Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Surprise

I hate surprises. That probably comes from many years as a high school principal. In that job, uneventful is good; surprise is bad. Better to have things rock along in that steady albeit predictable way, than to face what a pack of teenagers can conjure up for a thrill. One too many “senior pranks” put me over the edge.

Certainly there are good surprises: No lines at Costco. Toll booths out of order – free bridge crossing. A scratcher that pays something, anything. Those I can adjust to. I will routinely welcome the surprise of good manners or generosity when they surface in the public arena. But I confess to being a slow adapter to even a mildly unpleasant, unexpected change of plans.

Thanksgiving this year, for example, had an element of surprise for the Plath family. The hosts - the ones who always host; the ones who take the biggest burden year-after-year; the ones who cook the turkey and prepare their house for the invasion of the running kids, the elderly, the gen-xers and the boomers; the ones to whom the rest of us carry a dish, (I’m hors d’oeuvres); had an illness preventing them, at the last minute, from hosting.

Thank goodness it’s not a life-threatening illness, but nevertheless a significant one that puts you down and off your l-tryptophan. The announcement came abruptly, nearly 9pm Tuesday night. They couldn’t have company, and wouldn’t be cooking for anyone.

So the calls began to circulate among the rest of us, the dependent ones. What, oh what, will we do?

I guess I could have simplified things by going to the logical conclusion first: We will host. We’ll scramble to pull the house together. We’ll go back out into the bustling world (curmudgeon hell) and collect all the things that go with hors d’oeuvres to create an actual holiday meal for the people we love. We will make the best of an unfortunate situation so that family is together and tradition is upheld.

But I didn’t do that, even though I knew it would be the eventual outcome. I didn’t cut to the chase, even though I’ll claim in other scenarios to be a cut-to-the-chase kind of guy. No, I participated in a series of tentative, circular, jaw-clenching (for me) conversations in which family members who honestly cannot host waited for me to man up.

Do I sound cranky? Why does this make me so cranky? Because I was in my groove, that’s why. Please, just don’t upset my groove. I was planning to do all that, happily, with joyful anticipation, really, for Christmas. But Now? Without time for psych? On the spur of this moment? NOW?!

All right, all right. I’ll do it. Of course. They all knew I would.

And as you’ve no doubt predicted, we had a lovely time. All parties pulled together to make simple what can be complicated by a non-changer like me. To my wonderment, they all seemed to take it in stride.

The meal was surpassingly good, each one bringing her best to the table. His best too – one brother-in-law brought warm fresh-baked bread, his claim to fame. My husband added his signature appetizers, grilled duck breast sliced onto Triscuits, with cheddar and plum jam…yummy! The unplanned and unexpected combination of tastes and textures made all the more pleasing when it worked in short order. This could be how it’s actually supposed to go.

That’s the way it was with the Pilgrims and the Indians, right? On that first Thanksgiving Day, no one in this group had any idea what the other group might bring to the table. They each had to suspend instinct, call on good breeding, and taste things they didn’t recognize. And that turned out better than OK.

(I know, I know. It’s a myth. Another startling revelation I’ve had to incorporate. But I’m not giving up on the concept of diverse parties breaking bread and making peace. Why should I?)

The Plath Clan returned to a forgotten practice of once around the table, saying aloud what we’re thankful for. Corny, but I recommend it. I’m thankful to have married into such a lovely, patient, adaptable, and accommodating bunch of Republicans. They’re really quite nice.

Can an Oklahoma girl learn to embrace the unexpected? We’ll see. In the meanwhile, I wish you and yours sweet surprises and the happiest of holidays.

Oh, and thanks for reading.