Monday, November 21, 2005
We have always been a clannish lot. I suppose it is the heritage of those generations of pioneers who even into the 1930's were setting out in extended families to carve a home out of hitherto wild and uninhabitable places, expecting to support and depend on one another to survive. We have not been able, in the uninhabitable wilds of urban America, to shake that expectation. But sometimes we wonder whether we'll survive each other. Take Thanksgiving Day...
We had gathered in all our extented glory the night before at the Montana home of the clan patriarch - Great Grandparents to newborns. Breakfast was a hubbub of hungry tots and pre-adolescent wanna-be chefs. My sleepy and distractible Grandmother was methodically toasting frozen waffles. Impatient of the creaky toaster, I efficiently popped a whole trayful of waffles in the broiler and turned to urgent matters of justice concerning too few warm waffles among so many little mouths.
No one liked the squeal of the nervy smoke alarm, protesting mother's bacon frying. Roger, my sister's husband, cheerfully disarmed it. By then the entire clan had crowded into the kitchen, pouring coffee and hoping for a stack of the bacon-crowned waffles the Grandmothers were turning out so enticingly.
"What's this?" blustered my Granddad, indicating the blue tendrils of what could only be smoke vining up the wall from the broiler. Roger jerked the oven open. It belched smoke and flame like a dragon with indigestion. He quickly closed it again. "I'll just turn off the gas. It'll burn itself out in a minute," he chirped.
A shocked hush fell in response to this bit of cheerful denial.
It was my mess..."Stand back!" I said, laying about me with towels and potholders, "I'll take 'em outside!"
Impressed, the wide-eyed children pressed back into their chairs from which they had an excellent view of the dragon. The grown-ups in disarray were equally unwilling to miss the spectacle.
I, with burning eyes and wild hair illuminated by towering flames, swung around narrowly missing my startled Granddad. "Move!" I shouted in terror of the shimmering waffles. He scrambled backward, treading Roger's toes, bouncing off the packed wall of onlookers. But wherever he turned, there I was with those hellfire waffles, bellowing, "Move! Move! Move!"
I was enjoying the fresh air and the satisfying sizzle as the offending pan sank slowly into the snowbank, when I heard my husband quieting the children, "Tend to your breakfast, now. It's not like you've never seen flaming waffles before."
Not to be outdone, Roger quipped, "Hey, Liz, do you think you could make us some of those Billings Waffles Flambe when we get home?"
Unhappily, my thrill-a-minute brother, Jim had missed the waffle excitement, so he determined to make his own by offering rides in his new business helicopter. We soared above the spectacular rims and rivers of the Billings environs. Four-year-old Winston excitedly found the toy-sized train huffing by below. Piloting, Jim turned to check everyone's seatbelts with what, I realized a moment later, was a mischievous gleam in his eye.
He slanted the copter over the rims in a gravity-enhanced dive that trailed delighted shreiks and whoops of laughter. Grinning Winston declared, "That was better than a BIG rollicoaster!"
Walking back to the car, Liz and I exchanged opinions about our rides. "Care for a toffee?" I inquired by the way. She turned a polite shade of green. "No, thanks," she hesitated delicately. "You remember the part where Jim plunged over the cliffs?" I nodded helpfully. "Well, as we went down, my waffles... rose to the occasion... I think I said something like 'Gack' or 'Urg'. I hoped nobody noticed, but then I realized that with those hearing-protector earphones and mikes, I had broadcast it through the entire helicoper!" I patted her sympathetically as she paused uncomfortably. "Whatever you do," she groaned, "don't tell Jim!"
Thanksgiving Day turned out to be one of those magical days that have room in them for all the lovely things you hoped would fit. The children made cornhusk pilgrims with Liz, and illustrated books of their thank-you notes for each family at my kitchen table scriptorium. We feasted on turkey and old stories. The daddies did the dishes in gratitude to the cooks.
In the evening, we gathered by the light of glowing harvest hymns to tell what God had taught us to be grateful for in what we had never thought to be able to give thanks. Youngest to oldest, four generations unfolded treasures of God's graciousness. And as Granddad prayed over each family, pouring comfort and strength over the broken, sore, unfinished places of our lives, I hoped I wouldn't survive this bunch.
November 30, 1996