Saturday, November 24, 2012

Speaking in Tongues, Holiday Version

          Every time I swoop in from exotical locales (because where in the world is more exotical than Kansas City?) to join in my extended family's holiday celebrations, I am oh so very grateful that years ago, in Wisconsin, I had the foresight to learn a language.
          I'm referring, of course, to the fact that I can speak Football.
          Even though I speak it with rather a heavy accent, when I am seated next to people with whom I have absolutely nothing in common except some shared genetic matter (most notably the Pie Gene—more on this later), and am searching for a conversation topic—ANY topic—to fill the yawning silence, I can always ask how the Broncos are doing this year. And since I live in a town with a spectacularly losing football team, I can gin a nicely social conversation out of the Broncos' last win plus a meditation on my hometown team along the lines of good-lord-you-have-to-play-a-little-offense-if-you-ever-expect-to-win-a-game, plus a dash of does-this-team-not-understand-the-concept-of-defense. In desperate straits, I can always add sometimes-you-just-need-a-decent-passing-game.
          If carefully executed, a little Football spoken early in the gathering can get me through an entire holiday celebration with the aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and first, second, and third cousins without my politics or lack of religious affiliation causing offense or scandal. Lordy do I love being able to speak Football.

I speak football with a Wisconsin accent.

          On the rare occasion that a relative does not speak Football (it happens, even in the best of families), I do have a fallback position, for I also speak Pie.
          There is a Pie gene in my family, first expressed, to the best of my knowledge, in my great grandmother. Those of us in my generation still remember Great Grandma, although only those in my mother's generation have tasted her pies. Still, a question about who has Great Grandma's apple pie recipe can keep a conversation alive that really was never meant to draw breath in the first place. And a simple question about shortening preference for pie crust can draw out an otherwise dour relative, turning a tense silence into a nice little conversation. Or possibly, if the wind is from the east and the Broncos are having a losing streak and everyone is a bit on edge, an internecine war, with the Crisco faction insulting the lard faction who is belittling the butter faction who is patronizing the Crisco faction.
          Sometimes you must tread carefully with family members when discussing the shortening issue.

I will not tell you what shortening I used in this crust,
for shortening is a matter that can divide families,
but I will tell you that Dad made the pie plate.

          Why do I care so much about finding conversational common ground with my relatives at the holiday gatherings I show up for every few years?
          I don't know. We share the Pie Gene, I guess. We remember Great Grandma. We have endured Grandma's odd "bonus" gifts. We loved Grandpa and we still miss him. We have gone swimming together. We have barbecued together and run around with sparklers. We remember our cousins' Great Dogs and Cats of Yore. We've mustered out for the weddings and the funerals and the dog shows.* Tribal affiliations have been built on less.

*A big thank you, by the way, to my family for that. That was more than even the shared Pie Gene requires, and I appreciate it greatly.


No comments:

Post a Comment