I asked Leah if she was interested in joining me. “Who’s going to be there?” she asked tentatively. Leah did not like holidays, and she did not like people, which meant she only attended events where Vicodin was on the menu. My parents served wine, port and whiskey which she deemed acceptable substitutes.
Creating holiday traditions with Leah is like trying to convince a seven-year-old boy to take a bath. Okay, I have no idea what it is like to convince a kid to bathe. But I do know what it is like to try to talk my girlfriend into doing something festive that she thinks is fundamentally stupid. But with some pushy coaxing, she finally tries whatever activity I want, like carving a pumpkin or decorating a Christmas tree, and in the end she loves it. The next year we start all over again with her grumpy refusal to partake in celebrations without a kick in the ass.
On Thanksgiving day this year, an hour or two into wine-inspired conversation with my parents, the doorbell rang.
“Well, that’s a lot of ice cream for five of us,” my mom said, taking their friend Jim’s grocery bag. On cue, the phone rang. Judy had decided to come early with her husband and two young boys to have dinner at my parents instead of at her in-laws. The turkey was taking too long and the boys were getting hungry. Just the four of us was morphing into just the nine of us. I refilled Leah’s wine glass.
A few minutes later, I was sipping wine in the kitchen with my sister as her kids ran around. “I loved your memoir essays,” she said to me. “Thanks for sending them. I like your creative take on things, especially that rum incident when you were fourteen. You know, everyone remembers things differently. And you were drunk.”
My mom chimed in. “And you get to use creative license and make up stuff, since it’s your memoir.”
I was pleasantly surprised that they supported my “creative take” when it included things they had said and done, but their support also made me uneasy, because, well, I thought the memory was fact when I wrote it. I prodded my sister to share her version of the evening.
Judy recalled that she did not say she was going to tell my parents I was drunk on the night she picked me up at the roller skating rink. She claimed she never told them, that she said to me that night in the car as I threw up into a Styrofoam cup, “I’m not going to tell them, you are.”
I asked my mother how she found out. “Your sister had us paged at the movie theater,” she said. “We came home and she asked us to wait until morning to confront you. She was very protective over you.”
My sister? Protective? “I thought you wanted to see me get in trouble,” I said to Judy. “You were so competitive.”
“I was not competitive,” Judy said.
“Yes, you were,” I said.
“No, YOU were.”
“But you told me how competitive you felt in high school.”
“No, you told me YOU were competitive,” she said. “I never felt competitive. That’s so funny you remember it that way,”
“You’re kidding, right?” I said. I turned to my mother who was stirring the gravy and asked if she had ungrounded me early because she was worried about my mental health, which was what I had assumed because I was so miserable after I got caught.
She said no, that she and my father did talk to me that night while I was drunk, a conversation I have no recollection of, and in the heat of the moment they grounded me for a month “because that’s the kind of thing you do when you’re mad." They recognized later that two weeks would be sufficient and reasonable for the offense.
“What about the rum cake?” I asked my mom. Suffering from a tortuous hangover and the dry heaves, I had to serve rum cake at the church rectory the day after my drunken escapade. “Did you call the cook and tell her to make rum cake?”
That, my mother laughed, was divine intervention.