I took a longer, more scenic route home this morning for Thanksgiving. I could just about do Hwy. 31 with my eyes closed, and I needed to get a different view. Heading east on 84, meandering in and out of Farm to Market Roads, then approaching Chandler from the south, I was reminded how stunningly beautiful the area I call home is. My recent Wendell Berry readings, the cold front that pushed through Texas last night, and the fall colors painting the rolling hills of pine and oak just south of Lake Palestine combined to create one of those memorable times on the road.
Instead of my usual auditory diet of old-time country music, I decided instead to listen to a book-on-cd I found last night in the bargain rack of Barnes and Noble. Po Bronson's "Why Do I Love These People?" caught my attention about a year ago, but not enough to actually read it. But the book is about family, so I figured listening to other's stories of their family dis functions and all the ways they have been transformed, redeemed, even ruined by the people they didn't get to choose would be a nice preparation for my annual experience of all the joys and pains of a Nash family Thanksgiving. At one point Bronson made the point that the "And they lived happily ever after..." stories are never as good as those of families who can't stand being with each other, but who somehow, over time, come to terms with how things are, and choose to be together. I tried to bring that with me into Thanksgiving, and I think it helped.
As I've shared before, I have a large extended family. My dad was the eighth of nine children. All his siblings had two or more children, and all but a handful in my generation have in turn had numerous kids. It's a long and wide line of people that look an awful lot alike. For as long as I can remember we've had Thanksgiving out at uncle Johnny and aunt Diane's farm. It's the only place large enough for our clan to roam.
For the past several years, uncle Johnny has done a hayride out on the back-acreage for the slew of little ones, some of whom look forward to this day where they can see cows and horses for an entire year. What usually happens is the young ones jump onto the back of the trailer, along with one or two of their parents. He then yells across the field to see if any of us left would like to go along. Those in my generation say no, we're just fine leaving the hayride fun to the children, we'll sit back and have thirds. But secretly I think we all really want to go along, if anything to rekindle the memories of when we were the little and found things to do out on the farm to entertain ourselves.
Today we acted on our impulses, and the hayride was full of three generations of Nash's. My parents were there, holding on as tight as the could, as were a couple of my cousins (one of whom is trying to fix me up with one of her friends,) and several children, who spent most of the trip throwing hay out so the cows would have a good Thanksgiving dinner. I wondered why I could look upon all these people in my extended family with a feeling of warmth, even with my face wind bitten with the cold breeze. Yet my immediate family takes a little more work to conjure up the same feelings. There's something different about the siblings of your parents and their children that is easier to deal with than your parents and siblings. There's enough distance with extended family to preserve the curiosity necessary for good conversation, yet there's the bond of blood there that keeps you bound to each other. With your immediate family, you are close enough to have grudges AND you are stuck to each other.
Toward the end of the hayride some of the younger boys jumped off to go play in the haystacks of the barn. Pulling up to the back of the house, I noticed the rest of the adults had stopped waiting for us and moved inside, where the fire was spreading warm air all around. I knew what was coming. I would say bye to everyone, my parents would follow me out to the car, and I'd head back west to the family I HAVE chosen. I laughed a little inside at the universality AND uniqueness of my experience. I knew it wasn't happily ever after, but it was good enough. Which is about as much as you can hope for.