Thanksgiving with my wife’s extended family was a tradition already, though we’d been married only five years or so. It was hard for my folks to rationalize having the holiday with us when attendance rarely reached double digits at my mother’s house. We ate dinner with the Holland side of the family on Black Friday and split the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
I couldn’t have felt better about the way things were turning out. My wife, Kathy, was among the first in her generation to marry and have children, but the others followed shortly behind her. The Thanksgiving gathering was full of newlyweds and newborns, so the focus was no longer on my wife and I, or our growing family. As far as we were concerned, that was just fine. Content just to supervise our daughter, Lucy, in the basement, I anticipated another delicious meal as the smell of roasted turkey wafted down the stairs.
The basement was dominated by a full-sized pool table, nicely balanced and lighted. Lacking in any appreciable skill, Lucy would spend a fair amount of time just rolling the balls across the felt, watching them carom off the bumpers. I hoped they would announce dinner fairly soon, as when Lucy got bored, she would want to play a real game of pool. Though I was thirty years older than she, I wasn’t particularly good at the game either and it could be tedious trying to throw a game to a child who never sank any shots.
My brother-in-law came down the stairs in the nick of time, getting ready to tell me the potatoes were being mashed, so it was time to grab your Chinet platter and queue up for the buffet. But the words never got out of his mouth.
“Wanna play pool?” my sweet-faced pre-schooler asked her uncle.
“No, not now. We’re just about…”
“Come on,” interrupted Lucy. “Don’t be such a pussy.”
Until I saw my brother-in-law’s face at that moment, I wasn’t aware eyebrows could go that high. I, on the other hand, needed to rig a strap to my jaw to wench it up off of the floor. Lucy’s loving and patient uncle just turned around and headed back up the stairs, sparing me the need to explain.
Of course, there was only one explanation. I wasn’t going to ask her, “Where did you hear that kind of language?” I knew it was me, she even said it the same way I did, though (of course) I hadn’t known I was being overheard.
Before we went upstairs, I sat her down and told her that the words she had overheard me using, and had herself used perfectly in context, were unpleasant words that bothered some people. I asked her not to use them again, while prefacing she had done nothing wrong, that it was my fault she had heard those words in the first place. When I asked her if she understood me, she responded, “Okay, okay. You don’t have to get pissed off about it.” I realized then that a lot of Benedryl would become part of her night-time rituals.
We proceeded up the stairs and made generous plates of food, supervising the feeding of our daughter as well as a five month old son. When we had finished eating and the children returned to their play, my wife had betrayed no sense that she knew what had happened downstairs. Because Kathy is very close to her younger brother, I figured I’d better get in front of the problem, so I made a clean breast of it, spilling the whole story. “Are you mad?”
“A little,” she answered. Before I could apologize, she continued, “I mean, Lucy’s only four years old. He could have beaten her in five minutes. He was being a pussy.” That’s my wife, the one who keeps her head when those all around her have lost theirs.
As Thanksgiving rolls around again, we will again sup with my wife’s extended family. There are few children and fewer babies, so most of us content ourselves with supervising fat grams and carbohydrates instead of our offspring. My brother-in-law visited us this summer and will be unable to make it for Thanksgiving, so we won’t be able to re-hash the events of that holiday so many years ago. And for this, I am thankful.