I love most dogs, but I don’t like dumb dogs. I think German Shepherd dogs are dumb. They are slow to figure things out. That makes them suspicious. That makes them good guard dogs and police dogs. I don’t like German Shepherd dogs.
(I just had to get that out.)
Now that I have alienated and offended owners of these dogs and they have left this post, I will continue.
When I arrived Thanksgiving morning, my first stop was Kim’s house. We had a short reunion chat where she gave me the breakdown on what Cheryl had prepared and how they came to the decision for the change of venue. We drove to Cheryl’s house in Baltimore to join the gathering of Larry (Cheryl’s boyfriend), Phil (Kim’s friend), Jamil (my nephew), and Jamil’s then girlfriend. While getting out of the car, upon our arrival, Kim chose that moment to reveal the fact that Misty, Larry’s dog, had been invited as well.
Cue the sound of a wrench being thrown into the gears, tires screeching from sudden braking, and a phonograph needle sliding violently off the record. She invited a dog to Thanksgiving dinner. Not just a dog, but a German Shepherd dog to a familiar house full of people not so familiar to her.
There is the unpredictable chaos of family relations, which one gets to enjoy whole hog, warts and all — beautiful in the twists and turns of our relationships with each other. Conversations spring from recent inspiration or familiar gems mined from the past. Then, there is the predictable chaos presented by a certain type of dog in a certain type of situation. I knew how this was going to go.
On our arrival, we were greeted by barking and found Misty in her containment cage in the dining room. Yes, the dining room. Misty was not made to feel isolated from her loved ones. But, Misty did not like the cage and so she barked until she had reassurance from her handlers that all was well.
From that point, the room tipped and it all began to slide south. The layout of the appetizers was enticing, and noticeably, at dog level. Conversational flow was interrupted by the repeated reassurances to Misty, and admonishments for being both fretful and a pain. To appease Misty, she was released, but muzzled, to reassure guests that she would be well-behaved. Soon after, she found the hors d’oeuvres table and began licking the apples and cheese fondue.
Dinner was approaching. Cheryl, in Martha Stewart fashion, had taken the whole organic turkey out of the oven and presented it on the platter for all to admire. She took the platter back to the kitchen and began to carve the bird. We heard her shriek. The turkey was nowhere near ready. The timing of the dinner was off; the hors d’oeuvres were no longer in play; the alcohol flowed unabated and unchecked; and through it all was the call for Misty! Misty! Misty….!
A degree of equilibrium was reestablished after Jamil’s girlfriend departed for her family’s gathering, taking Jamil with her. Kim busied herself in the kitchen with Cheryl, while Phil, Larry and I formed a sort of boy’s club at the table. Phil provided a buffer between myself and a well-lubricated Larry, probing for salacious details of my past — don’t know how he went there; and Misty was returned to confinement. As if she sensed her work was done, Misty finally settled down to relative quiet as we ate a meal that arrived in fits and starts; but was as amazing as I had hoped.
And, just as quickly… it was over. Cheryl had just sat down to visit with us in the living room when Larry called out to her from another room. When she screamed back, “What?!!! What now?!!!” and stomped out of the room, Kim said she had had enough and it was time to go. I wasn’t ready as I had not had time with my sisters, only their guests. The party was clearly over.
It was disappointing that I did not have the heated and stimulating conversations that I had come to expect from a gathering with my family. Though the food was good, it was not about the meal. Though the effort Cheryl put into the presentation of that meal reflected tremendous desire for a wonderful experience, it did not win the day. What was lost was her presence and conversation while she struggled mightily against the forces of confusion arrayed against her. What was lost was being together, because that’s what we should be doing when we get together.
Food addresses the common need and shared purpose. And it was Thanksgiving. I had much for which to be thankful. I was thankful for my job, hard as it was to get away from. I was thankful for siblings, including my brother, Daryl (not mentioned in this story), and thankful that we truly enjoy each other’s company, and for the parents that made it so. I am thankful for the good fortune of my sister, Kim, and her fortitude and dogmatic pursuit of health and well-being. And, finally, I am thankful for the grace that my sister, Cheryl, will exhibit after I have dredged up her repressed memory. I won’t see any of them this Thanksgiving; and I will miss them. Somehow, I’ll find a way to blame the dog for that, too.