Strangely, I always think, "This year will be different." And then I remember all of the holidays past. However, I've decided that stories of my family's dysfunctional behavior can be a gift to the world--a new way of spreading seasonal cheer (just like Herpes). And why not write a children's book, while I'm at it? You're welcome.
My family is comprised mainly from a blend of Italian and Spaniard ethnicities, although our blood is diluted by a touch of English, French, Dutch, and of course, polygamy. Sadly, no Irish Spring. This does, however, make for the worst kind of mix; really, it's like gathering a bunch of recessive genes--not far from that episode of X-Files (about the hillbillies). Members of my family usually have the following qualities: highly intelligent, yet certifiably insane, a tendency to have explosive fits of rage over small details, alcoholism (which always leads to extreme conservatism or libertarianism), prone to tearful emotional outbursts, bizarre obsessions with weapons or fascists, and did I mention polygamy?
One of my earliest memories from a family holiday involves my grandfather Oz. He was a singular man, possessing an even more singular talent. Oz believed that he had special powers. Namely, he could look inside a person, and see their "genie." I was about 9 at the time, so I can't be sure if he meant that everyone is actually possessed by a magical, mythical Arabian creature, or if he just had cataracts. Regardless, he was convinced that his gift was the basis for Sidney Sheldon's TV show, I Dream of Jeannie. And although Sidney Sheldon profited largely from the series, he chose to cheat my grandfather out of his share. Really.
Other holidays seemed normal enough, until the mashed potatoes showed up on Nazi china, or until my father found a stash of pills/wine/beer/paint thinner. Naturally, the gathering would descend into mayhem when my father decided it was his civic duty to deport the next-door neighbors we'd invited, because they "look like illegals." Before my sister and I could refill our vodka sodas, squeeze our eyes shut and chant, "Please tell us we're adopted," my mother would begin screaming about how poor people don't need to eat the white meat (they should be happy with the dark), which launches my father into a diatribe about the criminality of black people (giving the side-eye to my black boyfriend at the time). And because my Aunt Mary has not received enough attention, she begins to cry while she commandeers the rest of the cranberry sauce.
But the real fun happens when gays make an appearance at my family's gatherings. My father, always the diplomat, sets the tone of the evening by declaring, "I'm not into guys, so if I get an erection, it's because I'm thinking about my girlfriend." And if there is a gay person present that has a spray tan, he will assume that our gay guest has AIDS. Ironically, this seems to soften my father, and he will begin to inquire after the estate of the "stricken" man--possibly because he may or may not convalesce dying relatives to swindle them out of their savings (it's never been proven).
But once these dinners are over, my family always relaxes for a moment, enjoying the over-stuffed satisfaction that only comes as a result of inhaling a high-calorie meal; there is always one perfect moment of silence; within this moment, I am seized by a rare moment of clarity; and as I glance around the room to behold the vast imperfection of my family, it dawns on me...they actually are an eclectic mix of beautifully damaged specimens, and they are just doing their best to exist within a world that clearly amuses, yet disappoints them; perhaps it's not so terrible to be related to these people.
But then my father staggers back into the house, after huffing some gasoline from the tank of his decrepit motor home, and while brandishing one of his many pistols, he declares, "The Jews ruined prostitution and Chinese food."