Glad to be mouthing off with sisters

November 20, 2001|By Susan Reimer

THANKSGIVING arrives this week, the first sentimental holiday after Sept. 11, and for thousands of Americans it is the first, in a year of firsts, without a loved one.

For many other Americans, this will be the first holiday of the "new normalcy," the first traditional family gathering marked by the new tenderness, the new need for closeness, the new list of things that matter more now.

My family and I have always traveled to my hometown of Pittsburgh for Christmas - my children grew up thinking Santa did not come to Maryland - but Thanksgiving and Easter have been hit-or-miss holidays for going home.

As the children entered high school and their sports coaches ascended to positions of authority above mom, dad, and even grandma, it has been tough to make it home for Thanksgiving and still get back for a mandatory Friday practice. We did it last year and gave new meaning to the expression "eat and run."

This year, our visit to Pittsburgh may be equally brief, but I am determined to go, even if we must drive all night or leave before dessert.

Truth be told, I hesitate to walk into what I am sure will be an emotional mix: the usual family irritations combined with this new, on-the-verge-of-tears state of the human heart. Family gatherings could go south in a second.

And I do not relish the inevitable clash of politics among us. For the first time, I may find myself agreeing with my brother-in-law the ex-Marine or my brother-in-law the arch-Republican papist, and I am not sure how these discussions will proceed in the new normalcy.

Mostly, I feel an urgent need to be with my sisters.

One of us has a son who is a member of the Marines special forces. He was on a ship in the Arabian Sea, but he is no longer answering his e-mail, and we assume he is on the ground in Afghanistan.

Another has a son in the National Guard. He did it to pay for college, but the cost may be much higher now. He is waiting to be deployed.

And another nephew cannot wait to enter the fray. He is applying only to service academies, something that might have made a mother proud before Sept. 11, but provokes different emotions now.

You might guess that I long to be with my sisters so that we can comfort and console each other in a way our husbands and our other children and our friends cannot, because only we understand what it means to be a member of this new club: The First-Born Sons At Risk Club.

But that is not why I am in such a hurry to see my sisters.

Growing up, we fought like cats in a garbage can. But in our adult years, we have become bantering girlfriends. But our banter has a bite to it that is sharpened by old sibling grievances.

Did you see Hanging Up, with Diane Keaton, Lisa Kudrow and Meg Ryan? That's us, only we are four.

We burst through the doors at these family gatherings, drop a lifetime of emotional baggage in the foyer, scatter kisses and barbs in equal measure and then fill the air with our cackling laughter. Men and children routinely skitter out of the room, like cockroaches do when the light goes on.

"When you get together, you're like snakes hissing," my husband has observed. But we appear to be immune to whatever venom is left in each other. Our kitchen-table visits may leave us exhausted, but not wounded.

If I am asked this Thanksgiving to testify to my gratitude, I will say how glad I am that I could escape the fearful orbit of the nation's capital for Western Pennsylvania and the company of my sisters.

We take unerring aim at old sensitivities with our smart mouths, and our wits are all sharper for the competition. We are certain that we are funnier around each other than any one of us is anywhere else.

I want to be with my sisters so our laughter can fill someone's kitchen again. And the "new normalcy" that each of us brings into that kitchen will disappear as quickly as snowflakes on our hair, and for a while it will be the old normalcy again.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.