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Thanksgiving, 2022

with special guest star
Billy Graham

For Thanksgiving, most of my family was with their families, but seven of us met for dinner at the Golden Spoon in Federal Way:

• my mom
• Katrina, my sister
• Max, Katrina's long-time boyfriend
• Adelle, Katrina's long-time friend
• Anna, my dead brother Ralph's widow
• Ernest, Anna's adult son
• and me — Doug, the fat hermit

Katrina and Mom I know well, of course, and we get together for breakfast every Saturday with no lulls in the conversation. Adelle I sorta know by default, since she's been buddies with Katrina since I was a kid. Anna I've met four times, I think, and she's OK by me. It was only the third, maybe fourth time I've met Max, and I like him, but he's super-quiet and shy like me. It was the second time I'd met Ernest, and I was neutral going in, but hated him by the time we left.

As I was saying hello to these people in front of the restaurant, Mom interrupted to tap my shoulder and show off a magazine she'd brought. "Do you know who this is?" she asked, pointing at the magazine's cover, with her other hand covering the name above what was obviously Billy Graham's head. It was Time magazine's commemorative issue, published shortly after his death in 2018.

"Yeah, I know who Billy Graham was," I said, "but I don't know why you brought Billy Graham to Thanksgiving dinner."

"I just wanted to see if you knew who he is," she said and I sighed. She also showed the magazine to Anna and Adelle outside the restaurant, again covering his name. 

Then we all went inside, paid and seated ourselves and got our food, and at the table Mom showed Billy Graham to Max, and then to Ernest. Everyone recognized Billy Graham.

Mom and my sister live together, so presumably she'd already shown the magazine to Katrina. And in every mention of Billy Graham, Mom referred to him in the present tense, as if he's still alive.

Other than the come-to-Jesus movies he made, I never much hated Billy Graham. He was the only famous preacher I've ever thought wasn't a charlatan, and now that he's dead they all are, and I said so to my mom, mostly to annoy her.

She didn't hear me so I said it again, and she laughed and said, "No, his son has continued his righteous work." To that, I answered with my two-minute opinion of Franklin Graham (he's a charlatan, and one of the worst) which hushed the table. What, you think Mom's the only one in my family who can be annoying?

'Hushed' is what the table was, for most of the meal. There were many long silences. Most of us are at least kinda shy, and knew just one or two of the other person present. The only outgoing people, trying to spark conversation with the rest of us, were Ernest, who talked about his job through most of the meal, and dropped some conservative crap into the mashed potatoes, and my mom, who talked about Billy Graham, and told the same half-dozen stories she usually tells, and asked the same half-dozen questions.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The food was better than the last time I'd eaten at Golden Spoon, but nothing special, really. Everything was warm if not hot, and enough of it was good that I didn't leave hungry.

They were out of coffee for 45 minutes, and Katrina needs coffee to survive, so she made several trips to the empty coffee decanter, and three times told three different employees they were out of coffee, before someone finally came 'round and made coffee.

For Thanksgiving at an all-you-can-eat place, it wasn't terribly busy, and we stayed at the table for three hours of intermittent conversation. That's lots longer than I'd expected, but it wasn't too bad, because by luck of the chairs, I was at the opposite end of the table from my mother.

Eventually, though, Mom dragged her chair and resettled between me and Max, and repeated her stories and questions from the first half of the meal, and pulled out some family photos to start asking me as always, "Do you know who these people are?" She also invited me to see Till with her on Saturday, but I said no.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

When the event finally began breaking up, Ernest approached and told me I was riding home with him and his mother. He said he wouldn't take no for an answer, and I told him he'd have to beat me in a fight, and that I wouldn't be throwing sissy-punches. He thought I was kidding around.

People in the family are always offering to give me a ride, like they're rescuing me from the bus. It gets tiresome, because I like riding the bus, but usually when someone offers a ride, they ask. Ernest is the first who's 'jokingly' told me I wasn't taking the bus, and I barely know the guy.

Telling me what I'm going to do, even in jest, is the quickest way to make me despise you. Telling the fable of McDonald's and the hot-coffee lawsuit doesn't help, either.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Anyway, I already had a ride home. In a few text messages the day before, Katrina had said she'd be visiting our sister Hazel at the nursing home after Thanksgiving dinner. I'd volunteered to tag along, and Katrina had said she'd drop me at my house, which isn't far from Hazel's nursing home.

Katrina had slipped some cookies from the dessert bar into her purse to bring along, and I'd paid the buffet for a small container of candied yams, because that's always been Hazel's favorite (and they were the only flat-out excellent item at the buffet).

So Max went north, Adelle and Ernest went south, and Katrina drove me and Mom and Adelle to visit Hazel.

On the way, Mom made me furious, as only she can do, but first, the set-up: Hazel has been disabled since the 1980s, and she can hardly speak so visiting her is awkward and uncomfortable.

I'm a horrible, horrible man, so I put off seeing her for a few months after moving back to Seattle this year, but since then I've been visiting Hazel about once monthly. Katrina and Mom say that they visit monthly, and it feels like the right pace for me, too. We don't usually go together, though, so Mom simply doesn't believe I ever visit Hazel at all.

Yesterday was my fifth visit to Hazel, and the second time I'd visited Hazel with Mom. 

She often nags me about never visiting Hazel, and I've told her I do visit, but she keeps nagging, and I've told her to knock it off, but telling Mom not to do something only ensures she'll do it.

The worst was a long series of text messages she sent a couple of months ago, when Mom started with, "It breaks my heart that you never, ever visit Hazel, and I think you never will."

I didn't argue, or even answer the texts. Mom won't stop nagging until she's dead, and if she wasn't nagging me about Hazel, she'd be nagging me about something else. 

So after Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, Mom and I were in the back seat of Katrina's car, motoring toward the nursing home to visit Hazel, and Mom said to me, "I don't know how Katrina dragged you along to visit Hazel." I'd made it through the meal without yelling at anyone, so I ignored it and looked out the window.

Mom changed the subject to ask if I knew Adelle's last name, which is a ridiculous question, so I looked further out the window. I have known Adelle, and her last name, for almost forever, but to amuse or annoy Mom in the car, I made several wrong guesses.

A few minutes later, between stories she's told hundreds of times before, Mom looped back to say, "I don't think you'd bother visiting Hazel if we hadn't captured you for this ride home, ha-ha," and I came close to losing it.

"I visit Hazel as often as you do," I said, "but yeah, I should've taken the bus. On the bus, nobody nags me."

Mom said, "Excuse me?" like she hadn't heard, but she'd heard everything else I'd said in the car, and she'd heard that.

When we got to the nursing home, as Katrina backed into a parking space, Mom said, "I'm so happy that a ride finally roped you into seeing Hazel."

And I said, "Bite me!" louder than I'd said anything all day — not yelling, but almost. Mom said nothing about it, but as we walked inside, Adelle asked what had happened.

"Nothing that doesn't happen all the time," I explained, and then the four of us spent about half an hour with Hazel.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

It's hard to decipher what Hazel says, and I never know what to say myself, but I do visit, without being captured, dragged, or roped in. And I'd come to Thanksgiving dinner, like I was supposed to, and it had been awkward and only sporadically pleasant, but it was an obligation so I'd been there and done my best.

Visiting my tragically disabled sister, with all of us working together kinda like charades, we were able to understand about half a dozen things she said. Hazel was clearly happy to see us, and she loved the cookies and candied yams.

Mom asked Hazel if she recognized the man on the cover of Time, and Hazel said, "Billy Graham" surprisingly clearly. Several family photos were on the wall, so Mom pulled them down one at a time, passed them around, and asked me, and Katrina, and Hazel, and Adelle, "Do you know who's in this picture?" about every picture. Mom knows who's in all the family photos, of course, but she loves asking.

Hazel always enjoyed singing, so Katrina had the bright idea to start singing "Daisy, Daisy" (give me your answer, do), and we all sang along, including Hazel. Her words were slurred, but she still knows the lyrics and can still carry a tune. Our visit ended with a second song, Katrina and Adelle singing a few lines from, "So Long, Farewell," from The Sound of Music. 

I wouldn't go so far as to say it was nice seeing Hazel, but it was nice seeing Hazel smile. It would've been nicer if I hadn't been boiling mad when we walked in. Thanks for that, Mom.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

And next comes Christmas. Nobody's said anything about it yet, except me. Twice, in passing, I've mentioned to Mom that I don't do Christmas, but she "didn't hear me."

1986 was the last time I participated in the traditional yuletide bullshit, where you get together with family and loved ones, exchange expensive gifts, eat a meal, make painfully difficult conversation, and (at least in my family, maybe yours?) at the end of the day, the day's always a disappointment.

Since the 1990s I've lived far, far away from the family, so abstaining was easy, but this year I moved back to Seattle, where the rest of the Hollands live. I expect that they expect I'll be home for Christmas. And home is where I'll be on December 25 — in my home, in my recliner, phone clicked off, alone and ignoring Xmas, same as every December 25th.

But there'll be some battles and a butt-load of nagging from Mom first.

11/25/2022   

itsdougholland.com
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