Alan Chartock | I, Publius: From politics to gizzards, family Thanksgiving fraught with peril

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GREAT BARRINGTON — We have reiterated David Easton's words that "Politics is the allocation of scarce resources" many times.

And Tip O'Neill once said, "All politics is local." Nothing could be more political or local than the question of where to spend Thanksgiving.

As one of the oldest of sayings goes, "A son is a son until he takes him a wife but a daughter is a daughter for the rest of her life." Sometimes these adages are just dead wrong. The Chartocks are quite lucky that out kids have always been very good about dividing their loyalties between our family and the in-laws.

Every family does it differently. Some families alternate years. Others bring the whole family together. As kids have kids and Thanksgiving traditions continue, generations are added. People die and are mourned and remembered at the table.

Some people have fights and stop talking to each other for a while. Uncle Irving might say something favorable about Donald Trump and his left of center niece might say, "I'm never talking to him again." In some cases people make up, in others they don't. Then there are the divorces. Who gets to come to Thanksgiving, the father or the mother? Is the new spouse included in the group?

Of course, there is the weighty matter of the food.

There is usually a vegan who makes a face when the turkey or ham is presented. It has gotten even worse in recent years as the organic and gluten-free revolutions have taken place. We've all heard the question posed as to whether the Brussels sprouts are organic with at least one not-yet-graduated-from-college young person becoming enraged.

For years at our big Thanksgiving affair with friends in Connecticut, I was allowed to make the stuffing. I did that by throwing everything I could think of into the mix. Those ingredients included chopped up turkey gizzards and garlic and prunes. There was open revolt by our hosts on that one. The gizzards and prunes did it. Never again was I allowed to make the stuffing. I have resented that for years.

Sometimes there is a competition for whose is best. While it is never spoken aloud, there is always mention of it in the car on the way home and the conversation has to be kept alive so that no one falls asleep.

There's often a question as to what one is allowed to say. There may be a temperamental individual in the group who thinks anything anyone says is either racist or sexist or insensitive. When I was a kid, I had an unmarried cousin and I blurted out at the table, "When are you going to get married?" Trust me, there was hell to pay since I had obviously picked that question up from my parents who were sitting at that table red faced.

There's also the matter of alcohol consumption. Nothing can aggravate things more than a tipsy person who has lost all ability to think through what they are saying.

Who drives home is also a concern. Thanksgiving is late enough in the season so that ice and snow and very cold nights are often a problem. People are tired and what used to be a simple hour's ride home begins to feel like a trip to California.

Toothpicks are used to pry open eyelids and windows are left open to keep the driver awake to the great consternation of everyone else in the car. Maybe the car owner forgot to put snow tires on and that only made things worse. One year we had to go at least an hour out of our way, so icy was the road home.

When to leave for Thanksgiving is always a problem in our house because so many people want to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Ah, well, does any of this sound familiar to you?

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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