The South is a great place to spend Thanksgiving. There’s pecan pie and fried ocra, green-bean casserole, and ham AND a turkey, and lots and lots of gracious hospitality.
Except for my parents, my entire extended family lives in the epicenter of small-town Florida, surrounded by the orange groves they depended on for their livlihood. This isn’t the flashy beachfront Florida glorified in “CSI” or the plastic touristy Florida disdained by everyone who’s been to Orlando and thinks they “know” Florida. My parents were highschool sweethearts in that same small town, and when they go back, they run into their high school friends while attending the same church they were married in….that they were all married in. Its the kind of place you don’t think exists anymore; a modern-day Mayberry with a paucity of wireless networks and a dying downtown. The same cop who pulled me over for speeding, and let me off with a warning, waved at me at “the resturant” in town later that day. The same yearly fireworks display over the mid-town lake on the 4th of July, everyone pulling their lawnchairs into the driveways to take in the sights. I go back there usually either Thanksgiving or Christmas, this year it is Thanksgiving.
I read this op-ed piece on CNN.com which really resonanted with me, about being the “odd duck” at her family’s Thanksgiving gathering. But instead of being “odd duck” for not having any kids—which by the way many of my cousins, most of them younger than I, already have kids—I’m odd in about every concieveable way. I’m the only person in the family to ever pursue a PhD and the only person in the family to ever study science at all. I’m the only “Yankee.” I’m single. I blog and am reliant on new media– a foreign concept to grandparents who’ve never even sent an email. And, I’m a closeted atheist in a fiercely evangelical Southern Baptist family. Several of my family members are ministers, deacons, Sunday school teachers. So, pretty much any interests I have is not only not shared by my family, but some of it is openly disapproved of. Which always leaves me in a quandry. I love these people, but, I can never be myself without causing sadness, despair, and disappointment.
I’m sure this is a common complaint—a lot of people feel that they could never live up to their family’s expectations while simultaneously being true to themselves. But, its only a few days out of the year and my family doesn’t pick fights with me over evolution or religion so I’m happy to let things be. In the end, Thanksgiving is about being with your family with all their warts and flaws (mine too). But I wonder if anyone else out there has had a similar experience of being the odd one out at holiday gatherings?