I am once again inspired in my own direction by the… seasonal?… decor of the White House. This year’s is a little closer to conventionally festive than last year’s, but it’s still a little odd. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be something I’d feel the need to handle.
As many people do, I was looking at Twitter today, and I saw several people gaping in wonder at this article (in the virtual way one gapes on Twitter):
I join in the gaping. Leaving aside the fact that I do actually accept these premises she’s troubled by, I’m trying to picture the sort of person who looks at their own children and says, “You’re going to have to earn your healthcare and education,” because in their mind this is the underpinning axiom of their nation’s origin.
Which in turn suggests that their nation was founded on the premise that the only good is the war of all against all, that the proverbial crab-bucket of continual mutually-opposed striving is a good place to live (rather than a kind of living hell), and that at best any interactions between humans, regardless of relationship, are transactions in which all parties are clutching for maximum advantage with piratical avidity.
I am very glad to not be living in that nation, but I have a little vignette of life there to share with you. It came to me almost the moment I read that squib above.
Follow me in imagination now, to the end of a day in early winter, or perhaps late fall– a day which might be called a holiday, by those whose jobs are so bafflingly open-handed as to allow days off, one on which the roasting of a turkey is part of the traditional observance. The house into which we observers seep is following that tradition. Let us extend our senses so far as to enjoy the aroma of the bird, basted to perfection, as it rests on the carving board beside the oven.
There, standing guard by the bird, is dear old Dad. He holds the carving knife in one hand, and the other sits lightly on the warm breast of the turkey, as if without his intervention it might bound up and fly away. His eyes never rest: they track from Mom’s final preparation of the gravy to the dining room door, through which the kids’ moans of hunger can be heard, and back.
Mom, finished, pours the gravy into its silver boat. She glances at Dad, but he notices and tenses, ready for whatever she might try. She simply sets the gravy on the tray with the potatoes and stuffing, and carries it all into the dining room. There, she stands against the wall, tray held up where the kids cannot reach, visible from the kitchen. Dad, after contemplating the situation for a moment, nods. He picks up the carving board and carries it in. He does not notice when Mom surreptitiously sucks a mouthful out of the gravy.
The kids sit first, across from each other at the foot of the table. Junior is on the left, because he is able so shove Sis away from the chair; he is older and slightly larger. Sis sits beside Mom on the right. She is very young, and sometimes the looks she bestows upon Mom, a desperate pleading in her great hollow eyes at each and every meal, are such that Mom almost gives in to the strange urge to give her child unearned food. Almost.
Mom has a strong faith. She is involved, and she is certain of her nation’s founding and history.
Dad sits last. There is no setting in his place, and the turkey goes down right in front of him, out of easy reach of the others, well within the arc he can sweep with the carving knife– the scars on Mom’s and Junior’s arms attest to that.
There are two plates in front of Mom, the bottom one pink, the upper one blue, because in this family we are mindful of there being exactly two genders. Dad looks at the blue plate and says through clenched teeth, “May I have some potatoes, please?”
The bowls are perilously close to Junior, but the swollen knuckle he will have for the rest of his life reminds him how fast and hard Mom’s serving spoon can move. He merely sits, watching, as she takes a single scoop of potatoes from the bowl– her bowl, brought into the marriage and her domain– and puts it on Dad’s plate. He asks for stuffing and gravy as well, and as he does so, he moves the knife suggestively on the bird’s breast, away from the wing, toward the keel. At last, Mom pushes his plate over, keeping her hand on her side lest he think she is trying to get unearned meat.
Satisfied with the transaction, and mindful that she has contributed labour to the feast, Dad cuts a thick slice of breast. He reaches across, the meat impaled on the end of the knife, to drop it on Mom’s plate. A tear tracks its way down Sis’s pale cheek.
Now the kids have a chance, through recitation of chores completed, to prove they have earned some of the turkey. Dad is generally unimpressed; the things these kids do are so simple, requiring neither skill nor strength. In the end, he flips a wing toward Junior. Sis gets a postcard of skin; not only does she do so much less than her older brother, but she has terrible diction. This is common among children under five, but Dad sees no reason to make exceptions to The Rules on that basis.
Mom also gives the kids some of the food in her keeping. Dad sneers at how she coddles them– almost a whole scoop of potatoes split between them, and a brimming tablespoon of gravy a piece.
They say their prayers, because saying prayers is an important element of life in their nation. The words are all familiar, but the sentences convey no meaning to any member of the family.
Right hand still clutching the knife, Dad thrusts the fingers of his left hand into the uncut breast of the turkey which he bought using his money, tearing away a fat handful of the juicy fowl. He never takes his eyes off the others as he crams the meat into his mouth. They never take their eyes off him as they begin to eat, except to dart a wary glance at the others.
Eventually, Dad is sated. Let’s follow him as he pushes away from the table, taking the largely denuded carcase away with him. He has a padlocked fridge in his study, where he can save the leftovers. He smiles at the sounds of covert struggle behind him. The kids don’t fear the fork Mom holds as much as they do his knife, and they’ll make out just fine from the scraps on the floor. Mom, of course, will claim whatever gobbets still lie on the table-top, as is her due.
All in all, it’s a feast that honours what they all understand is the founding precept of their nation: