Most of the Brotherton clan got together on Thanksgiving Day for a turkey-and-all-the-fixin’s feast. We will, God willing, do the same on Christmas Day.
It seems there are fewer of us every year. Relatives pass away. Friends move to distant parts of the country. Nephews and nieces grow up, form relationships and start lives of their own. Just as my wife and I did 30-plus years ago.
Like most newlyweds, we struggled to spend time with everyone, a real challenge when one family is in Massachusetts and the other is in Connecticut. As our parents got older, we offered to host and everyone would come to our tiny 107-year-old house for either Thanksgiving or Christmas. We would rent tables and chairs. The dining room, kitchen, living room and hallway would be filled with moms, dads, grandparents, siblings, friends, classmates, pets and neighbors who would otherwise be alone on the holiday. All were welcomed with open arms.
I miss those days. I miss those people.
My sister and brother-in-law hosted this year. There were seven of us. It was a splendid day of food, fun, frivolity and reminiscing. Family members who couldn’t join us were reached via speakerphone, so all could join the conversation.
My sister and brother-in-law downsized, moving from the home where so many of our family celebrations were held into a condo on the top floor of the elementary school in Beverly Farms we attended as kids; the dining room table was set up where we once played dodgeball in the gym. It’s spectacular. Dad and Mom, who have been gone 20 and 15 years respectively, would’ve been very comfortable here.
In a few weeks, my wife and I will host Christmas. There will be no need to rent extra tables and chairs, or even use all of the leaves for the dining room table. We alternate holidays each year. My sister in New Jersey always hosts Easter. It’s worked out well.
I’m thankful for my family. In-laws included. We’re weird. Every one of us. And we get along remarkably well. Even a sweet little corgi and elderly cat co-existed peacefully this year.
There is no TV. No football. The phones are turned off. And we all eat whatever’s placed in front of us; there are no vegans, fruitarians or tofurkeyarians to worry about. We’re carnivores through and through. Our meals go on forever.
All sentimentality aside, the dinner conversation is atypical for “normal” families. No topic is off the table, so to speak. Despite our sardonic and sarcastic natures, we have always avoided squabbles at the dining table. There has never been a single candied yam fight or invective hurled at one another.
We start out talking innocuously about the weather, concerts and plays we’ve seen. To get the ball rolling, I’ll say something stupid like “We really enjoyed the Dyslexic Theatre Company’s production of ‘Annie Get Your Nug.'”
It’s unlikely you’ll hear someone utter a remark like “President Trump is doing a great, amazing job. I wish people would get off his back” during our meal, even after the third bottle of wine has been uncorked.
It’s probable, however, that you’ll hear something along the lines of “So, I had my colonoscopy last Thursday” just as you’re diving into your first forkful of stuffing and gravy. A disgusting blow-by-blow report of the entire “pregame process” is guaranteed to follow.
The woman who was foolish enough to eventually marry me is used to this by now. “Typical Brotherton dinner conversation,” she says with a smile. She still recalls the first time she broke bread with my family one Christmas many years ago. The film “Trading Places” had just come out and conversation centered on Jamie Lee Curtis, especially how wonderful she looked without her clothes on.
“Did you know Jamie Lee Curtis was born with both girl and boy parts?” someone blurted out. A rude, juvenile, pun-filled discussion followed. We all decided her family and physicians made the right call.
This year, the subject of Depends adult diapers came up. My sister was in a bicycle accident in Greece, suffering a hip injury that resulted in a hospital stay and temporarily dictated the use of a wheelchair. (BTW: There are no opioids in Greece, just extra-strength aspirin products. … but that’s a story for another day.) She was worried that during the flight home, she would be unable to walk to the bathroom. She sent her husband to the store to buy Depends. After much effort, he was able to communicate, via flailing arms and halted speech, with the non-English-speaking clerk that he needed “Diapers. Big diapers. For grownups.” “Oh, ‘pants,'” said the clerk, pointing to shelves and shelves of them.
“I wanted to make sure they worked, that I wouldn’t be sitting on the plane in a vile puddle of my own waste,” said my sister, while we all continued eating. “So, I tried them out first, in the hotel room. They worked very well. It turned out I didn’t need them after all.”
This led to a discussion of “lazy bladder syndrome” and the sharing of similar stories, including one about the time my wife sent me to the store to buy maxi-pads. That’s all she said, maxi-pads. There are about 10,000 brands. I decided on the “Swiffer” brand; it was the largest pad in the store after all. Let’s just say my usually tolerant wife was not amused. (Face it ladies; men are clueless.)
This old man suggests that everyone enjoy and relish their time together, even if a chill creeps into a relationship. Time is fleeting.
Each Christmas, before my grandparents would head back home to Worcester, they would hug us kids and say “This might be the last year we can all be together.” We shrugged it off. They were always there, smiling and laughing as we opened our gifts. And then they weren’t …