Uncle Robbie’s Toupee and the Coconut Cake

Moderately Confused
Moderately Confused

I come from agricultural stock. My eighty-five-year-old mother had ten brothers and sisters. The family crossed from Kentucky to Texas in a covered wagon driven by my grandfather after the tobacco plantation was swept clean by a flood. His uncle, the physician/owner, learned the hard way that trading pigs and bushels of corn for delivering babies and setting broken bones doesn’t protect a legacy from natural disaster.

My childhood Thanksgivings burst with thirty-something first cousins clustered around card tables tucked under covered patios of middle-class homes. We speculated about the ingredients in Pink Stuff, wondered what a “giblet” was, and hoped Uncle Robbie’s toupee—which rotated on his head like a gyroscope—didn’t make landfall on the coconut cake before we snagged our slices. The adults enjoyed more formal tables inside, although they never seemed to have as much fun as the tribe on the porch.

After the meal, we hung out and caught up. We talked about school awards and college plans and our latest romances (such as they were in a family of geeks). We played touch football until the older cousins became too competitively dangerous.

Then everybody pitched in to clean up. Tidbits wrapped in foil enabled everyone to take a little of everyone else home, extending the holiday a little longer by sharing what each family brought.

This past Thanksgiving, after spending Tuesday night in the hospital with my eighty-five-year-old mother and cooking with my daughter all Wednesday afternoon, I soldiered on in the name of family bonding. After a wonderful meal, we cleaned up debris and put away serving pieces that appear once a year. When I realized I didn’t hear shouts or chatter above the din of football, I investigated, tripping over the rug—fatigue makes me clumsier—before rounding the corner into the family room.

My parents watched Tony Romo fail while four other adults were transfixed by their cell phones. Seriously? I traded my adult son homemade yeast rolls for his cell, then hid it. I lacked the maternal creds to commandeer anyone else’s technology.

Since when does sitting in a room with someone constitute spending time with them? Why are “friends” posting on Facebook more interesting than family gathered around you? What’s wrong with this picture—besides everything?

I’m looking hard at Thanksgiving 2016. I plan to make a basket labeled “Cell Phones” and confiscate them at the door. With octogenarian parents, life changes rapidly. Every year is a gift, and I’m smart enough to sit with them, chat, make eye contact, and listen.

I’m also blessed by memories of drizzly November days on porches where the smartest among us got our coconut cake first. The turkey could wait.

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