Is Uncle Bob the Real Turkey on Thanksgiving?


For many, family gatherings at Thanksgiving aren’t as pleasant as they could be.  While most of us enjoy getting together to gobble down (pardon the pun) some turkey and dressing, sometimes feelings of love, anxiety confusion and dread come to the table, too.  

Why in the world would a family get-together at Thanksgiving cause consternation, angst, or dread instead of joy?  Are not our families the harbor in the storm?  Our safe refuge?  Sadly, not always. And some families just are not safe because someone is coming who is like Wild Bill Hickok but instead of shooting off his gun, he’s shooting off his yapper.

What’s that look like?  Usually, a different opinion is voiced and this family member turns loud, argumentative or downright nasty. Yikes, pass the cranberries before you decide to pass around your opinion about politics!  Sarcastic and insulting remarks, ethical biases, racial slurs can puncture the air so rapidly you learn, blindfolded, how to bob and weave and prepare to duck.  Too late, Bam! He’s off on his tirade.

Everyone knows the uncle or relative we’re talking about and everyone has one in their family. And while it may be comforting to realize you’re not alone, it’s not much fun being at the receiving end of his fourth beer or third Jack Daniel’s before your first forkful of mashed potatoes.

It need not be this way this Thanksgiving. In a world which clearly needs more peace and harmony some behaviors can be temporarily tempered if the right person takes the time to plan ahead.  A key to a little peace can be simple civility and a little tolerance whether or not you agree with another’s thoughts or opinions.  Eye-rolling should be avoided.  And using a verbal communication style that is tempered with some sensitivity and a little charm doesn’t hurt, “Uncle Bob, you’re so funny but please enough already on the President, the Pope, the Republicans, Democrats and the Dallas Cowboys; I think we’d all rather hear about the time your ex-wife threw that 20 pound turkey out the back door.
Now everyone’s laughing at Uncle Bob’s rambling story and they’re sighing gratefully that someone helped Uncle Bob put a sock in it. In a life that is challenging for everyone, a spirit of generosity and a quick, clever use of diversionary tactics can work - I have that on the best authority.  For insurance, though, I always bring a deck of Old Maid cards or a regular deck to play with the children if I’m unsuccessful with Uncle Bob.  I’ll also have a few stories in my own back pocket to throw on the table between the mashed potatoes and peas. That’s one of the great benefits of being an adult: we make choices for our own good times.  And no one needs to tell anybody – one more time – how we can’t change someone else, we can only change ourselves.

So this year plan ahead before you pack the pies into the Highlander on the busiest travel day of the year.  Plan ahead to pull out a tale about something great this old uncle, or mother, or father, sister or brother did for you as a kid and bring it out when it’s least expected.  Or ask the host if you can invite your best friends to dinner because, surprisingly, some people pull back their “outrageous” sides when someone who is “not in the family” is present.

I’m planning on having a delightful Thanksgiving this year and I wish everyone a happy one, too.  So be careful driving, count your blessings wherever you are, and watch out that Uncle Bob’s ex doesn’t come by unexpectedly and eyeball that turkey.

As Published in the SandPaper, Nov. 26, 2014