22 February 2010

Thanksgiving 1982 or "don't tell your mother!!"

Growing up, I had almost no interaction with my extended family. We lived way up in the Northwest Corner of the state of Minnesota, which doesn't really provide a welcoming environment for visitors, even in the more optimal times in the year to visit. My family, as both my mother and father grew up in the same town, is from Hope, Arkansas, a town that may ring familiar in your minds, as it's the home town of Former President Bill Clinton and Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (and ironically, my mom and Slick Willie were the same age, but didn't get a chance to interact, as hope was a segregated town, as most of the south was in the '50's and 60's). I would later in life find out that one of the reasons we lived as far away from the rest of our family was because it meant they were less likely to visit- and after dealing with them after my mother as well as my aunt's deaths, I know full well why we lived on a frozen tundra during my formative years...
...Anyway, you'll notice that above, it says almost, not absolutely none, which means that we did deal with them sometime. And that sometime was Thanksgiving. Every year, our family had two Thanksgiving dinners, one east of the Mississippi River, and one West. Since most of the family lived in varying places in the south, the east was never really convenient for most people, so approximately 75% of my extended family would invade my house, every year, for Thanksgiving. I can tell you, there were very few times during the year I dreaded more (on my mother's death bed, to try to make me smile, she reminded me how much I hated Thanksgiving, that I said I preferred going to the dentist than having the family show up....I'm sure it had to do with the way my parents brought me up, as opposed to how all of them were brought up. This may provide a snapshot into what made me the mass of insanity you see before you...my parents were always big fans of the idea and concept of discourse and making an argument (I'm sure that's how debate makes sense to me), and they believed I should be involved in all the decision making that involved me. This meant that, even as a young kid, my parents involved me in the decision making process- don't read this as I got to do whatever I wanted to do, I just got a say, but most of the time, it was literally that, just a say, with no true ability to affect change. For example, I always made an argument that we shouldn't have these people come into our house, as it was apparent that nobody really enjoyed having them over (which I never understood until my mom was dying, and she confessed that, in 1973, she told her mother she had no interest in going to Hope for Thanksgiving, and, in a moment of pure, maternal sarcasm, told her mother "everyone can come up to Minnesota every Thanksgiving- we'll be the family meeting place"- under the impression that nobody would ever come, they came like we built the Field of Dreams, and for the two days on both sides of Thanksgiving dinner, our house would be invaded by between 25-40 people, depending on who brought guests (as everyone was always welcome, but one of those punk bitches who was invited by a relative stole my wallet one year, my Walkman another year, so my trust was not as high as my mother and father)....
...Thanksgiving at my house for the young kids is like a special kick in the junk. First of all, you did not get access to the best of the food. There are things on the menu that never find their way to the Kids Table, and when they did, they tended to be late and cold, and for some reason, they though it was the vegetarian table, because they were always a little light on the meat. Couple this miserable eating experience with the way that all of my family treated me (like a kid, which, as i described earlier, is not exactly how my parents treated me, which meant that I had, for about 5 days a year, to get treated worse than my parents would treat me, and I just had to deal with it. I would walk around the house, at first in a funk, and over the course of time, get progressively angrier about the situation, so that by Thanksgiving dinner, the climax of the story if you will, I was always about to explode. I walk into the living room, and I see my pops, chillin'- and I mean cold chillin' on the couch, watching the Dallas Cowboys game.I just had to ask him- "How can you be so relaxed?!? Don't you just want them to leave? What did you do to be that relaxed?" with each question having more desperation than the next, to the point where the last question was almost entire exasperated. My pops just looks at me and says, "Ask me next year, and I'll tell you."
Whatever. Dad's always been a little weird, I'm sure it's all the drugs he talks about having taken in college. He doesn't speak much of those times, but every once in awhile, it will slip out that he enjoyed to have an adult beverage, or occasionally would smoke the "wacky weed", or something about "magic mushrooms" which I totally didn't understand. I thought nothing of this random statement, as my dad had spouted, in my life, literally thousands of random statements over the course of my life, and in retrospect, where I get my desire to tell random stories- I guess they were right, that you are the sum of your parents plus your experiences....
...Fast forward to Thanksgiving the next year, 1982. My extended family has been at the house for the past few days, and now all the meat and the stuffing is in the oven, the vegetables and yams are on the stove and the process of setting up the tables for the meal has begun, which for some reason when everyone in my family lost their minds. It's this point when I storm through the house, and I walk in the living room, and there's my dad, with a shit eating grin on his face, watching the Detroit Lions football game.
"All right, it's now next year. How do you deal with this?"
Dad looks me in the eye, and asks "Are you sure you want to know?"
"Yes, yes I do."
"Don't tell your mother."
This was going to be good. My parents were honest- almost to a fault, and never kept secrets from each other- except apparently the ones they kept each other through me. But, without question, every time either of my parents broke me off with the "Don't tell your mother/father," it was always something awesome, something I knew was a big deal. There's another story in which "don't tell your father" is at the core of the story, and I imagine I will tell that story at a later date.
I walk with my dad through the house to the room that has always been described as "the work den." Both my parents worked, and they needed a place in the house where they could always get work done without the distraction of having kids interrupt them. For years, I had always imagined what the den was like, and I'd always wanted to work in the Den. I imagined these huge leather office chairs next to a huge Mahogany desk, with my parents books overflowing on shelves on the book shelves that surrounded the room.I envisioned a really nice stereo system my dad would listen to the Spinners or the Commodores or Earth, Wind and Fire, as he did some writing or prepared a lecture, or where my mother would listen to religious sermons, because she always enjoyed to listen to the word of the Lord as she relaxed....all I can say is I would be shocked to see what the den actually looked like...
...what I walk into is nothing like I ever expected to see. No leather office chairs. No bookshelves. No Mahogany desk. What I did see still kind of amazes me when I think about it. The first thing I see is a television (why is there a TV in the study?)- not a small TV on top of a dresser, but a PROJECTION television, apparently with an attached satellite (something that did not exist on the other TV's in the house, which had just recently been hooked up with cable). Also, there appeared to be a line of stools next to a long table (i would later realize this was a BAR), not one but TWO full sized couches, in what was the nicest leather I'd ever had the opportunity to sit on. I was correct about the stereo- there was an incredible sound system in the den, that somehow had apparently been connected to the television to allow some sort of sound system that came out of all angles (I would later find out this was an example of a surround sound theater system). There was also a refrigerator (full sized) in the den, as well as a shelf that seemed filled with non-perishable food items. As I began to really think about the room I was in, it occured to me it wasn't a den/study at all, it was a room in the house where one could decompress- just relax and stay away from the rest of the family (i was slightly offended when I first figured out what this was, and then I remembered the world outside those heavier than average den doors and realized that although this room wasn't made for this occasion, that it was appropriate for this occasion. This was a place I could just relax and watch some European soccer on the satellite, have a Coke and some Pringles and just forget my family was outside. I would have been just fine with the knowledge and the place to hide out. I thought this was what he wanted to show me...
...he has me take a seat on the couch, and relax a little. I started watching the soccer game when I realized he was reaching up in a cabinet to grab something that looked errily like a weird shaped vase. He was looking to choose between a couple of these vases, and decides to pull down one that is approximately a foot tall. He then goes to the desk (there was a desk in the room, actually a desk would be an inaccurate description, it was much more like a slice of formica table top with a file cabinet holding up each side, providing storage and a place to slide your chair between the cabinets), goes into one of the drawers, and grabs something that I only assumed had to be Oregano, except it smelled more like a skunk been let in the room. My dad, looks at me, puts some of this "oregeno" out of the bag and into the "vase" and brought it over to the couch where I was sitting. He went to the fridge and grabbed a carton of Orange Juice and a couple of glasses. So in front of me are some Pringles I grabbed, a couple of glasses of Orange Juice and this vase. Dad then says to me, and I can remember it as plain as day:

"You don't have to do this, but you asked how I deal with them. Well, this is it."

He then takes a lighter, and puts it to the green stuff (which by now I had figured out wasn't oregano, but was instead that stuff Laura Greenwald called "grass" and would smoke out of the back of the Waldorf School when I was in 5th grade- which was when I also figured out people talked a lot of shit that wasn't true, my first interaction with a "stoner" was Laura and I'm sure she was the smartest person in our class (which was really small and really smart). He seems to be sucking this water which makes it percolate, and then he pulls the "grass" off and smoke jets into his mouth. Seems overindulgent, and probably harsh. I then, once again, flash back to what the world outside the den is like, and it also occurs to me there's no way my mother's going to let me stay in the den during dinner (as was my original plan upon seeing the study). So, in the face of all the "Just say no" discussions Nancy Reagan was beginning to make popular, in the den/study of my own home, on Thanksgiving Day 1982, I took my first hit of marijuana.

Many people speak of not getting high the first time they smoked. I didn't have that problem. Dinner was a more acceptable experience, the food was awesome (for some reason, they let me eat the Grown Folks table, which I would get to do the rest of the time at the dismay of many of the other kids in the family, including a couple that happened to be older than I was (seniority my ass, it's my house bitches!!). It was the beginning of a very different, but awesome relationship with my dad, one I will always cherish. And it was the only real secret I kept from my mom about my dad...