My brother and I get along wonderfully, but the differences in our personalities are shocking: He tends to be reserved in social situations and observes others around him while I tend to act like a child and am observed by others in the way that people who go to the zoo observe gorillas. He can read stuff and then tell you about it using words in a really clear way whereas I forget even what I’m talking about right now and when I do try and use words to explain what I forgot about, they’re often the wrong ones.
When we were kids and people came over to our house, I bet my brother would have sweetly said hello and then retired to his room to read or draw, while I would have lifted up my hair, shown them the nape of my neck and then in one swift move, turned around, and pulled down my pants in order to show them my bottom. That’s a true story, and it’s a strange ritual that can be blamed on my mother: she said I had the sweetest neck and the cutest bottom she’d ever seen so why wouldn’t I want to share that with company in our home? Or with strangers in Swiss Chalet? Or at the top of the CN Tower? (Rest-assured, it was a ritual I abandoned in high school.)
It’s hard to articulate how different we are. But I’ve always felt this photo captures our polarity better than any words could.
Don’t be fooled by the dimples: I was brazen, overly confident, manipulative, needed obscene amounts of attention, spoke when I should have listened, and was filthy. I’m still all those things and my brother is still the extreme opposite of all those things.
That’s why I was a bit nervous for Thanksgiving dinner at the Beast’s family’s place. My mom and Russ were there, the Beast’s parents, his older brother Noah and his wife Laura and one of his younger brother Jake. With my brother and his wife Stephanie present, plus me and the Beast, that made for eleven people. Eleven very different people. Add that anxiety on top of having dinner around a table where anything can happen–and has happened–and then you might be able to better appreciate my apprehensions.
Things started out all civilized-like. The Beast’s parents presented a lovely selection of spreads, crackers, and cheeses for us to nibble on when we arrived late in the afternoon.
Everybody was talking and telling nice stories. It was great. Russ told us how one time he thought he’d finally found a word that my brother wouldn’t know the definition of so he called him and said, “So, what does avuncular mean?” My brother told him that it meant like an uncle, and then proceeded to tell Russ how certain South American tribes, anthropologically speaking, have avuncular tendencies blah blah blah. (I blocked out the rest because nobody ever calls me to see if I know what avuncular means.)
At first, we were reserved in our rate of alcoholic consumption. But as the clock ticked past 8:00pm, the wine and beer flowed a little more steadily. Jokes started to fly about this here blog and whether or not the meal we were about to enjoy would make the cut.
You see the Beast’s dad, Dave, is a wonderful cook, and there have been plenty of meals that he’s prepared that I could’ve blogged about but I’ve chosen not to, out of respect for the family and not wanting to publicize scandalous events for personal gain or cheap laughs (like last year’s Thanksgiving dinner when Dave frugally chose a utility-grade turkey that was missing a wing and a leg, which was only revealed mid-dinner, and was quite upsetting to certain parties who have difficulty eating healthy birds, let alone crippled ones). But Dave has assumed my lack of familial blogging has to do with the quality of the food he prepares. On the contrary, he doesn’t mess around when it comes to festive dinners (minus the deformed turkey). In fact Dave, an art director, controls every aspect of the meal, as you can see from his Thanksgiving flow chart:
Things took a turn for the worse when my brother and I joined Dave, who perpetually has a tea towel slung over his shoulder and wears a beret, in the kitchen. And then Noah, elder brother to the Beast came in. And then Dave put on an apron that bears a reproduction of the nude torso of Michelangelo’s David. And then Noah started doing lewd things in front of the apron.
And then Noah made Dave do lewd things to the turkeys while he was wearing the apron. And then I looked at my sweet brother, who’d witnessed everything, and his mouth was agape and he was white as a ghost. And I did nothing to protect him from it. I may have even, in a small way, encouraged the debaucheries.
At around 9:30pm, dinner was ready. Marg had set a beautiful table replete with a joke setting for Noah, the son with the healthiest appetite.
Dave made a touching speech about how thrilled he was to have us with him around the table, and how he’d made a donation on behalf of all of us to a local charity that provides Thanksgiving dinners to those in need. It wasn’t just the 11 of us eating here tonight: 6 others were there in spirit.
We all filled our plates with Dave’s dishes, including spectacular Brussel sprouts cooked with bacon.
Marg, mother to the Beast contributed her famous carrot casserole to the spread. By all measures, it shouldn’t be any good (processed cheese slices count as an ingredient), but it is truly sublime and I can never get enough.
There was some anxiety over divvying up the turkey legs: The Beast and Noah each secured one and I knew my dear mother desired one too, but was too timid to grab it from the platter, so I procured it for her.
A Beast Family Thanksgiving ritual is to go around the table and tell everybody what you’re thankful for. Marg and Dave gave wonderful speeches about family and being together and that was lovely. In fact, everybody said lovely things, except for a few odd exceptions: The Beast was thankful that the “six homeless people probably didn’t have to wait as long as we did for our Thanksgiving dinner.” Jake used this forum to make some political statement (as most 22 year olds and hippies would do), and said something about Indians and land, which was weird because I don’t see what that has to do with Thanksgiving. And then I mentioned how thankful I was that I’d found a turkey leg for my mother because even though by all accounts there should have been four legs to go around, you just never know how handicapped your bird is going to be.
With all the splendid food and drink, the colour in my brother’s face was returning. And then things took a turn for the worse: Somehow we started talking about the Beast and Noah’s long hair and beards. And then my mom whispered something to me:
Mom: Do you think that the drapes match the carpet?
Foodie: Did you just ask me if the drapes match the carpet?
Noah: What did she say?
Foodie: She asked if the drapes match the carpet.
Laughter erupted. My brother’s colour disappeared again.
Marg: What’s going on?
Somebody: (pointing to my mother) She just asked if the drapes match the carpet?
Marg: What does that mean?
More laughter erupted. My brother may have gone into shock mode.
Somebody finally explained to dear Marg what it meant and then my mother, in an attempt to make Marg feel better about not knowing the urban meaning of drapes and carpets, told an enchanting mealtime tale…
Mom: You think that’s bad, well one time at the singles club that Russ and I run I had to explain to a table of older ladies who can’t hear a damn thing what the Mile High Club was during a brunch. I was shouting that it was, “sex on an airplane!” across the table.
More laughter, and my brother, my sweet, dear brother, who must have desired nothing more than to have a metaphorical shower in order to wash away the sin, the filth and the pain, sat tall in his chair while clutching a siphoning of scotch with all his might, and almost even smiled.
By the time Dave brought out his pair of pumpkin pies–one made with bourbon and caramel from a Bon Appetit recipe and the other a more traditional recipe from the New York Times–we were all stuffed to the gills.
Marg made an apple pie as well but I was too full to sample it. Supposedly, it was perfection. (Too bad I’ll never know because she sent the left-overs home with Noah and his wife Laura.) We sat and chatted around the table trying to finish the gorgeous desserts and sipping on coffee. The Beast said something to Noah about how everything their family does is sort of over-the-top and that there’s nothing “small” about them. My mother heard this, leaned over and whispered to me, “I could have been all over that one,” in a way that a hunter might say, with a nudge of an elbow, to a fellow hunter in the woods after letting a 8 point buck get away.
Close to midnight, we said our good-byes and thanked our hosts for such a wonderful night. Driving the Beast, my mom and Russ back to our place, I remembered that when I helped clear the Thanksgiving table I noticed that everybody had left little scraps–a lone strand of spaghetti squash, a piece of turkey skin–but two plates were entirely clean, like the kind of clean where you could just put the plate back in the cupboard and nobody would be the wiser (I’ve never done that). And those plates belonged to me and my brother.
Not only do we share more DNA with each other than with anybody else, but we both have very healthy appetites. And that made me smile.