Holiday time isn’t for everyone. Such a mixed bag of tricks…I swear it feels like a continuation of Halloween. We’re surrounded by manufactured cheer. For some, the festive and formulaic films on the Hallmark Channel are a tonic. For others? They have an ironic, unintended effect, prompting prayers for amnesia so we can avoid comparisons to our own family members. You know them. Every family has one or two…those provocateurs wrapped in reindeer sweaters.
I have a dear friend…let’s call her Dottie. She’s the cutie in the pic with me. Dottie and I have been friends for 20+ years, which means she deserves a special commendation for her veteran status in “Vicki-land”. I adore her because she is smart and big-hearted. I could go on…and on…but in truth, the qualifications for best friend status could stop at those two characteristics. Smart and big hearted. That’s Dottie.
In her work-world, Dottie’s respected, sought-after and the spotlight only adds to her natural glimmer and glow. Her family, however? They believe she’s just an over-educated caterer. (No offense intended to caterers but I don’t think Dottie’s advanced degrees and credentials are required.)
For reasons I’d like to attribute to laziness, Dottie’s family enjoys holiday feasts because she creates them. Yep. She plans the menu, does the shopping, and lovingly transports her tasty cuisine to her sister’s home. Her sister who lives an hour away.
Maybe in our youth we accept certain roles when dumped (I mean…placed) upon us within the family. As we get older? Traditions suck – especially if you’re the sole supporter of some of them. I don’t care how often a distant uncle belches his gratitude after polishing off a two-plater-feast-o-rama. It’s not enough. I don’t care how often second cousins and hangers-on (where did these extra people come from?) comment on the ‘tender bake’ of your homemade yeast rolls, or how juicy the turkey is. No. No. No. You guessed it. Not enough. We yearn for consideration, respect, kindness. Even if only a tad.
What about the mashed potatoes I mentioned in the title of this rant? Yeah, I’m getting to that. The spuds were responsible for obliterating Dottie’s dwindling holiday cheer. See…when you are the designated purveyor of everything for your family feast, you need to plan ahead – just a smidge. I love the idea of a sous chef or Keebler elves, but I haven’t met any yet and neither has Dottie.
Unwilling to bet her oven gloves on magical helpers, smart girls like Dottie make a LENGTHY shopping list…check it twice….and map out the cooking, baking and prep in the same way I imagine a four-star General goes into battle. Except she’s got no troops. It’s just her…so the timeline…the second big task after all the fetching and gathering is done…becomes mission critical. When do I prepare what…as she scans the menu and strategizes.
Thanksgiving’s always on a Thursday, right? You know this. Surely Dottie’s sister did, too, but that didn’t stop her from calling the afternoon before Thanksgiving – you know, the day we call WEDNESDAY to proudly proclaim she’d be the princess of potatoes. Hey there, darling Dottie, loving sis. So…let’s see…I really want to help and considering you’re bringing everything…I’ll give til it hurts and maybe do the potatoes. See me? I’m SO helpful.
When we’re not stretched so thin that we’re like rubber bands ready to snap, even a late-in-the-game helping hand is nice. When you’re up to your armpits in a messy kitchen, juggling too much, the intrusion of a half-hearted “offer” is insulting. And that’s how Dottie felt. Not helpful. Was she wrong? No. There’s no ‘wrong’ when it comes skyscraper levels of emotionality at holiday time. What you feel is what you feel…but what you say and do…oh, those are the moneymakers or the deal breakers.
When Dottie called me, not long after her sister’s offer, she was ready to cancel Thanksgiving and bail on the whole shebang. As I listened, I couldn’t blame her. She’s been used for years…and yet…pointing out that it MIGHT BE that she’s changed…and her family’s the same as ever…seemed helpful. Maybe it’s okay for Dottie to be angry but funnel the heat toward adjusting her response. And she did.
Dottie did her duty. She delivered the feast (without the potatoes) and rather than assume her typical position in her sister’s kitchen, she explained that she’d let others tend to the remaining prep, as she took a comfy seat on the sofa. “Do you want to help with anything?” one of her nieces asked, no doubt flummoxed to see Aunt Dottie relaxing while everyone else spun into action. “No – I see you’ve got plenty of help. I’m good right here”, was Dottie’s succinct and satisfying response.
One of the best things about friends is the post-mortem chats. Post-mortems about anything – family feasts, annoying neighbors, dry cuticles – you name it. When Dottie and I compared notes about Thanksgiving I was thrilled to hear about her new persona. Less ‘Dutiful Dottie” and more “Do-it-Your-Own-Damn-Self-Dottie”. Yep – it was never about the mashed potatoes.
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