Now I sit me down to eat
“Does your family say grace at Thanksgiving?”
When I ask my friends that question, most of them say “Yeah” or “Of course.” They're puzzled that I would even ask.
My family never does.
We didn't at last month's observance of the occasion and we won't next week when we gather for Christmas dinner. There are never any prayers at the three big family meals that we traditionally hold each year: Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. All three feasts mark religious holidays that my entire family takes very seriously. So what happened to the religion?
It's my father's fault, despite his being a Catholic of Bill Donohue's querulous school of thought. And the reason is simpler than one might think.
No, he is not being sensitive to the feelings of his nonobservant eldest son. He is, rather, being sensitive to the promptings of his stomach.
For as long as I can remember, Dad has never been content to wait till anyone announces that “Dinner is served.” Especially on major holidays, when the house is filled with all kinds of mouth-watering scents from the kitchen, Dad is drawn to the dinner table like a fish on a line. He is reliably the first person to sit down, while the rest of us tarry. We know that Dad always jumps the gun and sits down before dinner is ready.
However, the moment the first platter of food is placed on the table, Dad's fork is in it. He serves himself immediately as each item arrives. As the rest of us drift in and take our places, he is building up a head of steam and is in full consumption mode. With the advantage of long experience, Mom anticipates Dad's peremptory demand for bread and ensures that the dinner rolls are by his elbow as soon as possible. (My father insists on bread at all meals.)
The meal lacks an official start. It's each man for himself. Or woman. Or child. Just as Dad is always the first, Mom is always the last. The meal is always excellent, but it's just as reliably chaotic and lacking in a sense of occasion.
I've never quite figured out how this was allowed to happen. Sure, I understand the prerogatives of the paterfamilias in a traditional family, but the abandonment of the customary religious observances by traditionally religious people remains puzzling. My best guess is that we simply don't show up promptly enough to suit my father. If we were all in place when he was ready to begin, then perhaps there would be more attention to ritual. Since we never are, the niceties are abandoned in favor of a free-for-all. Mind you, I'm not complaining at being spared the recitation of some saccharin platitudes, but it is a source of bemusement.
In observance of my own personal tradition, I will carefully refrain from saying anything about it. It would just be asking for trouble.