In Queens, NY, Thanksgiving is when the cold begins to arrive. As I stepped out of our '72 El Camino, onto the gravel driveway, I looked around and saw quite a few of my family members were already here. <sigh> At 12 years old, here we are, another Thanksgiving at Aunt Edna’s. It would be the same old crew – my dad’s sisters and their kids, and some grand-kids. All laughing and telling loud stories and off-color jokes, waving their beer cans around in the air telling stories with wild gestures, just like every other holiday. I walked up the sidewalk in my orange and yellow dress that my mom had sewn, up the stairs and onto the front porch. I grabbed the broken handle of the storm door and the heavy wooden front door with its’ forever cracked glass windows was already open.
Of course – Aunt Edna had kerosene heat. The crowded house would be hot. At least there would be fans running – it was always fun to talk into them with my brother and cousins. We would practice our robot voices today. As we all walked into the living room, the loudness got louder. All the aunts and uncles and cousins noticed our arrival and greeted us loudly, all trying to talk over each other. I struggle through the awkward hugs and told them all I was “fine”, when asked. I looked around for my cousins, Bonnie and Kenny. They were close enough to my age, so we shared the kid table. I wandered the house a bit and found Bonnie in her room down the hall. The dirty pale green walls were brightly lit with both sets of curtains wide open. The sunshine streamed in onto her bed and all the junk scattered on the floor. She greeted me and started talking about herself. Again. Bonnie never wanted to know about me, she was just always looking for an audience. Oh well, it was better than sitting and sweating on the hot couch in the hot living room, watching some boring old time movie playing too loud on the TV. I sat on her desk chair and listened to her high school escapades. At 15, she knew more than I did. At least she seemed to think so. I was smarter than her and I knew it, but I kept my mouth shut. We weren’t arguing test scores. After a few minutes, she closed her bedroom door and said, “Hey, I wanna tell you about my boyfriend.” Her whispering told me that Aunt Edna didn't know something about him or didn't know about him at all. I said, “Sure” and watched her intently. She began to tell me all about making out with this 20 year old 'man'! My thoughts ran wild. How could she date a grown man? Why would she want to? Whatever they were up to, surely was not good. My racing thoughts took off when she stood there and said, “And he hugged me from behind, and reached around me and grabbed my boobs like this”, - and she stopped to demonstrate, as if I wouldn’t understand. My mind raced again. Why would she tell me this? Didn’t she know you were supposed to be married before doing that stuff? Was she going to wind up pregnant? I’d never had a boyfriend, but I knew enough from the teaching of my mom and my church to see where that kind of behavior was headed. I must have looked shocked or like I thought it was gross, because she stopped there. We got called to eat. I left the room, my head spinning, trying to wrap my mind around all that she had told me. I walked to the kitchen and loaded up my plate in a daze – crispy, half-burned turkey with gravy that had been sitting out way too long. Aunt Carol's green bean casserole and candied sweet potatoes were always a hit and of course I got some of my mom’s scalloped potatoes. God forbid if I didn't get her onion filled, scalloped potatoes as she watched my careful selections. Of course, I don’t even like onions. I passed on the pork chops and baked beans that were present at every holiday meal. Yuck. I set my plate down on the card table in the living room that us kids used, and went in search of a drink. I pushed open the broken storm door on the side of the house and went out onto the patio. The smell of charred meat hit me. My two cousins, Bobby and Vinny, manned the grill, waving around a long handled spatula and beer cans as they talked and laughed loudly, ignoring the chops burning on the grill. They didn’t notice me, just kept on drinking and laughing as they burned up our family tradition. The coolers were up against the house. First one, all beer. Second one, all beer. The third held some soda cans, so I chose a Sprite and went back inside. I ate my meal with my brother, Paul, and with Bonnie and Kenny. We laughed and joked together, and messed around with our food, as always. I almost got my mind off what Bonnie had told me, but not quite. The party went on that day, people coming and going, and eating off the table set with food that had been left out all day. Gross. Most everyone sat around and drank and smoked and talked too loud. Some of their stories were funny, some I didn’t understand, but I just didn’t really like how as the night went on the volume went up and the alcohol went down. At last it was dark. My oldest cousin, Vinny, had fireworks out in the garage leftover from the fourth of July. My brother loved helping blow stuff up. My mom didn’t like it, but my dad always said, “What’s the harm, let him have a little fun”. I hated it. Every bit of it. What if someone got hurt? We were nowhere near a hospital. And my dad had been burned on his arm before by a roman candle. The worry wart in me kicked into full gear while most everyone was drunk. So we all went outside to the huge backyard. The kids were given sparklers. I took one, just so I didn’t have to argue with a drunken cousin why I didn’t want to get burned. I waved it around gently until it went out, then stood off to the side unnoticed. As the drinking went up so did the danger of the fireworks. It seemed like an eternity of people trying to light something, laughing too loud because they couldn’t get it lit, and then running crazy – beer in one hand, lighter in the other, once the fuse was lit. The booms went through my body, and the whole neighborhood. I stood afraid at a distance and watched until the last of the noisy fire hazards was gone. We filed slowly inside, said our goodbyes and collected what was left of the scalloped potatoes. After saying goodbye too many times, we headed back out to the car. Mom drove home because Dad needed to “rest his eyes”. At least I had survived another Thanksgiving at Aunt Edna’s.
Through Story Group Exploration
Every holiday, this story seems to flicker in my mind and I haven't known exactly why. My retreat was just after a holiday and this very story came to the surface. When I brought this story to the group, I originally thought it was about my messed up family life. After exploring, it became clear it was really about something different. There were critical lies that set in that day. Here are a few:
Romance, passion and desire is bad
My own desire to be pursued by a man is wrong
I don't fit in. Even with people I'm related to
Truth: It definitely was a normal family Thanksgiving at Aunt Edna's. But it was the scene in Bonnie's room that left hours, days and years of confusion. At 12, 15, 18, I began to dream about one day a man passionately pursuing me but at the same time believing it was sin. I was left trapped and confused. Even now, at the age of 45, I often freeze, withdraw or feel awkward when my husband tries to pursue me. I've hated that about me and never known until now, why it happens.