Thursday, November 27, 2008

Four Generations, Bad Music and Good Food

cross-posted from The Huffington Post

On Thanksgiving Day, four generations of my family will gather at my parents' home to consume a meal largely beige in color, and devoid of anything green (save for the peas that come, frozen, in a bag with the little white onions).

"I was going to put out celery and olives," my mother said, "but then I always wind up with a year-old jar of olives takin' up space in the refrigerator. So, I figured, let's just skip it this year and see if anybody notices."

It's unlikely that anybody will. We'll all be too busy jockeying for position in the house we call Stanadu, looking to make the funniest joke, take the longest solo during the annual Making of Bad Music Cooperative that takes place in Mom and Dad's living room and trying to keep kids, grand-kids and great-grandkids from maiming themselves and/or each other. There will be disputes over how strong to make the coffee, and did you really have to bring something that needs to be cooked right now? Anyone who tries to direct traffic in the kitchen will be ignored and likely resented. Chaos is an imperative.

We'll annoy each other, laugh with each other, sing with each other, secretly cry for each others' difficulties, fret over who might next leave the planet, maybe have an argument or two, and have one hell of a good time.

Our American family, like many, was born of a thousand tragedies in the far corners of the earth. The 19th-century Irish potato blight, Mao's 20th-century cultural revolution, the 18th-century persecution of minorities in Eastern Europe, the 17th-century persecution of religious minorities in Britain, the centuries-long poverty of peasants in a handful of feudal societies, and the endless string of pathologies wrought by tragedy -- they're all part of our story. We're not particularly enlightened types; we didn't wind up being a biracial amalgam of cultural identities because of some angelic absence of prejudice, but, rather, because the combination of sexual attraction and a strong sense of curiosity led people to unexpected unions.

It's been a long time since every one of us in the greater nuclear-family constellation has been together in the same place; babies have been born since last this happened. My newest grand-niece, Julianna, arrived on Earth in the swelter of summer, during the heat of the presidential primary season. How lovely, then, that her first Thanksgiving should take place just as we, the unenlightened amalgam that is America, are about to welcome into the White House our first truly 21st-century president, himself the product of many unexpected unions -- beginning with his parents', and continuing with that of the disparate elements of the U.S. electorate who checked the same box on the ballot sheet.

On election day, my parents found themselves minding two of my nephews, 11-year-old Clark, and 8-year-old Dillon, who are half Chinese, a quarter Irish, and the rest a mix of Eastern European and some South/Central Asian mystery blend. They each took one grandson into their respective voting booths to mark the ballot for a man whose presence in the White House seems entirely normal to these children, who have no memory of freedom riders, who have yet to understand our nation's insanity regarding issues of race. (I pray that when they do come to understand, the understanding comes not harshly.)

Tomorrow, after we've not missed the missing olives and noshed on wine-swirled cheese food from a jar, after we're stuffed with turkey and Asian fruit salad and chocolate creme pie made from Jell-O pudding, after having consumed Mom's pumpkin pie and massive quantities of several varieties of tubers mashed with butter, we will begin making the bad music. There will be an Irish drum, a Chinese fiddle, a Romanian mandolin, a German-made ukulele, a dulcimer my dad assembled from a kit, and a bunch of guitars manufactured in Japan.

We'll perform our standards: "Teach Your Children", "This Little Light of Mine", "Rocky Raccoon", "Ripple", "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," "Your Cheatin' Heart." Our raucous chorus will be as American as the apple pie that got passed over for the pudding tart.

For all these things, I offer thanks to the One who gives us breath.

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