A cat by any other name

Uneven potluck



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When my older sister was first married she used to complain about how when she and her husband went to family gatherings at his parents' place, she was only ever allowed to bring things like tossed green salad, or the bread, or perhaps sodas. She would volunteer to bring the vegetable, or the dessert, but that was already taken care of. She got stuck with the easy stuff. And it's not that they didn't trust her, or didn't think she was capable of cooking something else. It probably just didn't occur to them to ask - and I imagine that the other siblings had already gone through something similar and had already figured out what they bring each year to holiday meals and weren't exactly willing to give that up to the newcomer.

It takes a lot to escape the notion that you're still just one of the kids. For my older sis, part of the problem was that she ended up marrying the youngest in the family - and he is a *lot* younger than his siblings. So naturally they think of him as still the little kid...and of course, therefore, his wife would fall into the same category.

It's been a few years since then, and I believe she's graduated from green salad. Sometimes it just takes a while to prove your worth - or perhaps it was the fact that now that she's a mom, she's automatically moved into the world of adults.

I was talking to a friend the other day on Instant Messenger and she was complaining of the same problem. She was going to head up to her boyfriend's family's place for Thanksgiving, but she's only allowed to bring the simple stuff. Over 30 years old and they don't trust her to bring anything else.

It's not about trust though. It's about perception of age. I haven't had to deal with that, having always spent all my holidays with my own family. One year at Thanksgiving, my mom was pretty sick, so my sisters and I took over. Mom still did the turkey and we were more than happy to let her, but we divied up all the other dishes - baking the bread, making the jello salad, mixing up the green bean casserole and even making pies - and it turned out just fine. Since then, there's never been a question as to whether we could bring stuff. We just start divying it up a week or so before, and so even though the person hosting has to deal with the turkey itself, most of the rest of the meal is handled by the guests. It works out well, and we all volunteer what to bring, so there's no hard feelings. For example, I don't like pumpkin pie. I can handle about one bite, but well, it's pretty nasty stuff. So to compensate, I always volunteer to bring a non-pumpkin dessert. Those of us who have to travel volunteer to bring cans of stuff to mix up later - or bake the bread and stick it carefully in a suitcase when flying home.

The thing is, it's easy to do it when it's your own family. It's not so easy to do when it's someone else's. It all works out at my mom and dad's house - but then we all know the traditional foods. We know what's expected and how to prepare them and how to work with each other in the kitchen in a fairly choreographed fashion; one sister stirring cream of mushroom soup into green beans, another one making gravy, another one relegated to setting the table with the best china while my mom squishes stuffing together with bare hands and mutters at the turkey. It's familiar, comfortable. We all know where everything is so we can help.

This is the last year I'll do that. No, I shouldn't say it quite like that. I'll be back to my parents' place for Thanksgiving every other year. But next year I'll be going down to Richard's family for Thanksgiving. I won't be able to just automatically assume that I'll bring the cranberry sauce, or bargain with the siblings about who got to do the pies last year. It'll be a very different set of traditions and dishes and people at the table. It's going to be very strange - new and exciting and I am looking forward to it, but still very strange.