thank goodness

I‘m ensconced tonight at my mother’s house in the Alleghany Highlands of Virginia, where it’s already feeling like winter. When I left Arlington around 7:45 this morning, temperatures there were in the 60s (though projected to fall into the lower 40s later in the day), but just a few hours later and 220 miles further southwest I was seeing snow flurries, sleet and frost with accompanying temperatures in the mid-30s.

The office closed yesterday at 3:00, though I ended up there an extra half-hour; even so, that fortunately still left me a little time to visit with Jeff at home before driving him to the airport a little after 4:00 for his flight out to SF to spend Thanksgiving with his own family. I then spent most of the rest of the evening cleaning off my old data from a computer I was planning to bring home to give to my sister’s family and updating the OS and system utilities, doing laundry and packing. I had talked to my mom earlier in the day to let her know that I’d be heading down early Thursday morning rather than Wednesday night; the combination of bad storms they were having here (my sister reported hail), my dislike of nighttime driving, and the huge numbers of deer also being reported along the route (my sister was hit by a deer earlier this week, in fact) had her in agreement that it would be better to wait to do the drive.

And while I heard horror stories from friends who tried to travel last night, my trip this morning was uneventful. Traffic on I-66 and I-64 was almost nonexistent, and even I-81 was far, far better than usual. In fact, I made the trip in about 3-1/2 hours rather than the 4 or more it often takes. A strong headwind, though–and perhaps also the heavier-than-usual load of computer, 19-inch CRT, and luggage– kept my mileage a little low; I was achieving only 40mpg in the Prius this time around, rather than the 50-55 I usually get in highway travel. Still, I guess most people find it hard to feel sorry at my “only 40mpg,” so I’m not really complaining.

We spent most of the day at my sister’s house nearby, but the number present sadly has dwindled. Thanksgiving was never the huge family holiday for us that Christmas is (when there will be 30-40 family members at my sister’s house on Christmas Eve), with the men of the family–excepting usually my father and me–almost always out at the hunting camp on Thanksgiving, or coming in just long enough to eat and head back out to try to bag a turkey or deer. With my father’s death last year and my grandfather’s this year, my grandmother’s absence-by-dementia thanks to Alzheimer’s, and my brother-in-law and middle nephew continuing the hunting tradition, there were only seven of us at dinner this afternoon–my mom, sister, oldest and youngest nephews, aunt and her husband, and me. There was an overabundance of food, common at all festivities hosted by my sister–20-pound turkey and ham; mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole and stuffing; deviled eggs; rolls; spiced apples; two kinds of cranberry sauce, and two kinds of gravy; and four pies plus “dirt pudding,” the latter made by my youngest nephew. Yes, five desserts for seven people. Yet my sister still spent the day apologizing that there wasn’t the array of food “we used to have for Thanksgiving.” Given this history, it’s actually kind of amazing that I manage to keep a waist size smaller than my age; I was just really lucky to have the right kind of metabolism as a kid, and as an adult to visit–and eat–with my family only a few times a year.

My mother told me on the phone yesterday that for the sake of peace there was to be no political discussion while I was here–my immediate family tends to the NRA-card-carrying, religious right especially the 18-year-old nephew, more’s the pity (though, to be fair, as is common with his generation, he’s completely accepting of my gayness), while I, well, not so much. My nephew, sister and I nevertheless indulged in some heated discussion earlier, but stopped when Mom came back from church, so she never knew there was anything but pleasantness between the rest of us today.

After dinner, we all spent some time cleaning up the disaster area that was my youngest nephew’s bedroom, and then Mom, my nephews and I came back to my mom’s house, where the youngest is playing one of my Playstation games, the oldest is on his laptop, Mom is watching TV and I’m indulging my Internet habit. I spoke briefly to Jeff, who was at relatives’ in San Jose, but the poor cell phone signals here in the country eventually dropped our connection; it sounded like he was having a nice time, though.

Apropos Jeff and California, I mentioned to my family that he and I were thinking of leaving Virginia for the West Coast in the next one to two years, and that went over like a lead balloon. Even though I’m in my forties, my family still don’t even like it that I live only a four-hour drive away, and the idea that I would move out of the state, or try to live my own life apart from them, still distresses and angers them even after more than 20 years on my own. Not many of us have managed to create any real separate existence; as I’ve noted before, my relatives all live nearly on top of one another, and even vacation together every year despite spending every day together–and talking on the phone throughout the day, despite living no more than a few hundred yards apart.

I’m so different from them, in so many ways. Sometimes I’m still amazed that the same DNA could create such incredibly different creatures as my sister and me, or even that I could be the offspring of my parents.

Nonetheless, I give thanks that they love me so much, love my partner, and tolerate–relatively well, though not without conflict–my emotional, intellectual, and political differences from them, and that I’m always welcome here in their homes and in their hearts. As much as I complain about them, I’m really blessed to have come from among them, and I give thanks for that.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may you be as blessed.

[Of course, right after posting this, I had to go break up a fight between the 18-year-old and the 9-year-old when I heard very loud shouting coming from the other side of the house. Ah, brotherly love.]