We had heard stories about families fracturing and dis-inviting members to Thanksgiving for voting the wrong way in the election.
As we motored up to Cape Cod for our annual gathering, there was no worry about that happening in our clan. We all were born into Eisenhower Republican families, and some of us had morphed into Democrats and Independents. But no one, as far as we knew, had lurched into Trump World. There would be no angry confrontations, no finger-pointing. It never, miraculously, became a topic of conversation at the dinner table.
It was, however, the source of dozens of one-on-one conversations, all fraught with dire predictions and head-shaking disbelief.
My personal favorite metaphor for Trumpism was managing a severe disease. There was the near obligatory musing that he never believed he would get through the primary, let alone get the nomination. When he kept making progress, the theory went, he said and did every outrageous thing to deliberately derail his candidacy, only to find that outrageousness became a propellant of stunning power. The whole situation is so mind-boggling that some of us still cling to the notion that it is a bad dream that we will collectively pop out of.
In hindsight, the unspoken bond to not speak of him at the dinner table seemed to produce a livelier, more jokey gab fest, as if laughter could be an antidote. A televised dog show prompted all kinds of dog stories including one from my nephew about a friend who had a trained pointer and a parrot. That’s really all you need to know about this story to assemble it, other than parrot’s one English word, his owner’s name: Mark! Mark! Mark!
We wandered into dating apps and wondered whether we would have met our spouses using one. The general consensus was no.
What algorithm would possibly make these pairings? We laughed at that.
We drifted into offensive professional sports teams’ names and logos, notably Cleveland and Washington, and milked the topic exhaustively, even finding something amiss with Seahawks, although I can’t recall what was wrong with that name. And then there are the Florida Seminoles, an appropriation that the tribe actually likes.
Amazingly, someone brought up Pioneers, the name of my high school sports teams and thus the student body. Living in suburban St. Louis, the “Gateway to the West,” Pioneers had always seemed utterly appropriate, if not inevitable, as a school nickname. (There was no mascot.) Yet the woman to my right, who will remain nameless, made the case that the pioneers brought about the destruction of the Native American tribes.
I said I always blamed the U.S. Army. She said the Army was protecting the pioneers on orders from Washington. I said the pioneers were brave and bold and simply wanted to travel west and start a new life. She said you couldn’t really separate the dastardly acts of the Army from the encroachment on Indian lands by the pioneers. I saw her point but I found it absurd.
But the conversation took up 10 minutes of not talking about Trump. And that’s what its real value was.
Similarly, borderline inane conversations were percolating around the table as we ate the feast. So many side dishes were available that more than one person suggested that next year we just have the sides and forget the turkey, although once the turkey was removed from the oven, it was the most perfect looking bird I have ever seen.
We were stunned to learn that it came from Trader Joe’s, which of course is associated with frozen foods. Who knew? The next morning, the destroyed turkey was on the counter top, looking like a major medical procedure gone terribly wrong.
The entire visit was, in my view, overshadowed by Trump. I was dying to have him swamp the dinner table chatter, but kept my mouth shut in accord with the unspoken bond. Maybe the hosts, my brother and his wife, knew a secret Trump voter at the table and did not want things to get out of hand. In any event, the myriad side conversations were oddly comforting, offering an outlet for the roiling feelings inside.
Thanksgiving 2016, forever to be known as the year of omens and too many side dishes.