2002-11-19 8:25 p.m.

Merry Goatmas, or A Crash Course on Holidays and My Family

Sweetcheeks and Turtledove are currently wrestling with that couples' dilemma: Whose family to spend Thanksgiving with?

If one of you has family out of town, or one of you is on the outs with their family, it's easy enough: most years you spend the holiday with whoever's in town or whoever you both get along with. If family's far away, then you trade years, or you plead poverty and stay home. But if you both have family in town, especially if there are grandkids involved -- oh, then you're in for some fun.

My grandparents -- all four of them -- lived in the same county we did when I was growing up. The two sets of grandparents probably had a lot more in common when they were younger, and might have even liked each other if their children had married someone else. But by the time I came into the picture, sides had been chosen up: the easygoing, cathair-covered eccentricity of Mom's parents and wealthy, tightassed WASPishness of Dad's.

My mother's sister, Aunt Slappy and her husband, Uncle Spook (who had some mysterious government job he could never tell us about), lived nearby, but didn't have any kids. My father's brother and his wife, Aunt and Uncle Jesus, stayed clear of the whole thing by living 1500 miles away, and their daughter didn't make an appearance until fairly late on. So Sweetcheeks and I were the only grandkids available for spoiling on either side. You can probably see where this is going.

For about ten years, there was a tense but workable holiday detente for the sake of the grandkids. The whole clan (minus Aunt and Uncle Jesus) would gather at one of the grandparental homes, and the grandparents would try to behave, more or less. Then one year, Aunt Slappy decided to bring her pet goat to Christmas and it all fell apart.

Taffy was one of the most foul-tempered animals ever to walk the earth. This may have been because she lived in a small pen down the hill from my aunt's house, smack in the middle of Berkeley, or because Taffy had such a horrible case of gas that she needed to be taken up to the ag school every few months to get deflated. In any case, Taffy wasn't a goat you'd want to invite for Christmas unless you were planning on serving her as dinner. And yet there she was, tied to Mom's parents' front porch, nibbling insolently on a bale of alfalfa, glowering at everyone who passed and letting out periodic bursts of goat pellets.

Grandma Dad threw a fit. She'd never cared for Aunt Slappy and she liked Uncle Spook even less, but once the goat made her appearance Grandma Dad had hit her limit. From then on, it was separate holidays. One set of grandparents would get the actual holiday (Grandma and Grandpa Mom, usually) and the other would get a day around the holiday. As far as we kids were concerned, it was all good: we got all the attention and presents and twice as much yummy holiday food.

Fast-forward about twenty years, when Sweetcheeks and Turtledove get together. The first year, they each spent at their own family's holidays. The second, our folks were out of town and all the kids went over to Turtledove's folks. Now, year three: both sets of parents are in town, and the usual mob is expected at Turtledove's parents: Turtledove's sister, the sister's best friend (who is also the daughter of family friends) and several other friends.

Sweetcheeks, being almost phobic about conflict, and not always entirely sensitive as to how his plans affect other people, is in a tizzy. He finally hits on the "solution" of having the 15 of us(!) go out to a restaurant. It's less than two weeks from Thanksgiving, the restaurant he will want to go to is undoubtedly expensive, reservations for 15 are hard to come by at any time, he's wigging out bigtime and he hasn't quite noticed that no one else has really embraced the idea. I like Turtledove's family, but 15 is a lot of people, restaurants aren't really what holidays are about for me, and Turtledove's sister's friend, who had a falling out with the sister after failing the bar exam about a year and a half ago, is still in a bad mood and still taking it out on everyone around her. (Never mind that she's since passed it.)

TheBoy and I, who had been thinking of going to visit his dad in Austin but couldn't afford plane tickets, were seriously considering a last-minute road trip just to get away from this mess. ("Let's see.. we can make it in 2 days if we drive 15 hours each day. Yeah, that sounds reasonable!") Finally the plan started falling apart. Sweetcheeks finally caught on that people weren't really into the restaurant plan, and isn't even pushing the shared Thanksgiving idea so hard any more. Friend's parents got fed up with how their daughter was acting and are spending Thanksgiving in the desert with their son instead. So now wherever we end up, it'll be relatively sane. Everyone will behave, and there will not be any goats.

And here I thought the drama would be over once the grandparents passed on. Who knew?

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