The Pluck for a Pardon
Thanksgiving is a three-ring circus in our family. The fun begins when the troop arrives--eight siblings with children and grandchildren bursting from vehicles, tumbling out the side doors and cascading out the back hatches. The great-grand parents serve as ringmasters who oversee the big top; we unfold tables and set-up chairs for a hundred in our community hall. Everyone is welcome and this year we invited an expansion pack of in-laws that added even more clowns to the crush.
With a group that big, there can be no sit-down dinner with elegant china, lacy tablecloths and a succulent, bronzed fowl. It’s a challenge to grab paper and plastic as the group swings past the main table scooping from industrial-sized vats of mashed potatoes, gravy and corn. Then they flip back to the platters of turkey and stuffing. Back and forth from a side-table of salads to another filled with drinks. The meal culminates with a heart-stopping landing in front of the dessert table laden with nearly a two-person-per-pie ratio.
Our family dinner traditions include a freak show of vegetarians and gluten-free-ers. The great-grand parents were charter members of those food groups long before food became fad. Those epicureans have been joined the past couple years by new foodies that eat paleo, keto and whole. These odd-balls wander past dishes marked clearly with labels like vegetarian, g/f, c/f, and sugar-free. Our family’s food habits may seem finicky at first, but if you take the time to get the whole backstory of their medical odyssey, then empathy spills forth and the bullying and snark fades away. The odd-balls are embraced because the goal is to have no medical reactions served up with dessert. Insight creates understanding and that is a laudable life goal.
After dinner half of our group disperse to their second-meal destinations and a collective sigh releases from the gaffers and grips who juggled the seamless presentation of the food-free-for-all. The rest of the clan sit down to some serious board gaming and govern-mental problem-solving.
Tempers flare in the after-meal conversations, but conflict is one of the standard side shows of most close relationships. Humans have an inborn yearning to connect. Through each one of us runs a streak of unique that is seeking its place in the crush and rejection by those who matter the most is humanity’s greatest fear. Through my own personal journey, I have come to know firsthand how the prickly Me, Me, Me Monster--that bullying narcissist—learns to pull in its quills and lower its defenses when offered acceptance and love unfeigned.
Soon, we welcomed the occupants of the second chorus of clown cars and their contribution to the table of diverse desserts. Amidst the carnival chaos, two of the grand-nieces fled the brouhaha to take a refreshing stroll outdoors. They wandered a block or two away to visit a friend who is also visiting relatives in our little town from their own little town.
When the girls returned they cornered me, and they made an intriguing comment, “Auntie, we just visited a friend whose Dad said he knew you years ago, from high-school.”
That innocuous phrase is one I dread. “I knew you from high school,” is anathema for me because I know that if I hear it in person, I should probably duck. More than likely, those words will be followed by a slap on the cheek, or a sock on the chin. And I when I come-to from the knock-out, I will have to shrug and admit, “I deserved that.” Angst and regret are painful anecdotes from my high school memories.
“He said that we shouldn’t mention to you that he said hi, because you guys didn’t get along all that well.” Their comment didn’t completely drain the pool of candidates, but it helped. A hammer slammed down and rang a bell in my memory, and I knew to whom they had spoken.
I may not have been the nice one at school, but back then, I felt I was equally matched in offensive talent by only one guy. While I was adept at tossing a verbal dagger, he had the deadliest knife-toss in the school and he could set his target spinning in circles in a cascade of random jabs.
He was the subject of my decade-long retribution nightmares until I finally woke up and learned to embrace the bully creed, “The best bullies are built by bullies.” I evolved and in our last years of high school, the two of us could sling an arsenal of steel-tipped barbs with deadly accuracy and heaven help the innocent victims in our way.
So now, thirty-five years later and eons wiser, I thought I would take the opportunity to walk over and face him. I would look in his eyes with forgiveness and say, “Hey, I imagine that being the youngest of seven brothers couldn’t have been easy. I’m sorry for sending you that Valentine cookie in our Senior year that said, ‘Drop Dead,’ and I’d like to ask for your forgiveness.”
Yeah, I wish I’d done it. But in life’s freak show, there lingers in me that porcupine girl who has become comfortable with the pain from her prickles.
Maybe I’ll get up the pluck next year, when the traveling circus returns.