There is another aspect of the holidays that I am struggling with this year. We are a small family and as such, we have always invited friends to join us for the holidays. If you don't have anywhere to go, please come and be a part of our family. I think that a lot of people adopt this mindset during the holidays and no matter if their family is big or small, they always have an extra plate for a guest. For most of my childhood, we had a couple (mom's coworkers and friends), join us for the holidays. They would even bring along an additional family member sometimes. Christmas and Thanksgiving have not been the same since they moved to Idaho many years ago. They were part of what made up our holiday tradition. People are the key ingredient to any tradition.
This year, I am struggling because someone who I don't like has been extended an invitation to our dinner. This person is a long-time friend of my aunt and uncle. She is elderly, dying of cancer and a raging alcoholic. She has driven all of her friends away and her only family is in Florida. How can we not have her over? Let me take you back to last Thanksgiving...
Last year, on Thanksgiving Eve, we took my uncle to the hospital. My uncle has been in bad health for years, he is in heart and liver failure. His health complications and medications have caused terrible memory loss and dementia. When we took him to the hospital last year, he was disoriented, his lips were turning blue and his skin had broken out into a purple rash. We were scared. It turned out that it was bad and he was admitted for two nights, but it wasn't immediately life threatening and there was no reason to cancel having Thanksgiving dinner.
We were expecting two guests that didn't know each other. The alcoholic and a very close family friend ( family, really). My aunt and I left the key under the mat and went off to the hospital for a few hours during the time in which they were to arrive.
We decided that this was the year to try a new way to cook the turkey. We had it in an electric roasting pan, in efforts to free up the oven. We were told by a different family friend, one with a very large family that has mega Thanksgiving feasts, that this is the way to go. We followed instructions from the friend and from the pan's manual, seemed easy enough.
When we returned home from the hospital, the guests had arrived and the house smelled delicious. Alcoholic friend was well on her way to being plastered. We had hidden all of the liquor, not that my aunt or uncle are big drinkers, but it didn't matter, she brought her own flask of gin. She showed it to me.
As the afternoon progressed with appetizers and awkward conversation, she became more and more wasted. She pulled me aside no less than ten times tell me that my uncle was dying and that we are terrible people for not being with him in his last moments. She kept wandering to the kitchen and messing with the food.
When it was finally time to take the turkey out of the roaster, the task fell to me. We had laced it with strings and as I began to slowly lift it, I could feel the bird bend. Then, Ms. Wasted and Impatient, came up, grasped on to the strings and before I could stop her, gave it good yank skyward.
The turkey exploded into a million little pieces of bone, skin and stuffing. It fell half back in the roasting pan and half on the hard wood floor. The cats were jubilant. The dog lost her mind as she rushed to partake in this Thanksgiving Miracle.
We ate side dishes that year.
Later, we found out that the Turkey explosion was due to a certain little helper turning up the heat on the roasting pan to make it cook faster.
When I first heard that she was invited again, I wanted to cry. The thought of a repeat of last year was unbearable. We have spent the last year laughing about it and telling my uncle that he was lucky that he missed it, but not matter how we try to make light of the situation, it was really miserable.
But then, what do you do when someone has no one? I think that I was initially less sensitive to the issue, because I am generally really happy on my own. The idea of a quiet holiday appeals to me. I don't need the turkey or the board games. I see my family all of the time and if I didn't see them on a specific day of the year, I just don't think that it would be a big deal. I actually kind of resent having to reserve specific days as forced family time with their rules and traditions.
However, I now have come to the realization that some people need and want to be a part of the holidays. Part of me feels like I shouldn't have to spend the day babysitting an alcoholic, but a bigger part of me realizes that this might be her last holiday season and that I should just suck it up and be the bigger person.
This realization really hit me on Sunday, at a Smart Car Meet-up. Dan and I were talking to one of the other group members, a really nice guy, whose wife couldn't attend but still baked several hundred of the best brownies ever for the group. We had been talking for ten minutes, when he invited us to their house for Thanksgiving. He didn't know us at all. We could have been crazy or alcoholics that turn up the heat on the roaster!
Here's what hit me, is he invited us just in case we might be alone. Not just that, but that we might be alone and not be okay with it. This is when I realized that if this super nice family could take a chance on strangers, that I had no excuses. I can spend one day being nice to a woman who likely won't be here next year.
Here's to hoping for a Thanksgiving with an intact bird and happy guests that feel part of the family.