A Seat at the Table

Festive!

Once upon a time, most of my extended family lived within a few miles of each other. If your family is fun, I recommend this. My childhood holidays were, without fail, happy and lively affairs.

Different relatives divvied up hosting duties. My Auntie Susan covered Easter. Grandma Dacey covered Christmas. And Thanksgiving was hosted at our house, under the ruthless supervision of Mom. When I was a kid, Mom didn’t trust me to do anything that involved cooking—which was wise—so she did everything herself. My role was to be on call for assorted bits of unskilled labor.

“Get the big bowl. You know the one,” Mom yelled over the roar of the hand mixer.

I reached for a bowl.

“No, not that bowl. The big bowl.”

I reached for a big bowl.

No, the other big bowl. The yellow one. It’s in the lower cabinet.”

I reached for the cabinet knob.  

“The other lower cabinet. To your left. Your other left. No! Look! Look where I’m pointing. Am I pointing there? Really? You think I’m pointing there?! Then I’m going to tell Santa to get you a trip to the eye doctor because I’m not pointing anywhere ne— Oh, for God sakes! Never mind, I’ll get it!”

Then Mom ordered me out to set the dining room table.

Our dining room table was large under any circumstances, but grew to mammoth proportions after I locked the two wooden leaves into place. It still wasn’t nearly big enough to accommodate all the relatives, however, so Mom sent me to fetch the card table. This I would wedge against the end of the real table to make one, super long mega-mammoth table. The seats around this hasty addition were reserved for the youngest in the family: Cousin Celeste, Cousin Jason, and me.

And oh, how I hated sitting there. Not because of Celeste or Jason; I loved talking to those two. It was the crummy table, which was shorter and wobblier than the Real Table. Sitting there made me feel like a second-class citizen.

It was a classic case of the Haves and Have-Nots. The adults, the Haves, had a nice cherry wood table from Ethan Allen with matching chairs that were both stately and comfy. They had a real tablecloth, that is to say it was actually made from some kind of cloth. They used the good China and the real silverware.

Celeste, Jason, and I , on the other hand, sat our skinny butts on folding chairs; rested our elbows on one of those crinkly, papery, plastic-y table cloths; and ate on and with the same crummy dishes and flatware that I used every ding-dang day.

So I seethed with outrage.

This was my house, too, I reasoned. Shouldn’t I have a spot at the Good Table? Heck, Mom made me polish the silverware. Shouldn’t I at least be stabbing my turkey with a classy fork?

Year after year, I took my meals in the culinary ghetto. By the time I turned nine I had had enough. I begged Mom to find me a spot at the Good Table.

“There’s no more room,” she replied.

“I could switch spots with someone!”

“Who?”

“Dad!” I announced. It seemed logical. Dad was clumsy, slow, and weirdly passive aggressive about performing household chores; he always found a way to screw them up somehow. Dad was totally a card-table guy.

But Mom was unconvinced. She was Old School; to her way of thinking, a kid could never, ever, in any way, outrank an adult—even if the adult in question just brought home yet another leaky carton of milk.

“You can get a spot at the table when you’re older.” she replied.

What Mom meant by this was, “You can get a spot at the table when somebody dies.”

So as I took my place at the card table that Thanksgiving, I sullenly surveyed the Ethan Allen Aristocracy to my immediate left.

Shameful thoughts tiptoed across my mind.

To be clear, I wasn’t wishing anyone dead. I loved these people. I was just…checking them out. Just because. Just to see.

Aunt Marion looked a little paler than usual. That was interesting. And Uncle Bill seemed to be having a little more trouble getting around. And Grandma Allegra was always saying things like, “I won’t be around much longer.” And wasn’t she like a thousand years old?

These thoughts were suddenly interrupted by an unpleasant shiver firing up my spine.

What was I doing?!

Thanksgiving wasn’t a day to covet what you don’t have; it was a day to show gratitude for what you do have. And I had plenty! More than most! I had a roof over my head and a soft bed and a backyard and an awesome family and a great meal and about a zillion other things that I took for granted every day.

And I was fixated on this?! Really?!

Ugh. How spoiled. How petty. I felt the shame wash over me.

So I shoved the idea out of my head. I returned to my food. It was delicious.

I asked for someone to pass the gravy boat.

Dad reached for it. And then he dropped it. Because of course he did.

As a half dozen napkins darted toward the nasty brown stain seeping into the tablecloth, I caught Mom’s eye. Her expression was impossible to misinterpret.

And I smiled. Because I knew for a fact that this time next year Dad and I would be switching seats.

And I was thankful.  

Spidey Senses

Have you ever looked at a spider close up? They’re cuter than you think.

Ever since I was a little kid, I had an agreement with the spiders in my room: “If I need to get a stepstool to kill you,” I told them. “Then I’m not gonna kill you.”

This was a very fair arrangement. The spiders had the entire ceiling and a perimeter of about two feet of upper wall space on which to putter about. The spiders had more navigable square footage in my room than I did. All they had to do was stay up there — and much to my surprise, that’s exactly what they did. I don’t know if spiders understand English or what, but they always kept out of reach, spending their days weaving web hammocks the size of industrial fishing nets.

I liked the webs. I was fascinated by them. Late at night when I was unable to sleep, I would sometimes flop on my back, turn on the reading lamp clamped to my headboard, and puff a lungful of air skyward to watch the webs dance in the breeze. It was a serene and pleasant way to wait for sleep to overtake me.

I liked my spiders.

Mom didn’t.

“Oh, my GOD, what is going on up there?” she announced one Saturday morning.

Saturday was cleaning day in the Allegra house. Every week without fail Mom would scrub the house from top to bottom. The only room she didn’t scrub was mine. That was my job. She might sometimes check to make sure I didn’t shirk this responsibility, but she didn’t have to worry about me much. I was a tidy kid and she knew it, so her snap inspections were largely ceremonial. She’d only glance to make sure the carpet was lint free and the bureaus wore a lemon-scented Pledge shine.

Until that day she looked up.

“Why didn’t you tell me you had all these webs up there?!”

When Mom took this kind of tone with me, my first instinct was to play dumb. “Hm?” I looked up and feigned surprise. “Oh. I… I never noticed.”

“Never noticed? You spend all day every day farting around in this room and you never, not once, looked up?”

“Uh…”

As usual, Mom’s BS detector struck me mute.

“There’s more web than ceiling!”

Without another word she tromped down the hall, off to get her canister vacuum. Mom’s vacuum was an amazing machine. I have no idea where she had bought it, but it was a weapons grade force of nature, loud as a Harley and armed with enough suction to rip a hole in the fabric of space and time. Like Excalibur or Thor’s Hammer, I always had the sense that Mom was the only person on earth capable of wielding it.

And wield it she did. In an instant, the spiders with whom I had shared such a cordial cohabitation were sucked into oblivion.

I wasn’t exactly sad to see the spiders meet this fate — they weren’t my friends or anything — but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it all felt terribly unfair.

Now I’m a homeowner. Mom and her vacuum no longer hold sway over my life. But my views on spiders have hardened over the years. I kill them now. Often and with extreme prejudice.

I don’t exactly know when or how I changed. Maybe it has something to do with me getting older and crankier. Maybe it’s because I am no longer charmed by the entertainment value of a web hanging over my bed. Or maybe it’s because — like my Mom before me — I do most of the housecleaning. Those webs really do make a house look filthy, don’t they?

But that’s a pretty shallow reason to commit murder, really.

Maybe someday my views will shift back to where they once were. My eyes are getting worse; maybe the webs won’t bother me so much if I can no longer see them so well. Maybe I will rediscover my childlike sense of wonder. Or maybe, with a little work and a little patience, I can learn to follow the philosophy of Live and Let Live.

It’s a nice thought.

But in the meantime, spiders take note: I have a stepstool and I’m prepared to use it.

Debatables: The Better Balloon!

Welcome to a special Thanksgiving-themed edition of Debatables!

My Sarah Josepha Hale bobblehead nods in approval.

For those of you not in the know, Debatables is a monthly column where odd and esoteric kid-lit questions are argued with perhaps a bit too much passion.

My sparring opponent is, as usual, Cricket Muse, whom I love like a sibling. And, just like a sibling, she knows how to get on my nerves.

Cricket is a teacher, reviewer, and a librarian at heart. She began her writing career with Highlights for Children and earned the magazine’s Author of the Month honors for her first published story “Marvin Composes a Tea.” While she still publishes stories and articles, she is now focused on several book projects including a middle grade novel about the Idaho gold rush. She is also positive that her cow-centric manuscript, Udder Nonsense, will soon find a publisher. I am positive about this, too.

If you don’t already follow Cricket’s blog, you totally should!

Here are the Debatables ground rules:

Each Debater is allowed one brief argument (fewer than 300 words) on a previously agreed-upon topic. These brief arguments will then be followed by a briefer rebuttal (fewer than 150 words).

This months topic:

Which children’s book character should be a Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon?

It’s a simple question with only one ground rule: Cricket and I could not choose a character that has flown in a previous parade.

Cricket chose Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.

I, on the other hand, chose Peter from The Snowy Day.

Aw. So cute.

So! Let’s begin:

 

Cricket’s Argument

He’s bouncy. He’s trouncy. He’s fun, fun, fun, fun, fun. He’s also the only one.

He’s very much the heart of the Hundred Acre Woods’ of the most excellent animal pals. He’s boisterous, irrepressible and he exudes enormous amounts of energy. A provider of levity, a chaser of gloominess, he exudes confidence, joy, and optimism.

I’m talking about Tigger. He’s joyfully carefree and his enthusiasm for life makes him positively buoyant. Tigger is unique, there are no other Tiggers about, a fact he expounds upon quite frequently, yet his dedicated observation of this fact is not tedious or vain; it actually promotes a yearning to celebrate this wonderful persona.

What better way to celebrate, to honor,this lovable bouncy character than by him becoming a Macy’s Parade Balloon.

He truly is the perfect candidate. As the song states:

Mike’s Argument

What the Thanksgiving Day Parade does not need is yet another Disney creation floating past 34th Street. Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Kermit (now owned by Disney), Buzz Lightyear, Rex, Olaf, and others from the House of Mouse have all had their turns down the parade route.

I think it’s high time for something different—a little less predictable and a lot less corporate. I propose an often overlooked but always beloved character: Peter, the main character from The Snowy Day.

Here’s why:

Multiculturalism: Diversity is sadly lacking in the Thanksgiving balloons. In the entire history of the parade, only one character of color has ever appeared in ballon form. And that character was… Little Bill, the animated creation of serial rapist Bill Cosby.

Geography: Peter is a city kid. Who else could be more deserving to soar over the Greatest City in the World!

Subject Matter: In addition to Thanksgiving, the parade—with its Rockettes, snow-covered floats, and Santa Claus—represents the beginning of winter. The Snowy Day is the quintessential picture book about winter.

Timing: Ezra Jack Keats won the Caldecott Award for The Snowy Day in 1963. 2018 would be the 55th anniversary of this achievement.

Design: That red onesie snowsuit with the pointy hood is adorable, iconic, and instantly recognizable.

Character: Peter is a good boy. He’s innocent, playful, and has wonderful imagination—able to find fun with little more than a stick. He represents the simple wonders of childhood, a personality perfectly suited for a family friendly parade.

For these reasons and more, Peter deserves a Thanksgiving Day Parade place of honor.

 

Cricket’s Rebuttal

While Mike strives to make a plea for Peter, his arguments melt like a snowman caught out in the sun.

For one: Tigger wasn’t originally a Disney character. He can’t help it that Disney recognizes that he makes a wonderful addition to a family of beloved characters.

Secondly: Tiggers have never been represented in the parade. Big oversight.

Thirdly: Tigger is a very fitting tribute for a city known for its non-stop energy.

As for celebrating winter! No thanks—Tigger represents the bounce of spring and the fun of summer. Cold snow? Isn’t happy frolicking in temperate weather more appealing? Peter is cute, but Tigger is sunshine happiness.

2018 marks Tigger’s 90th birthday—he deserves a fitting celebration. Tigger is his most happy bouncing about. No sticks required.

A vote for Tigger is a vote for the effervescent joy of rising above troubles.

 

Mike’s Rebuttal

You may want Tigger in the parade, Cricket, but, now more than ever, we need Peter in the parade.

In this sad era of emboldened racism, tribalism, and nationalism, Peter would serve as a gentle yet firm reminder that Americans come in all colors, from all walks of life, and from all points on the globe. This diversity is why America is great, and for that reason we should all be truly thankful.

 

***

 

And that’s the debate! Who do you think is more deserving of balloony honors?

Leave a comment below. Don’t be shy! Cricket and I love to hear your thoughts!