I grew up wishing that, on the side of the family I was being raised in (mostly), there were more of us somewhere near my age. It was mom & me, followed by my stepdad, a long-term visiting friend of mom, a cat and a three legged dog. Conversations were not really geared towards anyone under 30. As such, my mind was filled with opinions on Jimmy Buffet and the still ever-present threat of communism in our country circa 1982. About as wild as we got was one holiday weekend in 1984, when I was allowed exactly one sip of my stepdad’s Dos Equis beer and promptly fell off the edge of a dumpster, hit my head and was thus lectured on the dangers of alcohol. Good times.
My mother, bless her Episcopalian suburban white-lady heart, had me decked out in the ultimate Young Republican attire each Sunday and every single holiday on the Anglo-Saxon calendar. It varied a little, but the basic gist was this: tan pants, blue blazer, white shirt, red tie, Penny-Loafers (too young for tassels, but just right with actual pennies) and hair parted in in such a way so as to suggest I might engage in a conversation on emerging markets in Japan at any moment. Rebellion came in the form of skinning an entire turkey and eating it, moments before dinner was announced to several pedigreed guests who were busy discussing the Edmund Fitzgerald and furiously smoking like freight trains in our living room. The grease smears across my crooked mug and starched shirt were enough to make some people question my credentials as a Mayflower Descendant Society Member. It was my proudest moment and one I’ve never been able to duplicate.
When you’re a kid with more imagination than brains and people around you are relatively one step away from the bone yard, you begin to create scenarios that amuse no one but you. Thus began The Crane. The Crane was a method I devised for scooping mashed potatoes and peas into my scatter-toothed mouth that would take me away from the stifling world of adults. I began to imagine I was dredging our local harbor with each scoop, and would hold multiple-sided conversations between The Crane operator and the disgruntled Longshoremen who were not on board with such unorthodox techniques. As The Crane Operator and dictator of the scenarios, I would callously fling yams to one side, crushing the occupants of Mint Jelly Town, thereby igniting riots. My mind scattered over the chaos, and mostly there was yelling. Unfortunately for anyone at the table, this scenario did not simply take place within the confines of my mind; the dialogue was made for all to hear, much to the horror of the guests at the table, as they were apt to be casualties in the upcoming dinner plate revolution I was plotting. I might’ve been wearing Penny Loafers, but my heart was cloaked in anarchy and blood. The Crane excited our three-legged dog greatly, since there was a good chance that, as collateral damage from my dredging techniques, she’d score some asparagus that had been flung off the plate in the name of efficiency and crappy taste.
We didn’t fight. We didn’t watch football. We didn’t scream obscenities at family members we only saw once a year, and we most certainly did not put our elbows on the table. In fact “we” didn’t do a whole lot, except consume a meticulously prepared meal while silently hedging bets as to who would first spill something on the tablecloth and thereby incur the silent wrath of my mother, who would immediately light up a Virginia Slim in protest.
And although she no longer smokes, and 3o years have passed, whenever I go home and there is a lull in the conversation at dinner, I audibly fire up The Crane, scoop up a load of mashed potatoes and immediately begin an argument between an invisible laborer and me, The Operator, King Of The Dining Room Table. Mom snorts some wine out her nose, not noticing that dollop of jelly my step-dad has let slip on to the fine linen. And a newer, four legged dog patiently waits for the aftermath, knowing she’ll soon be rewarded.
I’m thankful for every moment of it.