My parents look normal, but they were weird. Here they are, looking a little weird:
My mom tells me I had just thrown a temper tantrum before this photo, because my great grandmother had walked past me to kiss my new baby brother. (She always did prefer boys.) My baby brother has kicked off his bootie, which is in my dad’s lap. We all look worn out. Family is exhausting.
Here is one way my mom was weird. She hated Debby Boone. My mom was a preacher’s wife in Texas, but she’d growl and turn the dial if “You Light Up My Life” came on the radio, which it did, often, for a decade. When I was about 9 years old, I bought my first album, with Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” on it. I still sing that song in the shower, and think of my mom. My mom loved the Pointer Sisters too. We’d sing “We are Family!” and dance a little. But never Amy Grant. My mom has no patience for sap.
Here is one way my dad was weird. On our annual four hour drive to spend Thanksgiving with his family, we would listen to two cassette recordings. One was “Alice’s Restaurant,” by Arlo Guthrie. I think maybe the version we listened to is here, but I am not sure. I think maybe this recording has been expurgated. The other cassette recording was of Tom Lehrer songs. The one I remember every Thanksgiving is “National Brotherhood Week.” But there is also “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,” and “The Vatican Rag.” Preparing ourselves for extended time with one another, and lots of time with my dad’s extended family in Central Texas, required political satire, served slow as molasses (Guthrie), and piquant as olives (Lehrer).
One of my dad’s best friends is a retired Episcopal priest everyone calls “Father Bob.” His son wrote a book called What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. He also wrote and directed Pieces of April. It remains one of my favorite holiday movies, ever. Hedges also co-wrote the screenplay to About a Boy, which has a scene about love and vulnerability to rival the fox and boy scene in The Little Prince. I think maybe Peter Hedges has a sweet/bitter relationship to the idea of family.
I am at heart an overly earnest person, more like Debby Boone or Amy Grant than I really want to admit. The Peanuts trilogy used to tear me up every year. But I haven’t come anywhere near Charlie Brown and Lucy for a while. I’ve needed to calibrate my tears around the holidays, taking one step at a time, moderating grief with irony, political satire, and glimpses of joy during a season I both love and hate. This is my third Thanksgiving since my marriage of 21 years ended. I am able to think about watching Peanuts again, feeling safe in nostalgia.