Thanksgiving break was coming up, and it was too close to finals to bother making the trip back home to Upstate New York. I didn’t feel like driving through the blizzard-like conditions I would inevitably have to plow through as soon as I hit Cleveland. Terms like snow squall, wind chill factor, and lake effect had become uncommon terms ever since I moved to Central Ohio, so I decided to accept Todd’s invitation for Thanksgiving dinner up at his parents’ house near the lake. When I accepted his offer, he was so thrilled that for three straight weeks he couldn’t stop talking about what seemed like the most exciting thing that was ever going to happen him. “A real TRADITIONAL Thanksgiving dinner! It’s going to be amazing!” he beamed, telling everyone in between classes. I think I was the first Asian he had ever met. Sometimes I would catch him staring at me while we were in class, and he would blurt things out, like, “My wife has never eaten Chinese food. Ever.” Why he decided to tell me this since I was Korean, I don’t know. Why I should expect this ol’ country boy to know the difference between two distinctly different cultures is probably the real question.
“You see,” Todd’s eyes lighting up, arms flying in the air to accentuate his point, “in my house, we have a huge turkey, with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and yams, and…” I pretended to be fascinated and not have an inkling of what Thanksgiving was about. I felt it was the least I could do. His mom was going to be feeding me, after all.
Todd treated me like a foreigner, even though he knew where I was from. The strange thing is, a lot of his political philosophies and his emphasis on hokey traditions were completely alien to me. I never grew up with any sort of political ideology. “You see,” Todd would say, as if to enlighten me, “in America, we don’t need government intrusion into our lives. For instance, if I were to build my own house, I don’t need a government inspector to come and inspect it. It’s my individual right to build it however way I want. Why should the government tell me how to build my own house?”
“Maybe to make sure it doesn’t fall apart while you were living in it?” I asked innocently. What he was saying made absolutely no sense. He wouldn’t say anything back. He would just give me one of his piercing stares. He told me about how his wife’s parents unexpectedly had a third child when their other children were well into their teens. Then they had a fourth child to make sure that the third child wouldn’t grow up lonely. He told me this story at least five times. “Because that’s what having a family is all about,” he would always say at the end.
Todd was the preppiest kid in our class. He looked like he came straight out of a Ralph Lauren ad. He had the perfect smile with the perfect blue eyes and the perfect haircut that was perfectly parted to the side. His only facial flaw was his freckled nose that hooked to the side. He described it as a deviated septum. People like him would never describe it as a crooked nose. He came from an idyllic small town in an idyllic country house with the idyllic country family. Todd would often refer to his family with an amount of pride that I’ve never seen anyone have before. I grew up in a larger town, a more modern suburban development, and we never took that kind of pride in our families or in the way we celebrate the holidays. His intensity in domestic trivialities seemed very suffocating and somewhat creepy.
When I finally met his parents, I wasn’t all that impressed. Todd talked them up so much, I was expecting Martha Stewart and Co., but they just seemed like a regular ordinary family.
The week after we got back from break, Todd couldn’t stop talking about my visit to our classmates. He looked at me as if I had the privilege of meeting his family and we now had a special bond that would last forever. He couldn’t stop asking me questions about what I thought of his family. I felt like I had to tell him something to flatter him, so I told him that it was kind of funny how excited his twin brother got for his new espresso machine.
“I know! He kept offering to make an espresso for me and I don’t even like coffee!” Todd cackled. It was a really loud and exaggerated cackle.
Actually, his twin was a really nice guy. I drove him back to campus after dinner that night and during the three hour drive, he told me how his marriage was falling apart. I thought that was kind of strange that he was telling me all the details of his marriage since we just met, but I appreciated how open and honest he was with me. I really didn’t worry about him finding another wife. Men like him always do.