Thanksgiving tales of dinners for Democrats and blessing peas
Holidays sometimes bring with them challenges of a delicate nature - requiring tact, diplomacy, and grace under pressure. The task of dealing with these challenges may fall primarily on the family elders, but young people are often sharply aware of them.
Consider the comments of some junior high students in California. Excerpts from their essays on looking forward to Thanksgiving may not highlight the holiday's virtues, but they could offer parents some useful food for thought.
According to these youngsters, the problems are often relative - or relatives. Take grandparents, for example.
''To be perfectly honest,'' wrote Alison, ''I'm more thankful for one pair of grandparents than the other. One pair is picky-fussy. When the Picky Fussies come from Phoenix, we have to clean house for a month before they arrive. Every day of the visit we have to have fancy meals and always eat in the dining room. Our manners must be perfect every minute of every day. And, we have to be careful what we say because they don't approve of much. It's exhausting.
''The other pair of grandparents are just plain folks,'' she explained. ''When the Plain Folks come, we don't clean extra. We have regular meals and eat in the kitchen. We are just normally polite and we can be our less-than-perfect selves.
''This year the Plain Folks are coming so we can relax and enjoy the week.''
John's family is blessed with two grandfathers. One grandfather is, literally , more of a blessing than the other.
''Both my grandfathers come for Thanksgiving,'' John wrote. ''And, the grandfathers alternate years saying the blessing. Grandpa Mike is a good, fast blesser. Grandpa Frank is not - he practically blesses each pea and cranberry individually, and he asks for world peace - a country at a time.
''This year, Grandpa Frank is up at bat so dinner will be well blessed - and cold.''
John's mother, aware of the problem, has tried, tactfully, to resolve it. ''Once my mom bought him a book called 'Short Blessings for All Occasions,' but we're all sure he never read it.''
Holiday guest lists, sometimes, must be given great thought, and the personalities of those to be invited considered.
''We have to be careful,'' wrote Andrea, ''who we invite because of Great-aunt Eleanor. (I don't mean she's great, but just that she's my mother's aunt.) Aunt Eleanor is a devout Democrat. If she comes for Thanksgiving, it is more peaceful if we ask only Democrats for dinner. If we invite Republicans, Aunt Eleanor tries to 'help them see the light.' My mom says people do not want to be recruited over cranberry sauce.
''A good thing we've found to do about people like Aunt Eleanor,'' Andrea advises, ''is wait as late as possible to ask them and hope they've already accepted an invitation for dinner somewhere else.''
Traditional roles at Thanksgiving no longer go unnoticed - or uncommented on by girls or boys.
''I would be thankful,'' said Jenny, ''if there weren't TV football on Thanksgiving. It is an unfair holiday. Moms and girls cook and clean the kitchen all day while fathers watch football. Then, at dinner we have to be quiet whenever some biggie is happening in the game.''
Jenny is, however, taking notes and thinking ahead. ''My friend Karen has a father who helps cook, and he cleans the kitchen after dinner - during which there's NO FOOTBALL GAME ON and they are actually allowed to talk. When I grow up I'm going to marry someone like Mr. Clark and not a football watcher like my dad.''
Mark is equally aware of unfair division of Thanksgiving labor.
''Thanksgiving,'' he wrote, ''is a day mothers spend cooking and washing dishes. It is a day fathers spend lying on sofas watching football. At dinner time fathers rise from the sofa long enough to carve the turkey and eat. Then they return to their sofas to rest from this enormous exertion.''
Different traditions from various family backgrounds may sometimes be a source of disagreement at holidays, as Susan points out.
''At Thanksgiving, my parents have stuffing bickers. My dad is from New England. He likes oyster stuffing. My mom is from California. She likes pecan stuffing.
''Mom says his preppy oyster stuffing is too gross for words. And Dad says her California pecan stuffing is just like California - too full of nuts.
''This year,'' she adds, ''we are invited to our neighbors' house. They have cornbread stuffing.''