Sunday, November 30, 2008

Jupiter or Venus

Strange set of circumstances... In mid October, Michael asked me if we were going to the Bay Area for Foster Thanksgiving. He was hounding me for a while before I finally relented and called Mother. She seemed flabbergasted that we would even consider spending time with the family. Odd, since I've become the why not? family guy. Here's the skinny... When I was a kid, Aunt Pat cooked the family Thanksgiving dinner, and this year she announced that she is retiring, hanging up her apron. She extended invites to just family: children, nieces, nephews (of which I am one), second husbands, first wives (Mother), steps, halves and offspring, which totals somewhere in the seventies, maybe eighties. This would be my last chance to revisit the Thanksgiving of my youth.

Forty-eight accepted the invite, however Mother turned mine down...without consulting me. Why? There is no satisfactory answer. As she admitted her huge gaffe over the phone, I could practically hear egg ooze down her face. She then took it upon herself to make things right. After four grueling days of waiting, my little family got the nod, bringing the total to fifty-two. I smiled with triumph, told Husband and that's when his face dropped. He remembered a conflict. And not a minor kerfuffle of a conflict. A huge, how-could-you-possibly-forget-that conflict. The show he was directing was opening on Friday, THE DAY AFTER THANKSGIVING. You might think, the man needs a calendar. But as I see it, he has too many. Home calendar, office calendar, and the portable, which are never in sinc. He gets flummoxed, relies on memory instead, causing periodic scheduling snafus. My mouth hung open like an aging cod fish with a mental defect. Before I could grouse, he suggested I go without him. Hmmm. Odd fit. Then he said we'd split the kids. Huh. Less of an odd fit. I'd take easy-going five-year-old son. He'd take clingy-needy two-year-old daughter. Actually, not odd at all. I closed my mouth. This was a damn fine idea.

Sebastian and I stayed with my sister's family. She has three kids. While he was occupied, I got to carry on whole conversations and eat warm meals. Thanksgiving itself was an elegant affair. A tented outdoor patio twelve stories up. Two birds, one twenty-eight pounds, the other twenty-nine. Cousins from the Bay Area, cousins from Atlanta. My family is a mix of conservative and liberal, so I consciously chose not to bring up politics and yet, no less than four people had to share with me their disappointment at the passing of Prop 8. I am sure in the mix there were those who voted yes. But here's the thing about my family... Some of my most conservative relatives, who were probably yes voters, have a picture of Michael, the kids and me on their fridge. I disagree this is an issue of H8. Fear of change makes more sense.

There we all were, yes voters and no, white wine drinkers and red, liberals, conservatives, and the rest, enjoying Aunt Pat's swan song, from Brandy Alexanders to peachy mincemeat pie. Whatever our differences, coming together and stuffing our faces just like the story says.

Two evenings later, sliver of a moon flirting with nearby Jupiter and Venus. Never in my life have I seen two planets so brightly take their place in the sky, in alignment, one on top of the other. It was magnificent.

Under this celestial display, dinner at my brother Todd's house. I was the last to arrive. I felt ill at ease. Everyone had found their place and I wasn't sure where to fit in. Todd wanted to know what I was drinking, always the perfect host. "We have everything...except vodka." The perfect host didn't have the perfect drink. Again, I felt off guard. A quick look around the family room for libation suggestions. Men watching TV. Football blaring. I should have guessed...OU, my dad's alma mater. Guys quaffing beer from the bottle. I opted for wine instead. Even that seemed pretentious and off putting.

Oddly, these feelings of inadequacy were more reminiscent of Thanksgivings past than the Thanksgiving two days before. Sure, Thursday had turkey, Mom's cranberries and Aunt Caroline's sweet potatoes. But Saturday tapped into old feelings of adolescent discomfort. Where do I take my buttery and/or oaky chardonnay? I'm not very good with wine. Do I watch the game with the men, or head to the kitchen where the women are making dinner? It's a familiar question of belonging. To hang out with the male of the species or the female. I usually chose female. I felt more comfortable with women. As a teen I'm sure this had to do with my budding sexuality. But now, my sexuality is firmly established, I likes the mens... However, as mommywife, most of my dealings are with the fairer sex... The men or the women? Football or food prep? Jupiter or Venus?

My instincts steered me to the kitchen, where my sister-in-law was vigorously chopping heads of romaine. She animatedly hopped from topic to topic as she wielded a butcher knife. Have to let go of one of my housekeepers. Avocados sliced and spooned. Adorable shoes, Sara...the heel...the arch support. Bag of shredded white cheese guillotined and unceremoniously upended. The cutest dress at Nieman's, but I had to put it on hold to get the Black Friday discount. Two cans of Ortega chilies, opened and dumped. I barely opened my mouth during the compiling of this adventurous salad. The stool under me felt uncomfortable. It was an immediate decision. I was out the door before the tossing began.

This left football. I plopped myself next to Dad and said, "Remind me again, OU wears the orange uniforms, right?" His eyes about bugged out of his head.

My father has lived most of his life in California, but in his heart he is a tried and true Okie. One of those down home straight-talking folk that George Bush would love to invite to a barbecue. He holds an immense amount of pride for his hometown of Norman. The white and the red of OU has emblazoned everything from Christmas ornaments to hats to shirts to ashtrays. Trust me, I know what Oklahoma's colors are.

We ate dinner in front of the telly, the salad better than I thought it would be. Cheering and yelling at the screen. Dad swigging from a beer bottle, me sipping from stemware. He'd nudge me from time to time, our own private jokes. I had found my spot.

I heard the ladies begin to clean up in the kitchen. But I didn't budge from my seat until OU creamed Oklahoma State.

Turns out Jupiter was on top of Venus that night.

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