I think its safe to say that for the majority of people, Thanksgiving is not about goodness and gratitude, but rather, family drama.
Until now, I have been pretty much on the outside of this American tradition: The tradition of building up Thanksgiving to be a great family moment and then the family not living up to it. But everyone still does Thanksgiving basically because they love their parents. I'm not gonna say here that I don't love my parents. But it's a special kind of love that does not involve being with them for holidays.
But this year is a big switch for me, because I'm doing Thanksgiving family drama—with the farmer. There is family drama because the farmer has three sisters who think I have a morality problem. Like I don't have morals.
In fact, the whole family thinks this, and those with Internet connections print out blog posts about sex acts and send them, via US mail, to less connected family members. The outcry crosses state boundaries from Wisconsin to Illinois, and sometimes, I think they are googling terms like Penelope Trunk and sex. I mean, it's not easy to find the stuff they are finding.
Wait. You are wondering, right? What they're finding? Here. Here's a list of some links. And, now no one has to do any morally-compromising searches. It's all right here:
Six Sex Scenes (my 1994 master’s thesis, graduate program for english, Boston Univ.)
Honestly, I like the sisters. Their ideas about how to live life seem fine. I think I'm living the same morally responsible lives they are, even though they'll never think that. Also, the farmer's parents are always very kind to me and my sons. So, it seems like Thanksgiving should be okay.
But Thanksgiving in a family where there's a family business is different.
I've always meant to write a post about the farmer's business acumen. He reminds me of the most resilient, innovative startup guys I know. The only difference is that he's not doing Web 2.0—he's doing cows. There are pieces of the family business I'm dying to tell you about. Like, the sweetness of the farmer and his parents working side by side for twenty years to pay off the farm, and the cleverness of the farmer figuring out how to be part of the local food movement without organic certification.
Cut to the farmer's kitchen. I am cooking the farmer's beef and the farmer's squash, and if you think this is insignificant, consider that when the farmer told his parents that we're getting married, the dad's first question was, “Can she cook?”
The farmer takes out his phone and plays a message for me from one of his sisters. They are leaving messages pleading with him to dump me. Sometimes they cry. For him, of course. For his future — like I'll take his money and run.
Also, sidenote: I think the sisters think the farmer has enough money and shouldn't get any more, so they are outraged that he wants to negotiate with his parents, and they blame this on me. (Don't get excited: The farmer has a lot for a guy who has done a good job farming and spent almost no money in fifteen years. But I could be with an investment banker if I'm marrying for money. Believe me, a farmer is not a smart move for marrying for money.)
After the voicemails and the ensuing doldrums, I remind him that our marriage counselor (no, we're not married, but we're early birds catching the worm) said that his family would be a big problem for him.
He tells me that we need to call the lawyer.
This is how we operate. I always want to call the marriage counselor to make sure the farmer still loves me. And he always wants to call the lawyer, to make sure he's going to be able to keep farming with his parents.
Is there anyone else who needed to sign a prenuptial agreement before Thanksgiving? I did. I had to sign to make sure the parents feel certain that I'll never get my hands on that farm while they are alive. I signed. After all, my board would go ballistic if I did not have a prenup that protected my company. So I figured, okay, now everyone is happy in business-land.
But the problem with a family business is that if everything is not done up tight, by lawyers, then everyone has different ideas about who owns what. The farmer's family business is, I think, a mess.
So the farmer's family is negotiating. The farmer is telling his parents that if they can't come to an agreement then he's selling his portion of the land and leaving.
To live at my house. Let me just say that when we tried that out—where he lives at my house and doesn't farm—it really sucked. He missed the farm and I kept telling him he could buy another farm and he kept saying that he misses farming with his parents. But his lawyer tells him he doesn't have a choice except to be prepared to leave (and live as a grouch at my house). Because how else can he negotiate?
I think negotiations like these are the only way for family businesses to survive.
I used to work at my grandma's bookstore. I worked with a cousin—Laurie. She told me I should move to LA even though no one wanted me to. Everyone thought it was a crazy idea. But Laurie explained that the job of families is to keep you in line with the rest of the family, in a predestined path that is good for the family. And your job is to create your own path.
It seems to me that often, families are complicated, hurtful and constraining. But a family that is in business together must somehow rise above that, and encourage each member to express themselves, and find what moves them, and act on that. It's a more generous model of a family that what most families are.
So this Thanksgiving, for me, is like watching a play. I don't have a huge stake — I just want to be with the farmer, wherever he goes. So I watch, from afar, hoping everyone can agree on how the business should be, and hoping no one mentions how much they hate what I write.
Meanwhile, I think the sisters are hoping to wait out the storm. The farmer has dumped so many women that his family can't believe I'd have staying power. And, of course, he has dumped me 15 times, so the family does have a point.
I ask him what I should talk about. “What if they bring up my miscarriage?”
“They won't,” he says, “They'll bring up the weather.”
And he laughs. Because of course, I'm more conversant on reproductive rights than the weather. And no one talks weather better than a farm family.
We get into bed and talk about how we will only spend a couple of hours at Thanksgiving with his family and then we will go back to my house where we will have Thanksgiving with my Ex. (Need I say more about this situation than that the dinner with the Farmer and the Ex will be the more relaxing of the two?)
We talk about how the farmer needs to do chores in the morning with his dad. And we need to bring two pies for his mom. And we go to bed all cuddly because the farmer loves talking logistics. Farming seems like it's about land and animals and being close to the earth, but it's really about the logistics of land and animals as you try to control the earth.
I look at the farmer and say, “Oh. You're so happy now because we talked logistics.” Then I kiss him and turn out the light.
The next morning, at the breakfast table, we eat hamburger because he doesn't feel like it's a meal if you don't have meat, and I won't eat pork because even though I'm with a pig farmer, that doesn't mean I'm not Jewish.
I want to ask him about what he told his sisters about me and my kids coming to Thanksgiving.
I say, “I need five minutes to talk.”
I have to tell him the duration because he doesn't like conflict without a set endpoint. I once explained that the endpoint for personal conflict is death. But he needs something sooner.