“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
they have to take you in” from Frost’s Death of a Hired Man
I’ve been fortunate, and perhaps not grateful enough, to have amassed 49 years of Thanksgiving feasts without the uncomfortable family drama staged in a living room
I couldn’t flee. Which means to say there hasn’t been drama I wanted to flee. There have been hard feelings from lingering disagreements. Sure. But a holiday feast has always meant placing our desire that the other person is well, and that we get to see them another year, over any desire to win an argument or to make someone feel slighted for choosing the wrong side of an issue.
I thought it might be a result of years on the road, living in a new place every other year, deployment, hardship tour, etc. But that only comes from hindsight and doesn’t explain the years living on the same farm. Politics did not come up, or an opinion was put forth, heard, and then the tableful of family moved on to the next thought. There were many other nights when a tense topic would come up, when as children we would question whether this belief was inherited or whether we were free, with maturity, to decide for ourselves.
There were also holiday feasts when an issue hung like a dark cloud – the year or two I got arrested and spent a night in jail, the time a family member arrived noticeably pregnant out of wedlock, the time I swore ‘I’m never going back to that **** ing church, shaved my head and changed religions, the times we argued, or more often, grew silent on the subject of racism.
The ability to get along never constituted agreement, or a solution. More of an uneasy truce and an acknowledgement that the relationships came first. And unlike Warren, from Frost’s ‘Death of a Hired Man’ that never felt like it was given grudgingly.
“I should have called it
Something you somehow shouldn’t have to deserve.”
from the next line
Maybe that’s because, while we remembered Warren’s line, quoted often out of context a hundred and two years later, we lived Mary’s line, a statement of grace. Mistake riddled teenagers that we were we didn’t have to earn the spot at the Thanksgiving table. In fact we walked up the stone steps to our back door, knowing what was shared with us we could never fully earn.
Still, that did not constitute agreement. Nor would it ever.
I’m thinking of it more as we grow older – the time to put our arms around each other gets shorter. The time to decide which beliefs we’re going to take with us and which we’re not going to inherit – it gets shorter. I read recently from Contested Terrain about farming and fishing and the spectre of racism hovering over each, something that gets more vivid as the culture of fear and hatred grows, only to have someone speak to me afterward of difficult relationships and uncomfortable visits – which hasn’t been true for me – perhaps because of an education that involved setting it aside over food, and when someone traveled 900 or more miles to say hello.
We are still learning to balance the beliefs we know are worth fighting over and the need to put an arm around family. We are still learning not to make the person we grew up with a two-dimensional character in the allegory of our imagination.
We are still, after all this time, learning to be human – which is an identity we already own, not something we’re still trying to earn.