A Very Ballou Thanksgiving

23 Nov

Thanksgiving Claus (Will) with the Merry Thanksgiving Elf (Clara)

The Clements from Charlotte, my father’s sister’s family, are coming to visit us for Thanksgiving this year.  This is likely to cause a near explosive level of snark and sass, since my father’s side of the family is known for its absolute sarcasm that, in any other household, would probably get everyone around the Thanksgiving table shot dead.

My father and his sister, Kaki, are Irish twins, born in the same calendar year.  As the younger one, he trailed Aunt Kaki by one year in school.  But he took all the advanced classes his Roanoke school had to offer, meaning that he and his sister often attended the same courses together.  The soul of propriety, my father would sit behind Aunt Kaki and color her blonde hair black with a pen, or make fart noises come from the seat of her chair.  This can create an interesting family dynamic.

Aunt Kaki, Uncle Mike, and their sons Will and Walker arrive the day before Thanksgiving.  Will, five years my senior, is probably the closest to ‘nice’ that our family can muster.  Walker, three years older than me, is a Bioware gamer, beer enthusiast, and bioethicist-in-training.  What Will lacks in corrosiveness, Walker generously makes up for tenfold.

I have recently chopped my elbow-length hair off to the chin.  You make sure to be here exactly when your family comes, my mother has told me.  So you can show off your pretty new haircut.

“Who the fuck are you?” says Walker upon seeing me lounging on the front steps.

This is a promising start.

*

“You know, it’s amazing,” my mom says.  I am reading a book in the living room as she cleans the windows.  “I went to take your laundry out of the dryer and Small Dog had already chewed the crotch out of a pair of underwear.  It stunned me.”

Small Dog, our Dachshund/Shih-Tzu mix, is about the size of a shoebox and gets mistaken for a stuffed animal whenever we have guests over.  She looks roughly like someone crossed a gremlin with a teddy bear and animated it.  Like many dogs, she will chew whatever items of clothing are left lying around.  Her favorite is underwear.  Used underwear.

“Maybe I threw her in there with my dirty clothes,” I say.

“Or maybe…” She chews on her lip.  “Did someone in college eat out the crotch of your underwear?”

Everyone in the living room stares.

Mother.”

“Ooh, whoops, not what I meant!” She giggles and scours the windows for the fifth time.

*

During Thanksgiving Dinner, my ten-year-old brother yanks open the door to the bathroom adjoining the dining room, flicks on the light switch, and empties his bladder in full view of the family.

“Hoby?  Is that you?”  my mother says.  “Hobson?”

There is no response.  He continues to piss merrily into the toilet bowl.  The rest of us, gravy-smeared and reeking of cranberry relish, gape through a tryptophan-induced haze.  Our food babies prevent us from taking action.

“You just shut that door right now, Hobson Ballou!”

He only giggles and scrambles, Gollum-like, out of the bathroom and into the living room.  We hear the modulated beeping of the Wii as it starts up.

“Not, er.  Really one for family gatherings.  Is he?” stammers my grandmother.

“That kid,” mutters my dad.  He tells the Clements the story of how Hoby, at five years of age, asked his classmate Abigail if she would like him to shake his booty for her benefit.  Abigail responded that she most certainly would.  Hoby’s preschool teacher looked into the corner of the room to see him mooning his class, his snow-white buttocks pumping in the air.

“Hoby’ll be a politician one day,” Walker says.

I snort.  “Why?  Because he does things of questionable appropriateness in front of young women?”

“Nah.” He burps eloquently.  “Because he keeps his promises.”

*

…I wish mine looked this good. But you get the general idea.

My sister Clara unveils our four Thanksgiving pies waiting on the sideboard with all the eagerness of a Toddlers ‘n Tiaras stage mom pushing her darling onto the pageantry circuit for the first time.  “It’s time, bitches.”

The rest of the family rushes the sideboard, but Walker and I hang back.  We have other plans.  Namely, deep-frying cookie dough.  “What, are you trying to make our kitchen into the Alabama state fair?” my mother asked when I informed her we would be appropriating the stove for our culinary shenanigans.

I mix the batter, leaving the oil on low heat as I hum along to “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (and then hate myself for it).  After a few minutes, I dip the thermometer in the oil.  The display reads 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Which is the temperature at which hot oil tends to explode.

“Oh, fuck,” I mutter, and thumb the heat off.

“Everything going okay?” Walker asks from the living room.

“Uh.  Fine.  We’re fine.”

It is safe to say I have never been known for my cooking prowess.

Eventually, I scrounge up the nerve to dip a chunk of batter-covered dough into the oil.  In less than a minute, the kitchen smells like a McDonald’s that never passed its safety inspection.  But the batter fizzes and browns in the oil, just like it’s supposed to.  After a while, I have six golden, sugar-dusted balls of heart attack waiting to happen.

“This is disgusting,” says Walker, and shoves one in his mouth.  “And also orgasmic.”

“God bless ‘Murica,” I agree.

*

My father, relaxing in the half-finished basement after his day of hard labor in the kitchen, is watching a show called Punkin’ Chunkin’.  Walker and I, intending on watching Joss Whedon’s Serenity, catch him half-dozing on a ratty old couch while observing men past their prime hurl pumpkins from catapults.

“The hell is this?” I want to know.

“A show about men and their pumpkins.  It being Thanksgiving and all,” he says, and goes back to sleep.

One by one, overweight men (there are no women in sight) with thick accents natter on about the perfect construction with which to chuck their vegetables thousands of feet.  “It’s become my life, it has,” declares one man, solemnity written into the thick lines of his face.  “At my son’s wedding, what was I thinkin’ of?  The chunk.  Christmas mornin’?  The chunk.  The chunk is sacred.”

The three of us relax deep into the unraveling furniture that’s been relegated to the basement over the years, turkey and fried cookie dough weighing pleasantly on our stomachs.

“Y’know what would happen if anyone invaded the U.S.?” Walker asks.

“What?”

“We’d have the weirdest, least-predictable guerrilla defense forces you’ve ever dreamed of.”

“That’s the truth,” murmurs my father.  “The 501st Chunker Regiment.  Heh.”

The somnambulist glow of the television at 11:00 on a Thanksgiving evening draws us in.  We stare, blinking slow like frogs, into the deep void of niche reality TV and wait for the tryptophan to take us for good.

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