As some of you may have guessed, my previous bad poem “Orphan at Your Table“, was a fictionalized account of my experiences as an orphan taken in by various people for Thanksgiving dinner. My parents died when I was a young teen and neither of them had a lot of family left. I was quite in demand as an orphan to invite for Thanksgiving for many years. While many of the people were well-meaning in their attempts to include me, some of them were indeed mostly looking to show off what great people they were by having a semi-homeless waif over for a holiday. I was in foster care and reasonably well-cared for, so nobody imagine that I was living on the streets!
If you do want to invite someone over for the holidays because they are an orphan or living far from home or recently divorced or whatever other thing has washed them up on the shores of “alone for a major US holiday”, I have a few suggestions to make it nicer for them.
This Turkey hopes that you are not inviting him to dinner. He knows how that ends!
- Treat them like they belong with you. Most of us don’t like to be fussed over and treated like an exotic creature. Let them blend in with your family traditions as much as possible.
- Keep the well-meaning sympathy on the back burner. Maybe they want to talk about their deceased loved ones, ex-spouse, or far away home. Maybe they don’t. Be open to the possibility, but let them initiate this. It could be that they would prefer a distraction over a sympathetic ear.
- Tell other regular attendees in advance that you have invited this person. You might be amazed at the alarm, suspicion, and discomfort springing a surprise orphan on your extended nearest and dearest can cause.
- Don’t introduce them as “the orphan” and supply a lot of backstory. “This is Jane. We work together.” or whatever is the case for the acquaintance will go a long way to making your orphan feel more comfortable.
- Understand if they refuse the invitation, it’s not you. It’s us. Sometimes we really are more comfortable in the diner with a good buck.
I hope you all have a lovely Thanksgiving, and bless your kind hearts if you’re taking in random guests, orphans or not!
The orphan at your table
didn’t ask to be invited.
She’d rather be down at the diner where
The waitress knows.
Knows she likes sweet tea
and hot cinnamon rolls.
She fills the cup without comment
when the orphan has her head in a book.
In just a few more chapters
Mr. Wickham gets his comeuppance
and the cinnamon rolls
are really good on Thursdays.
The orphan at your table
hears all your whispered pity
The muttered comments in the kitchen
She takes them on the chin, with a smile.
Behind her grin she knows it
knows your motives better than you do
She’s here not for her pleasure
but for your benevolence.
The orphan at the diner
sips her sweet tea
This year she escaped the Lady Bountifuls
The cinnamon rolls are perfect.
Years ago, when I was younger and childless, I used to have what I called “refugee” Thanksgivings. People without family or far from their family or on the outs with their family would end up at my house, eating traditional Thanksgiving food off my mother’s china (service for 12, Stylehouse Miniver, straight out of the 1950s). It was my way of honoring my family traditions, and also a recreation of the mythical “family” Thanksgiving as it should be, instead of how it actually was/is.
photo by Scott Umstattd, via Unsplash
We have our families of choice, like the ones of my long ago “refugee” Thanksgivings, and we also have our inescapable families of birth and marriage. Each kind comes with its own measures of grief, dissent, love, and laughter. Many people crave that ritualized, mythical family experience that we’re led to believe is conjured up from stuffing and cranberry sauce, while simultaneously fearing the shadow family dynamics that almost inevitably accompany any such attempt. It’s often unclear where your boundaries should be drawn.
My advice to you is this: Make the choices which best offer the comfort and joy of the season to you and your nearest and dearest. Do not participate in dysfunction that eats at your soul and makes you dread the season. Be as kind as you can while maintaining your own boundaries. And if you are able, gather your “refugees”. Make a tribe. Reclaim the sacred myth, and make it your own.