Thanks giving and bloodshed

Thanksgiving is one of the two big holidays around the King house (the other being Memorial Day.) My brother and his family come down from Portland, my sister and her husband are parked in the drive in their motor home, my niece and her kid, my nephew and a partner, my mother and this year both of my own kids assemble for the annual tryptophan bash. My sensible husband finds Pakistan a congenial retreat, this time of year.

When I was young and lived in the southern part of the Bay Area (Santa Cruz, San Jose) we used to drive to my aunt’e2’80’99s house in Mill Valley just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Now, THAT woman had a bash. Never less than twenty people, most of them related somehow, although there were generally a few friends who had nowhere else to go (poor innocents, little did they know’e2’80’a6) By the time we got there, the house was heavy with the smell of roasting turkey, kids were running in and out in all directions, and the dogs were going wild. My mother would find a quiet corner and get to work on the peas or potatoes, whatever needed doing, my father would find the men with the beer, and my sister and brother and I would join the younger generation.

It was a superb house for the purpose, with many separated rooms so you never felt you were in a crowd, and a lot of doors so you could get away from whatever adult was pursuing you with a scolding or a job. There were upstairs sleeping porches, a bedroom with snakes and lizards (the boy’e2’80’99s), another with a wealth of doll-oriented objects, and most thrilling, a laundry chute, down which memorably one year one of the dogs fit (there was a large heap of dirty laundry underneath, fortunately.

But the real entertainment began after dinner. Those who had been drinking all afternoon, mostly male, would adjourn to the street outside for a game of ‘e2’80’9cKick the Can.’e2’80’9d I have no idea of the rules after all these years, but the main purpose seemed not to involve rules, it seemed to involve bloodshed. Children simply did not play, it was too dangerous. Grown men would trickle in over the ninety minutes or so before the light failed, requiring nursing. One year we had not only a broken wrist, but a broken Rolex’e2’80’94which did not belong to the same wrist.

I the meantime, the more sober members of the afternoon had put away the food and finished the dishes, but before they could make their escape, they would be caught by my aunt for a game of what she called by the innocuous name of Multiple Solitaire. I think this is also known as Racing Demons, but might as well have been called Kill, and if less actual blood was shed over the cleared dining table than in the street outside, it wasn’e2’80’99t for lack of trying.

The idea, if you haven’e2’80’99t encountered this form of warfare, is that everyone gets a deck and lays it out to play solitaire, but is not limited by the deck in front of them. And there are eighteen or twenty people seated around the table. This means that the person with the sharpest eyes, fastest throwing arm, and loudest voice goes through her cards first. The unsure or the unfit leisurely turn over a card, and the instant that red ten touches the table, five adults leap to their feet and fling black nines on top, shouting furiously all the while.

As childhood traumas go, this is a lasting one.

I wish you all the best for Thanksgiving, and for the overseas readers of this blog, now you know what you have to give thanks about.

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  1. Bronwyn on November 22, 2005 at 2:44 pm

    I do love Thanksgiving, and imagine my disappointment to find that my parents are just going to take us out to dinner. That’s blasphemy! Next thing you know we kinda exchange christmas gifts whenever we see each other and send lackluster thank-you notes. This year I put my foot down and insisted everyone come to our tiny 1-bedroom so I can cook. Hopefully it will be as memorable as yours has been for you, but really, going out to dinner? That’s just tacky.

  2. Ris on November 22, 2005 at 3:17 pm

    I know Multiple Solitaire! Only in my family in Indiana, they called it Peanuts.

    The most dangerous games for us were the board games like Trivial Pursuit and the like. Inevitably we’d split into teams of male versus female, which meant a lot of husband versus wife. I swore some of those games were going to end in divorce.

    I do miss those huge family Thanksgivings, though.

    Have a happy Thanksgiving!!

  3. britlife9902 on November 22, 2005 at 4:03 pm

    I think I must have borrowed your family for Christmases. 🙂 Very similar experiences, but your games not only have names, but they appear to have rules, too! I’m impressed. Thanks for bringing back some fun memories for me. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  4. 2maple on November 22, 2005 at 7:37 pm

    Sounds like the best of what Thanksgiving should be – friends, family, food and fun. When I was young, we played a multigenerational game that was called soccer (but was more like rugby). If there was someone small in your way, you just picked them up and carried them down field along with the ball, or lifted them above the fray and out of harms way. People from various families drifted in and out during the day dependant on when their Thanksgiving dinner was. Though I don’e2’80’99t live there any more’e2’80’a6I do know that particular tradition is alive and well with three or more generations still ‘e2’80’9cplaying’e2’80’9d together.

    Our current traditions still center around family, a big dinner (strategically planned to have lots of leftovers) and friends, but have us rooted firmly at home with the door open to visitors from here and away. We grow Christmas trees that need to be cut for a variety of community fund raisers. One of the organizations, a local swim team regularly comes over to help’e2’80’a6a lot of youthful enthusiasm (and a little fuel ‘e2’80’93 cider, hot chocolate, etc) makes short work. While at times I have felt a bit like Tom Sawyer and his picket fence, they keep showing up and have so much fun (and they love the team jackets, record boards and other fun things this helps pay for). After several years of joining in the fray and seeing all that’e2’80’99s involved, my mother has sworn she will never complain about the price of Christmas Tree’e2’80’99s again’e2’80’a6and despite that, she’e2’80’99s coming back again this year for more!

    (We played that version of solitaire too’e2’80’a6without a name. However, those teenage memories are tied up with summer evenings, 8 or 10 friends, half of them cousins, all spread out over a living room floor on hands and knees, with cards flying and making enough noise to wake the dead.)

  5. Anonymous on November 22, 2005 at 7:50 pm

    Remember the sad Thanksgiving we of a certain age had — was it 1963? when John Kennedy was killed? Since then I have based Thanksgiving on before and after–we have had great, fun times, but I still remember being a young teenager and watching all the events that went on during those 4-5 days in black and white, forever coloring Thanksgiving with images from the television screen. Let us all be thankful this year, and pray not only for those in foreign lands, but those along the Gulf Coast who have little to be thankful for except their lives.

  6. Erin on November 22, 2005 at 9:39 pm

    I love that card game! We have a bit of a variation, though, called Nerts. You can play on everyone’s ace piles in the middle and there is a pile of 13 cards called the Nerts pile that you have to distribute as gaps in your solitaire line open up. When someone gets rid of all the cards in their Nerts pile the game is over. Positive points for the number of cards out in the middle, negatives for the number of cards left in your Nerts pile, highest score wins.

    My mom has six siblings and each of them is married with children. Our Christmas’s are crazy and this game is my favorite=)

  7. Elisa on November 23, 2005 at 6:49 pm

    My family would eventually take most of itself outside while the bird cooked. There were four boys in the younger generation so steam had to be released. Sooner or later, football was organized. The kids always stood us old farts. And old age and gile triumphed over youth and the inability to correct to a thrown ball for many years. Sweet memories. We have so much to be thankful for.

  8. WDI on November 29, 2005 at 1:33 am

    We called it “Spite and Malice” or, as the daughter of one of my friends (and a mean player in her own right) called it, “Spit Malicious.” We seldom played with more than 3 players though; 2 was the norm, and still it got quite bloody.

    Not to be sacriligious or anything, but Thanksgiving was one of my least-favorite holidays when I was a kid. My sisters and I were pretty much stuck inside so we could be called upon at any time to help set the table and handle kitchen chores. Mom always cooked a 34-pound bird (the biggest that would fit in the oven); because we ate in the early afternoon, she was up at the crack of dawn to start it cooking. Dad and my uncle watched football, which was pretty boring to the rest of us.

    Dinner was good, I will admit — wonderful food and plenty of it. But we had to “dress up” to eat, conversation was stiff, and the meal all too short. Dad and my uncle retired after eating for more football, Mom took a well-deserved nap, and my sisters, aunt and I did all the clean-up. Somehow it never seemed like much of a holiday — more like a lot of chores with a really good meal stuck in the middle.

    Later, after I moved east, I began attending Thanksgiving with my relatives here. Older and much more appreciative of time spent with family, I came to value the holiday in a way I never had as a kid. My other aunt put on a wonderful spread, and a bunch of us would get together for a big football game before eating. At first the teams were determined by appropriately mixing ages; later, it became the younger generation against the older. We oldsters held our own more often than not, and the exercise definitely helped fuel our appetites for dinner. Cleanup was a snap with many helping hands (not to mention dishwasher-safe china and silver).

    This year we departed from tradition as my mother is in failing health. My sisters, daughter, niece, husband, and mother spent the day before T-day puttering around a local city center. We stayed overnight, then came home in time to put on a big pot of chili and host a general open-house for whomever wanted to visit. It was truly lovely. Mom reigned from her living room chair, sparkling with enjoyment as friends and family stopped by for a bite and conversation. My husband was the self-appointed KP man, keeping the mess under control throughout the day. Lack of turkey notwithstanding, we ate ourselves silly and went to bed replete both physically and spiritually.

    It was the best Thanskgiving I’ve ever had.

  9. bani on November 29, 2005 at 8:22 am

    And here I was thinking I was to be grateful about the European lack of marshmallow salads and other weird weird foods.


  10. lepotironquiklaxonne on November 30, 2005 at 10:58 am

    Your Thanksgiving sounds so wonderfully quirky!

    In my family we play the card game Egypt, which requires one to slap the cards in order to collect as many as possible. All the cards are in one pile, so there is much smacking of hands (deliberate or not is debatable) and shrieking. My sister and I, being the youngest, frequently get our fingers quite crushed by our three large male cousins and two large brothers…it is really something.

    After our notoriously enormous dinner, we go for a walk, no matter what the weather (cold drizzle being a particular favorite in New England…). We trudge at various tempos towards the indoor ice-skating rink near the house, and the younger generations hurl chunks of discarded snow/ice at each other. Minor injuries ensue. Then we go back to have pie, coffee, and birthday presents, as both my grandfather and I were born in the four-week range around Thanksgiving. And to thaw…

    On the other side of the family (where we go after our long noon-time dinner at my maternal grandparents’ house), we play the Acting Game (known in all other circumstances as Charades), which always involves memorable situations in which my 93-year-old grandfather is required to act out ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ or, more recently, ‘The Dick VanDyke Show.’ Needless to say, we are all hysterical before long.

    This year I painfully far from all that, as I am working in Paris, and have had a hard time explaining to my host family what all the fuss is about. Thank you for your post, which made me feel closer to home!

    Joyeux ‘jour du merci donnant’ from Paris.

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