News and Tribune

November 23, 2012

DODD: The reality of the unrealistic holidays


> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Often when Kim and I are taking our evening walks she gives me ideas about which I should write a column. Sometimes they are good ideas and sometimes not so good. There are times when it is not a bad idea but I don’t think I can remotely approach a column length essay nor make it the least bit entertaining to read. However, this week she made an observation about which there was little doubt a column was born. It was also a very timely and at least to me a new concept regarding the holidays both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Her simple idea was this. People always refer to New Year’s Eve as amateur night when some people only drink and drive one night a year, therefore we suspect it’s real dangerous when the road is not just filled with the regular drinking drivers. Kim said to me that Thanksgiving is like that for many people. It’s the time of the year when people who don’t routinely cook anything not requiring a microwave or a drive-thru window will actually feel compelled to cook a meal for a family gathering.

Kim even had a couple of anecdotal true stories from her day that had her thinking about it. One involved a younger female who approached her in a Meijer store and asked her about bread crumbs. She was to pick some up to help prepare a meal and had no idea where they were located in the store and even asked her why someone would need bread crumbs and how they might be used for cooking purposes.

The current crop of young women is not your grandma wearing an apron and cooking everything from scratch ingredients. I can imagine grandpa getting whacked upside the head with a cast iron skillet if he demanded grandma whip up some instant mashed potatoes. In fact, when I was young grandpa pretty much stayed out of the kitchen when grandma was at work. And it was work. A real meal took hours of laborious preparation with the secret ingredient being grandma’s love. Interrupting to offering advice might have brought out the not especially loving side of grandma.

To be honest I am not sure either of my grandpas could have boiled water in a safe manner. Times were different. It was a very sexist and chauvinistic world with delicious food.

Kim and Cameron also ran into one of his school buddies and his grandma. This particular grandma said she had decided not to cook a large meal this Thanksgiving and kind of take the day off to relax and enjoy. It was her family and mainly the grandkids that made her feel guilty enough to hold the annual cook-a-thon so on this past Wednesday she was shopping for all of the ingredients. There was no indication of any of the grandkids offering up a hand that wasn’t going to be clutching a fork at the dinner table.

So that’s where tradition has come today for the holidays. You have traditional burnt offerings placed on the dining room table as poor grandma is reduced to the role as an indentured food servant against her will.

I might add that for many people the once cherished traditional holiday family gatherings in today’s world seem to make many feel stressed out to even facilitate the gathering. Holidays are for many a time when they feel forced to share a crowded room with people they might not care to see for the rest of the year. From people I talk to family gatherings for many are less like the Waltons and more like some cross breeding between the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.

It seems like every year a new comedy holiday film comes out showing the disastrous effects of annual holiday gatherings. Usually, in the end there is a kind of sappy, happy ending.

And perhaps that’s just the way it is in life. We romanticize way beyond expectations as to what the reality of the day is to become. For most of us family is just what it is. Or as I have often written every family is dysfunctional at some level in its own unique way.

What I have learned in my life is that you don’t always have to like somebody to love somebody. Perhaps that is the very definition of the extended family bond. The bond of family is enough to keep most of us attempting to fulfill the expectations of the holiday season. And for many it’s just a few times a year to have to endure. And who can’t fake sincerity for a few hours here and there.

So just gulp down an extra cup of egg nog and sit near a hidden trash can while bragging about your nephew’s fiancé’s broccoli cheese casserole which doesn’t remotely resemble the taste of cheese or broccoli but some kind of hybrid mass resembling a mushy quiche’.

The most important thing about someone who intends to become a member of the family is never to reveal the true family secrets until they legally become one of you at the altar. Let them discover the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth just as you did. It’s really your only chance at revenge.

Or as my elementary teacher Raymond Hall once taught me way back in the sixth grade in health class at Middle Road School, the old psychological rationalization theory of misery loves company.

Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at