My Own Thanksgiving Reality Show
My mother’s family came from a little town in the Ukraine, (my father’s side came from Slovakia), and my sister and I often referred to Mom as the “mad Russian,” as she was constantly ranting and raving about something with a terribly negative view of people – including her husband – while my father, always the diplomat (I think I learned my knack for public relations which became my career from him), stood quietly by. Once when I was grown and long out of the house, I boldly confronted him as she was off on one of her temper tantrums with this demand: “Why don’t you rap her already?” He just shrugged his shoulders.
In hindsight, I think my mother had real clinical psychiatric issues. She may have been dipolar, with a heavy dose of a Napoleonic Complex. Perhaps, deep down, standing at just four eleven, and growing up in Depression poverty of immigrant parents, she felt insecure and inferior and never outgrew her tomboy scrappiness and aggressive often “in your face” character for, in her mind, it was the only way she would be heard. Though she was forced to drop out of high school a month before graduation because she needed to help her family, Mary was intelligent and savvy, and everything I know about handling money I learned from her. Yet she was obsessed with being the center of attention wherever she went and had the emotional maturity of an eight year old. But if it’s true opposites attract, it was these very qualities I think that, besides her beauty, drew my father to her.
All this made living with Mom like walking on eggs. You never knew what would set her off and when, which made holiday family gatherings or just simple Saturday afternoons sheer stomach wrenching experiences. And when my father, who never smoked, rarely drank, and seemed to be in terrific shape for someone who was not an athlete, dropped dead at 74 in the bathroom after coming home one night from a VFW meeting, I blamed cohabitating with this crazy woman for nearly fifty years as the cause of his early demise. After all, she was the one who smoked like a fiend – shouldn’t she have been the first to go? Overly critical of him while he was alive, my mother was totally lost when he left, demonstrating the best performance by a widow in a leading role, though her grief did not stop her from trying to sell his three month old Cadillac to friends and co-workers at his wake.
My sister dropped out of the family theatrics early in the game, marrying at 22 and moving to Long Island, leaving me, the single son (my closet homosexuality, interestingly enough, never became a subject of family discussion) to watch over Mom.
One Thanksgiving, in my feeble attempt to keep the family together, I drove all the way to extreme northwest New Jersey where my mother, without consulting either my sister or I, had moved to after my father’s death, and brought her to spend the night with me on Staten Island which, in holiday traffic, seemed half a world away. The plan was for us to drive over the following morning – Thanksgiving Day – to my sister’s on Long Island, another marathon on the Long Island Expressway.
But the next morning, Thanksgiving Day morning, when my mother saw some light snow falling that holiday morning, she refused to budge, and my frustration in seeing my carefully orchestrated holiday plans go down the sewer reached the point of no return, and in a sudden fit of rage, I knocked this then seventy something woman to the floor. She pretended in typical Mary style to be injured – she wasn’t – and all I thought was how I, a senior health care executive, was going to be charged with elder abuse of his own mother.
Several hours later, we buried the hatchets and spent Thanksgiving as the old lady and her fag son in a local diner. Talk about suicide by Mother.
It was the last time I attempted to play Family Man, and today when I see those warm and fuzzy commercials with the family around the table and the big turkey ready to be devoured, I chuckle to myself and start figuring how many extra hours in the gym it’s going to take to burn off the Thanksgiving dinner my partner, who’s a great cook, and I will eat together, with the “kids,” our four dogs, waiting in the wings.
Happy Turkey Day!