Thanksgiving was never exciting. It was never hostile. It was usually quiet. All except for the drive to my aunt's in Pennsylvania requiring a pleasant morning cruise across the George Washington Bridge to the Palisades.
With eight million other families.
Through a land of ash and fire-spitting smokestacks that is New Jersey.
With my family.
If you've never travelled this route with an Italian (who just so happens to be your father), then you've never truly experienced the splendor of such a sensational expedition. Road space was only a slight issue as my father was quite adept in diminishing the front end of a twelve-food span closest to the forward car to seven inches, give or take six inches depending on whether he was accelerating or slamming on the brakes. Once he determined the car in front was being operated by an incompetent driver, he'd swerve into the middle lane, close the next gap and weave somewhat more speedily back in front of the former car -with a comfortable two inches to spare. To say this was exhilarating on the Jersey-bound lanes of the George Washington Bridge, the roadway about 212 feet above the Hudson, is sort like saying the Empire State Building was never really all that special.
In the interest of full disclosure, nobody died.
Were you the offending driver, you'd be assaulted by a most hostile barrage of expletives, a sharp, upward "what-the-f***-are-you-doing" hand wave, and the darkest, angriest furrowed brow ever imaginable. You would not actually hear the obscenities through the windows and white noise of speeding cars, but you would clearly understand what was being said as my father would deliberately over-annunciate his message to compensate for lack of sound. This was especially thrilling as embarrassment coupled with fear of high-speed death forced my body deeper and deeper into the seat. We'd reach Jersey and I'd look wistfully for the Statue in order to displace the panic with oblivion.
Of course, if we had left the house ten minutes later, we'd likely not be moving at such pace. Rather, we'd be crawling over the bridge amidst the exponentially thicker density of vehicles packing the roadway. There would still be a lot of cursing.
This adventure, by the way, was by no means exclusive to our family. Plenty of other fathers racing down the interstate spat out these most lovely compliments while careening towards the slow-pokes disinterested in reaching their holiday destinations. For those faster and more aggressive than my father, he simply cursed back, "You f***ing a**hole!" for so nearly threatening his family and car.
Unscathed, we'd emerge from our death-skirting speed race upon reaching our destination. We'd collapse onto the couch, weary and exhausted, pop in the Star Wars Trilogy or The Godfather, wait hungrily for the turkey to be sliced, and anxiously dread the drive home in three days.
Our holiday wasn't so different from anyone else's, at least not in the Tri-state area.
Okay, maybe the meal wasn't so different from anyone else's. But, Thanksgiving felt like the one holiday when we weren't different. There exists in this country the notion that some are more American than others. On Thanksgiving, however, no one asked if I wore a yarmulke. No one asked if we spoke Italian in our house. On Thanksgiving, we were an American family. At the time, I wanted to get the heck out of there, especially with the impending doomful drive home. It's trite, I know. It's cliché but, in retrospect, I'm grateful that for one night we could feel ordinary.