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Entertaining Anglos Unaware


Like most couples, Dirtman and I become more and more alike the more years we’re together. But all that goes out the window when we start entertaining family during the holidays. Suddenly I realize I’m married to some strange species of being and he starts looking at me like I’m some weird sort of fungus.
Dirtman’s side of the family is very civilized. They call ahead and arrange a visiting time. They inform us when they will be arriving and when they will be leaving and usually those two times are no more than three or four hours apart. They bring a tasteful hostess gift.
I put the proper foods in the proper dishes for Dirtman’s family. I make very specific food, nothing anyone would find “ethnic” (i.e., “Eye-talian”), usually very, very, very bland. We sit at the table and the knives and forks are in their proper place and, as much as possible, match. Eventually the meal ends. There is a clean up time during which the guests offer to help and I wave them away.
There is politeness. There are “pleases” and “thank you”s. Most of them cringe when a dog walks by and I make sure I’m alone when we do puppy kisses. Sometimes I am forced to condemn them to the garage (the dogs, not the relatives. Although . . .).
With my family, it’s not so much a visit as an occupation. They begin arriving at the start of the season and come and go until the last box of 75 percent-off greeting cards is manhandled into obliteration at the local hardware store. Most get to work cooking as soon at they arrive – or, at least, mixing drinks. Food appears, not all of it cooked by me.
Music must be playing during the entire time my family is around. This is so that if there is a lull in the conversation, you can always talk about the song that’s on. This is only a theory, though, because there has never ever been a lull in my family’s conversation. Once we’re done with the sociological critique of the latest crop of films released, there is always the subject of who traumatized whom at whichever point in their life. It just isn’t Christmas if someone doesn’t storm out, vowing never to see any of us again.
There is no controversy during a visit with Dirtman’s family. Oh, there are issues and the usual baiting and passive/aggressive posturing takes place, but – and here’s the key – no one takes the bait. I used to think they were all just clueless as to all this dissention churning beneath all the polite trivialities. Turns out, they prefer to just pretend nothing was ever or is ever wrong. Dirtman’s family is perpetually stuck in the first act of a Tennessee Williams play.
In true Italian fashion, my family will not forget anything. They will not let you forget anything. And, should you be in danger of “putting it all behind you,” my family will be more than happy to help “it” to catch up.
This is probably why my family spends 95 percent of the time eating. When my family visits we don’t plan activities. We just mill around between meals. Sometimes the meals start running into each other. Every now and then someone may try to leave to do something, but it usually turns into a grocery trip for more food.
Occasionally, the families collide. It doesn’t happen often because my family scares people and no one more than a group of 20th generation Anglo-Southerners who, up until 30 years ago, thought spaghetti and sauce was a can of Hunts poured over elbow macaroni.
At these encounters, Dirtman and I must straddle the two cultures without showing favoritism to either. For instance, when I serve a deli platter with prosciutto, Genoa salami and provolone cheese, I fight every fiber of my being and put a jar of Miracle Whip on the table. And Dirtman defends my right to use pancetta in my potato salad instead of bacon – if he ever wants me to cook for him again.
I don’t fool myself, though. I know he’s just itching to add mustard to that potato salad and misses all those gelatin molds with carrots and pineapple. Who is this man?

Share  Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 3:36 PM | Permalink

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