December 18, 2017
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When your liberal aunt shows up to Thanksgiving in Trump country

By Gary Abernathy, The Washington Post
BRIAN SNYDER | REUTERS | BDN
BRIAN SNYDER | REUTERS | BDN
Turkeys stand in their barn at Seven Acres Farm, one day before the Thanksgiving holiday in North Reading, Massachusetts, Nov. 22, 2017.

Another Thanksgiving, another season of bracing for dinnertime conversation with your favorite right-wing uncle. Or so the shopworn liberal trope would have it. Let’s pause to imagine the other half of the story.

The aroma of turkey wafts from the kitchen as aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and their various spouses spread out on couches and chairs inside the old southern Ohio farmhouse, admiring the 13-point buck mounted on the wall, reminiscing about how Cousin Johnny bagged it when he was only 10.

The room is filled with chatter and laughter, loud enough to drown out the sounds of kids playing in the back room. Outside, the assorted pickup trucks with their gun racks and a couple of SUVs with oversized tires are parked awkwardly around the big front yard. Several sport bumper stickers: “He Won, Get Over It,” “Trump 2020,” “Deplorables for Trump,” “Build the Wall, Enforce the Law,” “God Fearin’ Bible Believin’ Gun Packin’ America Lovin’.”

It’s almost noon when Uncle Joe leans over to Cousin Danny and asks, “You think she’ll show?”

A hush descends on the room. After a few seconds, Danny replies, “Who knows. Every year she says she won’t come back, but she always does.”

“Dinner’s on!” Grandma hollers, and the adults march into the big dining room while the kids run to their seats at a small folding table nearby.

“Grandpa, say grace,” Grandma orders. “Bow your heads.”

“Dear Lord, we thank you for this day, and we ask — .”

Grandpa is suddenly interrupted by the front door banging open.

“I made it!” Aunt Louise shouts. “Traffic on the interstate was horrible, but I’m here!”

Uncle Joe exchanges a look with Cousin Danny. Louise tosses her coat on a chair in the corner and squeezes into a seat between Aunt Katie and Cousin Johnny.

“We were just saying the blessing,” Grandma says. “Go ahead, Grandpa.”

Grandpa clears his throat. “We thank you for our family and ask your blessing on this food and the hands that prepared it. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

Everyone starts digging in, the plates and bowls clinking as they’re passed around the big oak table.

“So, Louise, you still like livin’ in Chicago?” Cousin Johnny asks.

“Love it,” Louise says, her fork stabbing at a plate filled with salad and vegetable sides but studiously avoiding the turkey. “Oh, Grandma,” she says, “I hope you don’t mind, I plugged my Volt into the outlet on the patio.”

“That’s fine,” Grandma replies, shooting Joe a look that warns him to keep quiet.

Joe looks out the window at Louise’s car, with a sticker on the rear window: “Deport Trump, Keep the Immigrants.”

“Hey, Louise, glad you ain’t been shot yet, livin’ in Chicago and all,” Cousin Danny says.

“Chicago’s as safe as anywhere,” Louise says. “Safer than walking around these parts during deer season.”

“Well, if Hillary had won, she’da probably outlawed deer season,” Cousin Johnny says.

“Hillary did win, by 3 million votes,” Louise says, sipping from the bottled water she had tucked in her purse. “She should be president.” The others grumble.

“You wouldn’t be saying that if the situation was reversed,” Cousin Danny says.

Uncle Joe can’t help himself. “What they need in Chicago is a law that makes everybody carry a gun,” he says. “Wouldn’t have all the shootings if the criminals knew everybody was packing.”

“That’s right,” several voices chime in.

“Seriously, Joe, Grandma must have dropped you on your head when you were little,” Louise says.

“Children!” Grandma scolds. “Behave. It’s Thanksgiving.”

The discussion gradually turns to kids, doctor visits and how bad the coming winter might be.

After dessert — homemade pumpkin pie and chocolate cake — and another hour of small talk, Louise says, “I have to head back. Long drive to Chicago, and they say it might snow.”

“Don’t rush off,” Grandma pleads. “You just got here.”

But Louise gathers her coat, hugs Grandma and Grandpa, and kisses the children. Joe walks her to the door.

“Hey, Louise,” he says, as they step outside.

Louise turns, bracing herself for a parting shot. But Joe just says softly: “We love you.”

Joe notices that Louise blinks against the cold. She smiles and walks back to the door, giving Joe a hug and a peck on the cheek.

“I love you, too,” she says. As she unplugs the cord to her Chevrolet Volt, she adds, “I’ll see you next Thanksgiving.”

“OK,” Joe says, “but Christmas is just next month.”

Louise smiles and says, “We’ll see.”

Joe rejoins the family, and they chuckle about their crazy Chicago relative. They loudly agree on how misguided she is as they quietly reflect on how much they miss her.

Gary Abernathy is publisher and editor of the (Hillsboro, Ohio) Times-Gazette.

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