“There’s no place like home for the holidays …”
So sings Karen Carpenter in her clear, throaty alto on my parents’ Christmas album — the soundtrack of my household from Thanksgiving until Epiphany.
Speaking of home, my household, the holidays, and famous Karens (my mother, Karen Schrum, is a local celebrity politician in bustling Crown Point, Indiana — she’s on the school board), I just returned from a delightful stay in the exotic Midwest with my family. I’m sure many other Yalies have just returned from such far-off places as Greenwich, Great Neck and Groton. For me, the staple of a trip home is undoubtedly the holiday dinner for the entire extended family. The menu is fairly standard: turkey on Thanksgiving, turkey and ham on Christmas, a mystery casserole (a Midwestern favorite) at each, and some amalgam of Jello — complete with unidentifiable chunks — in a holiday mold. As the food is prepared, we gather round to watch the Detroit Lions play their only good game of the NFL season, and then watch the Miami Dolphins ease into their annual bout of December self-annihilation. Notably absent from the Schrum family dinner is the ever-popular sketchy bachelor uncle, who drinks way too much red wine at dinner, makes inappropriate comments about the soon-to-be-hot 14 year-old cousin at the table, then passes out on the couch in front of the football game, saving himself from the verbal lashing of his gossipy sisters.
This year’s holiday dinners were notable despite the absence of an inappropriate uncle.
First, I graduated to the adult table. In my family, this is an amazing achievement. After years of being served pre-cut meat and more than my fill of cocktail weenies on paper plates next to cartoon napkins, swilling my Kool-Aid in a sippy cup and debating who the best Pokemon character is, I was more than ready for the green bean casserole, the sharp knives, the cloth napkins, the ceramic plates, and the complaints about the existence of Pokemon over at the adult table. Plus, I’m always down for some praise from the grandparents; it’s better than the curt remarks I received last year from them, when I was handed twenty bucks and told to get a haircut so that I wouldn’t look like a bum. Then again, I was sporting a mullet unequalled by anyone except maybe Billy Ray Cyrus, so the comment was probably warranted. What do 70 year-olds know about the “coif of the century’s” comeback?
An added bonus of the adult table is the availability of alcohol. Usually, I have to hide from my grandparents my enjoyment of the occasional cocktail in order to maintain my status as the “Yale Golden Boy.” This year, at long last, my father finally poured the champagne into my glass publicly; I didn’t even have to ask. Yet another monumental achievement. I was so proud. Another perk of reaching one’s twenties. Of course, my little brother, ever the vigilante, pointed out that I was not yet of legal drinking age, obviously in an effort to milk a few dollars out of the relatives for being an upstanding citizen. He was told to shut up. Attending Yale thus continues to have its perks: easy access to alcohol, even in front of one’s parents. And in my family, in vino veritas is definitely the rule; riotous conversation followed.
My aunt decided that it would be a great idea to go around the table announcing what we were thankful for. My brother went first, continuing to butter up the adults sitting around him, saying that he was thankful for the “togetherness of Thanksgiving and the presence of his aunts and uncles.” Some ridiculous line like that. He then passed a collection plate around the table.
Next was my 15 year-old cousin. What did my favorite moody adolescent female cousin say? In all seriousness, “I’m thankful that my boobs are bigger than my mother’s.” Everyone stared in horror. A shower of spat champagne doused the turkey in the middle of the table. My father saved the moment, informing his sister (my aunt) that my cousin spoke the truth. In response, he was hit in the face with a piece of Yorkshire pudding. Crisis averted.
Inevitably, conversation turned toward to the newly inebriated member of the adult table: yours truly. After disappointing my family with the news that I was a declared Classics major (unfortunately, one does not equate wild wealth with a Classics degree), talk turned to my romantic status, which I glumly reported to be nonexistent. My uncle asked about Mary Ann, the imaginary girl he’s been torturing and embarrassing me with since I was nine; right about now, I’d like to meet this Mary Ann. Then my mother, clearly enjoying her white zinfandel a bit too much, chimed in, informing the family that she had met the perfect girl for me at Parents’ Weekend. A tinge of disappointment that I had not yet begun dating this girl colored her comments. The rest of the family piped up with similar statements of displeasure. My cousin with the comparatively enormous breasts then denounced me as a pathetic loser. Awesome. My interactions with attractive girls are awkward enough not to have familial pressure added to the equation. Even Yale can’t save you from the unanimous disapproval of your Midwestern family for being single at age 20.
There really is no place like home for the holidays. I think I’ll move back to the kid table next year. They won’t even be able to tell that there’s vodka in my Kool-Aid.
Robert Schrum is thankful that his boobs are not bigger than his aunt’s–