If there are any normal families, I don’t want to meet them. Last week, I spent a lot of time with my favorite families. A hundred moments reminded me that the reasons I love them lie in their quirks.
We set up the nativity scene at my parents’ home, and my husband insisted that the camels would have been total bros with baby Jesus. He put them right up front with Mary and Joseph, and shoved all the “wise dudes” to the side. I’ve always found a special once-a-year peace in composing that scene, and have always arranged it in a very specific way… but in over twenty years, yesterday was the first time the nativity scene has made me laugh.
In middle school, all I wanted was to be normal. The worst thing my father ever did was pick me up at the end of classes wearing teeny tiny red running shorts. I’d spot him standing outside his Ford truck, stretching. As my cheeks flushed and I scurried over, hoping no one would see him, he always made a point of calling my name. “Jenn! Jenn! Over here!” Meanwhile, all the other kids stared at him… and his thighs… and I heard about it so much I started riding the bus. Definitely not normal.
But yesterday, as I sat and talked with my dad, we meandered through the fantastic journeys his mind-numbing pain medicines take him on these days. He filled me in on his recent adventures – Loading lumber on barges! Wrangling horses! – and I just nodded, and asked questions, and listened. In his drug-induced hallucinations, my father is clearly a rugged man, and I can only appreciate that there was once a time when he sported a perm and miniscule nylon shorts. I’m glad he’s been here long enough for me to see him go through multiple iterations of self – self is all that matters, normal be damned.
Over the weekend, I saw snow. I snuggled on the big beige couch at my in-laws’ mountain cabin, content in the knowledge that my apple and sweet potato pies were done to perfection. Cooking for a married-into family of picky Italians can induce fear in the most stalwart of Southern bakers, but I had made it through. Relaxing, I listened to the sounds of my newest family members milling about as they worked on turkey, potatoes, and cranberries.
“What the frick are you doing, Mom?!” … “No, the baby won’t like the meat that rare.” … “I’m buying a juicer, right now!” Wait, let me really put you in my seat for this show: Raise the volume of these exchanges to shake the timbers, insert the visual element of eye rolls and behind-the-back grimaces, and add the knowledge that everyone’s been drinking since 11:00 am. Then remind yourself that these people genuinely love each other more than just about anything on earth, and be glad you’ve expanded your quiet Scottish sensibilities of what family means. Walk into the dining room, swig a little fortifying wine, and add your voice to the strangely harmonious cacophony.