A Family Affair — Again, Finally

Monday, November 29, 2021

It's been two years since my family has been together in the same place.

I know that's not unique these days. So many of us haven't seen our loved ones in so long, except from across the miles, through a laptop screen or on FaceTime. I barely remembered what it was like to be in person with them, indoors, together — to wake up to the sound of my aunt's laugh or my uncle's timbre, the way my mom talks to herself when she's cooking, the way we can never all agree on a movie to watch or a game to play.

But this Thanksgiving, we're all vaccinated, so we gathered again in Hilton Head, South Carolina, where my aunt & uncle own a beach rental property.

No one rents it this time of year, so it's ours for the week. I didn't take off work this year — a mistake born of my past-job experiences working during the holiday week — so I have mostly sat in the living room all day every day, typing away, except for the time when I recorded a podcast in an empty bedroom while my family drank giant cocktails at Pool Bar Jim's.

But mostly, it's just been so nice to be together, even when it's annoying. Because that's what families are, right? Nice. And annoying.

One night, my uncle made us reservations at The Jazz Corner, ranked one of the top jazz bars in the country, where we ate she-crab soup & tempura lobster tails & shrimp & grits & immersed ourselves in a live performance of the best jazz I've ever heard in real life. 

Another night, we ate takeout from It's Greek To Me, scarfing down giant gyros as my aunts —  who have worked for a prison & a morgue, respectively —  told us some of their weirdest work stories. "Can we stop talking about murder now?" my other aunt begged. (No.)

We went out to the beach one night to look at the almost-full moon — "a pumpkin moon," as my uncle called it — & Mike downloaded an astronomy app to his phone right there beneath the stars so that we could try to identify the constellations.

Our holiday dinner went off without a hitch, everything so delicious that we each went back for seconds. My aunts barbecued turkey, my cousin's fiance made cornbread pudding, & I made my grandma's fruit "salad," which is held together with Cool Whip. My uncle made roasted rutabagas, a tribute to my late grandfather.

We FaceTimed my cousin in Hawaii & video-chatted my exchange student brother & his family in Spain. We told stories about my grandparents & even went through a bunch of old photos of them, introducing Mike & my cousin's fiance to the patriarch & matriarch they won't get to meet but who we loved so much. 

No one would play Scrabble with me, destroying a lifetime family tradition, because they said I always win (I don't). But we did play a mean game of Sorry, which is a lot more fun than I'd remembered, & the rest of the family spent the whole week working on a puzzle, all of us celebrating & cheering when the final pieces went in. 

On our last day, we brunched in celebration of my aunt's birthday, scarfing homemade French toast & whatever holiday leftovers appealed most to each of us. And then, before Mike & I headed out to catch out flight home, we took a family walk down the beach, almost three miles down & back in the warm sun. 

It wasn't a perfect gathering; nothing ever is. We argued a little, & we shot back at one another when someone said something that didn't sit well with someone else. But isn't that how family always goes? In its flaws, it was perfect — everything I expected from my family, from time together, from being with the people with whom I share blood & history & so much love.

The pandemic isn't over. But I've never been more grateful to science for giving us the ability to come together again after more than a year apart. I needed this. And whatever your holiday was like, I hope you got exactly what you needed, too.

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