot Grove, Mo., (population: 763). Can you say culture shock?
Right off the bat, we know it’s going to be an experience for them when they step out of their Honda Accord, holding their shaggy-haired lap dog, Monty.
“Is it at all possible for me to take Monty out in the field to go potty?” Elisabeth asks.
Mind you, that “field” is our yard, and our dogs go “potty” wherever and whenever they want. They’ve never seen the inside of the house, nor a leash, nor an animal Monty’s size they didn’t chase into the woods with every intention of making a meal out of it.
“Yep, you don’t even have to take him,” my dad says with heavy irony. “Just let him go. He’ll find a place.”
“You mean he can go wherever? How do we bag it up?” Elisabeth replies, seeming out of sorts.
“We don’t,” Dad says with a chuckle. “This is the country. Your scoopers are no good here.”
Robert and Elisabeth have been to our house several times, but each time they seemed shocked that we don’t drink as much wine as they do.
“Would you like some more wine?” Robert asks dad and me, as we put down our Bud Light bottles long enough to say, “No thank you.”
Perhaps the biggest difference, however, is the food. Last year, they prepared a very nice Thanksgiving meal with turkey and all the trimmings, but the proportions were very modest. This year, between my mother and grandmother, there was more food than they knew what to do with.
“Do you make this much food every time, Mary?” Elisabeth asks my grandmother, who joined us on Thanksgiving Day.
“Oh yeah, I always want to make sure everyone has enough,” Grandma replies.
When I left home to come back to college after break, the fridge was still packed to the gills with turkey, stuffing, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cornbread and three different kinds of pie.
Our differences are what make our familial relationships special. We each learn from one another, and genuinely enjoy each other’s company and companionship. I look forward to each holiday we spend with them, and next year, I can’t wait to make the 13-hour journey up to Grand Rapids where there are no leftovers, and dogs need to be accompanied to the bathroom.