my parents just moved to st. louis, so i’m spending my first-ever thanksgiving in a town other than houston. my dad picked me up at the airport on wednesday and took me to their new house, the first new house they’ve had since we moved when i was ten. “is it weird that we’re here?” my mother asked me when she got home from work.
“a little,” i said.
“i remember that feeling from when my parents moved after i left for college.”
“yeah,” i said. “i mean, it’s a different house entirely. but all your stuff is here, so that makes it easier.”
(later she asked me if my dog had a hard time adjusting to my new apartment. “not really,” i said. “she was fine once she realized that all our stuff was there.”)
my mother and father each gave me their own tour of the house, which was useful as they were different tours of the same house. the theme of my dad’s tour was “here’s where i built shelves to put this stuff, here’s where the floor isn’t level so i had to build a pallet for the washing machine, and here’s where our wireless internet signal doesn’t quite reach, can you take a look at it later?” my mom’s tour was about her new dolls, the rugs she bought at j.c. penney, and asking for my advice about curtains and furniture placement.
(twice i have caught my mother using the word “home” to refer to our old house. i can relate.)
i left my car and dog at ari and michael’s, and ari and the kids took me to the airport. i used their computer to print my boarding pass without looking at what kind of paper was in the printer, so it printed on some fancy parchment-looking stuff that julien was using for his report on egypt. “it’s kind of funny, isn’t it?” i said to ari. “my fancy new internet boarding pass printed on paper that’s supposed to look old.”
when i got to ari and michael’s, i asked if i could borrow a suitcase, one that would be better for my stuff than my giant, unwieldy duffel bag. ari gave me a little blue one, and as i was putting my stuff in, gabriel came over and said, “hey! that’s my suitcase!”
“oh, really?” i said. “well, is it okay if i borrow it? you probably won’t need it between now and monday.”
he thought about it for a second. “okay,” he said. “except it should be PINK because you’re a GIRL!”
when i showed my dad gabriel’s fancy elephant-shaped luggage tag on my suitcase, he said that it might make people think i was a republican. “probably not,” i said, “since my hair’s pink.” you know, like a GIRL.
on the way to the airport, gabriel asked me a lot of questions about going to see my mom for thanksgiving. where does your mom live? in st. louis, missouri. it’s far. what’s your mom’s name? judy. my mom’s name is ari. are you going for three days? no, six. what if you went for thirty-five days? that would be too long; i have to go back to work. what if you went for one day? that’d be too short. the flight would hardly be worth it. what if you went for ten days? again, the work thing. hey, that’s a krispy kreme over there!
at the moment i’m alone at 11PM on thanksgiving in a st. louis bar, where the doorman eyed my texas drivers’ license with suspicion. everyone at this bar seems to be home for the holidays; they’re greeting the bartenders by name and talking about college life. one of the bartenders-by-name almost spilled beer on my computer (she apologized profusely, so i told her that this laptop’s really old), and two people have asked if i’m writing a paper or “you’re not working, are you?” i wanted to explain that, no, i’m here by myself because i don’t really know anyone in st. louis and i haven’t left the house all day so i felt like i wanted to go somewhere and write or surf the internet but this bar doesn’t have wifi so i went with the writing. instead i just smiled and said “no.”
i had thanksgiving dinner with my parents and my aunt and grandfather, who also live in st. louis. our dinner conversation made me think about the jokes i make. my parents and sister (who is in brazil right now, where they don’t have thanksgiving) always laugh at my jokes, but my aunt and grandfather don’t always laugh. my grandfather’s not laughing has two explanations: he’s eighty-nine and doesn’t usually get the pop-culture references, and he doesn’t hear very well. when people talk over each other or too quickly he doesn’t catch everything. he puts himself in a different mode when he can’t hear what people are saying, and you can practically see the change on his face. my grandmother (his wife) didn’t always hear too well either, and she often seemed like she, too, was missing most of the conversation. when questioned about her glazed-over look, she would say, “i’m just glad to have my family around me.” i’m pretty sure that this is my grandfather’s passive-listening mode: he stops paying strict attention and instead just enjoys the fact that his family’s there and talking and enjoying each other’s company.
this makes me happy.
(the bartender-by-name just came over to ask if i needed anything. “i’m fine, thanks,” i said.
“what are you working on?” she asked. “i’m really curious.”
“just writing,” i said. “my parents live here, and i’m visiting for thanksgiving. i don’t really know anyone, but i wanted to go out, so here i am.”
“i’m sally,” she said, shaking my hand. i guess now i know someone.)
but back to the jokes. my immediate family always laughs at my jokes. the jokes are often at my mom’s expense, especially about the dolls, but she seems to take them with good humor. in fact, i’m starting to think she shows me her dolls because she’s amused by how much they freak me out. the extended family, though, doesn’t always know where i’m coming from. which makes me wonder: do my parents laugh at my jokes because they think i’m funny, or because they consider the laughing a familial obligation? my experiences in a workplace setting lead me to believe that i’m not always as hilarious to other people as i am to myself. this same theory may also apply to hair color. when my dad picked me up from the airport, he didn’t seem surprised by my pink hair, nor did he comment on it. my initial thought was that he’d seen me with funny-colored hair before and was therefore unfazed. but maybe the family code that makes him laugh at all my jokes also dictates that he not comment on my tattoos and piercings and funny hair.
the consolation prize is that at least my immediate family is happy to see me. really, that’s the best prize of all.