Thanksgiving is over, and the leftovers are gone. But let me relive some of the best things about my trip back east for the best of all holidays, before they are lost in the rush to Christmas.
We left the warmth of southern California for the surprising-for-late-November warmth of Potomac, Maryland, right near Washington, DC. Washington is the Tiny Goddess's hometown so we go back there for many family functions. It's where her younger brother lives. He has a large, beautiful house and can sleep fourteen people comfortably. A few people had to bunk in a nearby hotel, but he accommodated most of our extended family.
As I say, we go back to DC frequently, but the featured reason for this particular trip was to introduce my eleven-month-old grandson Calder to the East Coast contingent. Everyone was eager to meet Calder, and he didn't disappoint. He is, by acclamation, "ridiculously cute." And smart and poised and "focused" and all the other kvells showered upon him by relatives of all nations – well, two nations -- religions, and creeds, as well as any visitors who encountered him during the entire week.
My son Calder's Father and Calder's Mother were very smart in apportioning the baby's time, so that he wasn't overwhelmed by the tidal wave of attention he was getting from all these big-faced strangers. Of course, the classic, indelible depiction of the onslaught of "loving relatives" comes from the great Maurice Sendak. It is widely known that Sendak patterned the wild things from WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE after his intrusive, well-meaning relatives, fussing over him.
"They came almost every Sunday, and there was my week-long anxiety about their coming the next Sunday. My mother always cooked for them, and, as I saw it, they were eating up all our food. We had to wear good clothes for these aunts, uncles, and assorted cousins, and ugly plastic covers were put over the furniture. About the relatives themselves, I remember how inept they were at making small talk with children. There you'd be, sitting on a kitchen chair, totally helpless, while they cooed over you and pinched your cheeks. Or they'd lean way over with their bad teeth and hairy noses, and say something threatening like "You're so cute I could eat you up." And I knew if my mother didn't hurry up with the cooking, they probably would."
I don't think that we were so threatening to little Calder as Sendak's Wild Things, but you never know. I don't think all that affection damaged him too terribly. Actually, Calder smiled, played and flirted with, and responded to most people all week with remarkable equanimity and tolerance, even for an eleven-month-old.
Where We Were
Potomac is a beautiful area: rolling hills and pastures of plenty. Even with most of the leaves gone from the trees, there was still lots of fall color to thrill the eye. Potomac is what's officially termed a census-designated place (CDP) – I love that term! new to me -- in Montgomery County, named for the nearby Potomac River. It's a CDP because Potomac not a legal entity – a county or a town – but it is a concentration of population that is identifiable and physically resembles an actual incorporated area.
In 2013, CNNMoney.com listed Potomac as the most affluent "town" in all the United States based on median household income. According to Forbes, Potomac is also the seventh most top-educated American "small town." (Potomac's population is about 45,000.) Many Potomac residents work in nearby Washington, D.C., which is a boom-town these days. Anywhere you go, you see lots of big, sleek office buildings for government, technology, and education, and Potomac has nice houses for the people who work in those buildings.
I saw lots of Potomac because one of my main chores/delights during the vacation was driving Calder around so that he could peacefully take his midday nap. I'm sure that you parents out there, past and present, have had ways of getting babies to sleep – driving, strollers, rocking, Benadryl, etc. -- especially in foreign-territory, jet-lagged situations, and driving Calder to sleep was ours. Since I was the only driver who could drive the rental car, it fell to me to drive him around during his nap. And I had to keep driving. He'd wake if the car stopped moving; it was the movement and vibration of the car that rocked him to sleep. Maybe it was not very "green," burning all that gasoline for one child's nap, but it was worth it. That beautiful baby needed good, deep rest in order to survive the attack of those all those loving, Wild-Thing relatives.
I kept mostly to the two-lane highways, right in the neighborhood. Narrow country roads, over green rolling hills. I drove over a couple of one-lane bridges, and through many tight turns. I drove very slowly because the roads were fairly unfamiliar to me -- all my life I've been criticized for being a fast driver – but mostly I drove very slowly because I carried my grandson, the most precious cargo of all, in the backseat. I drove like I was carrying the most important person on the planet, and I was.
Fortunately, he is a good sleeper, and a few choruses of my "Mary Had A Little Lamb" put him out decisively. Only when I could detect his snoring/purring did I stop singing and turn on – at low volume – some Howard Stern in the front seat from the Sirius radio app on my iPhone, or a couple of CDs I bought for the rental car: the Best of the Beatles and a compilation of broadcasts from KGSR-FM in Austin. I don't think the very, very faint Howard Stern damaged Calder in any way. For that matter, I don't think my "Mary Had A Little Lamb"s damaged him either.
I also did some other chauffeuring around the D.C. area; some trips to airports (both Dulles and National Airport (I refuse to call it "Ronald Reagan"), and some trips to the nearby hotel where overflow guests stayed. May I say that I absolutely HATE the Beltway. It is worse than any freeway in LA. It is worse than the 405, which is really saying something. Always too crowded and bad signage, too!
And as I drove around, I saw quite a few beautiful white-tailed deer.
Feeding the Hoardes
My Lovely Sister-in-Law cooked heroically all week. I can cook a little for guests when I have them, but nothing on the scale of my Lovely Sister-in-Law's epic effort. Day after day, she cooked great meals for eighteen (plus drop-ins)– and there were guests before we arrived and guests still there when we left. That's a lot of meals. She did a great chili (turkey), a great lasagna (vegetarian), egg and French toast cassaroles, etc. She made intelligent choices, cooking tasty things that lots of people could eat, and that would serve as great leftovers.
They made two turkeys (oven and deep-fried) for Thanksgiving. There was lots of fine wine poured. My Lovely Sister-in-Law's late father had an excellent wine cellar so we shared a few bottles of Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Chateau Margaux. People made desserts like 'Smore Pie and apple cobbler; other people brought special breads and bagels and cream cheese from New York.
Myself, I pitched in as best I could. I chopped some shallots and some carrots. And I tried to bus some dirty dishes when I could and clean up after myself. Mostly I stayed out of the way and tried to take care of myself and do any little thing that I could do.
Entertaining the Hoardes
I'm blessed with a smart, convivial family. There's not a sourpuss or nutcase in the lot. We all genuinely like each other, and all week long, the "craic" was good. Pronounced like "crack," that's the unique Irish term for good, lively, fun conversation. Represented by Harvard, Penn, Columbia, Sarah Lawrence, Trinity, Middlebury, UCLA, NYU, Chapman, and a few other fine institutions of higher learning, our family had a great many deep, enjoyable conversations about everything from heavy metal music to cigars to football concussions to recent New Yorker articles to country music to recent/future travel plans to books we were reading to projects for the future to memories of the past.
I have a wonderful bunch of smart nieces, and they have smart boyfriends. It is very salutary for me to talk to young people. Honest confession: I spend most of my life alone in this room, writing. I don't get to talk to different people that often. So I relish the opportunity to talk to people of varied backgrounds and points-of-view, especially smart young people who give me fresh perspectives. I can't tell you how bracing it is for a person my age to hear someone call into question the greatness of the Bill Russell-Bob Cousy Boston Celtic basketball dynasty "because they only had ten damn teams in the league at the time!!!" Actually, it was as low as eight teams.
We played a massive, all-family, multi-generational game of charades. Charades is always a great party game because it has lots of laughs and everyone is humiliated at some point. We played lots of hands of "Popeye," which is Double Solitaire metastasized into a multiplayer game. And group "Password." The TG and my Lawyer Niece led a few yoga classes in the basement. For various reasons, I did not participate.
There were a few special guests besides Calder. My Lovely Sister-in-Law's 85 year-old Mother, sharp as a Yankee tack, was there, to make it four generations. And my Big Brother and My Fantastic Sister-in-Law came down from NYC to bring all our families closer together.
And in accord with family tradition, we go around the table at sometime during Thanksgiving dinner, saying what we're each thankful for. For a while, I've been saying, "the Book and the Baby," and that still holds pretty true. But there's even more for me now, and more on the horizon.
And was I "gastdruck?" Did I suffer from that acute fear of being not being the perfect guest? Absolutely not! My Brother-in-Law and Lovely Sister-in-Law made everybody including me feel completely at-home and accepted. As they do frequently, they opened their home to a lot of people and were models of Hospitality and Generosity. They give our family a lovely Center of Gravity where we can congregate every so often and enjoy each other. It helps cement our family together, bringing cousins closer. It's really what Thanksgiving is all about.
When the TG and I got home, the house, empty for six days, was as cold as a castle. But we got into our hot tub under the stars and my two palm trees, and everything was suddenly OK. Always always always, one of the best things about travel is coming home.
**And last but not least, I spent some actual face-time with my lovely niece Claire who helps me with my social media, among many other things. It was especially great to see in person someone I talk to on the telephone on a regular basis.
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE – true genius in four minutes – "Let the wild rumpus start!!"
The history of the term "craic"
Van Morrison – CONEY ISLAND – "And the craic was good."