Thanksgiving Is a Beast
The trifecta of family, overcrowded rooms, and excesses of food and drink can bring out the insanity in anybody. But as Karen Russell attests, even the craziest holiday—when spent with loved ones—is something to be grateful for.
No, there was no getting out of Thanksgiving breakfast, but this particular year I had hoped that I might obtain an exemption
from Family Friday. I had paid hundreds of dollars to fly to Miami in the middle seat between two rotund men, on a red-eye
flight. To my mind, I had already gone above and beyond. Plenty of my friends, I told my mother darkly, had stayed on campus.
They were having a Thanksgiving of red wine and cigarettes, and sleeping in past 10. This argument failed to impress her.
She asked again: What did we want to do today, as a family? We kids voted. “Digest” was the hands-down winner. We wanted to groan on the sofa and heal our brains with TV.
“No,” said our mother. “We’re not just going to laze around.” Yet again our family was revealed as a sham democracy. Our mom smiled a beautiful, dictatorial smile, cursing our plates with more cranberries, more pie. “We are going to go biking! In Shark Valley!”
We gaped at her. It was 87 degrees. Shark Valley, located in the Everglades, is chockablock with mosquitoes, snakes, and alligators, and we were all winded from eating. I come from a family of small, potato-shaped people. We are not athletes; my siblings and I will flip a coin to determine who has to walk to the mailbox. Getting us to go on a family outing is not like trying to herd cats—that would imply kinesis. It is like trying to herd a bunch of fire hydrants, or Stonehenge.
Why couldn’t this year’s adventure be, oh, I don’t know, a Festival of the Nap? Long ago, in a never-repeated coup, we had convinced our mother that it would be “an adventure” to watch the movie Waterworld. But no such luck today.
“My friend Marcia’s family went to Shark Valley and loved it,” Mom said. “We’ll commune with Mother Nature.” My mother’s enthusiasm for these outings is the glue that holds the five of us together. Without her, we wouldn’t be a family at all; we would be cretinous, wholly independent units. Still, this particular idea sounded both bonkers and potentially fatal, as if someone had brightly suggested, “Hey! Let’s go play shuffleboard with grenades!” or “I know! We can take boogie boards to Mount Vesuvius!” And that, essentially, is what we were going to do—ride a fleet of bicycles through the Florida swamp, which is gator-infested land, a labyrinth of plants with teeth and Mesozoic lizards.
“Are you sure they’re even renting bikes today?” my brother asked hopefully. “Maybe we can just ride the car around.”