Every year, somewhere between my sister’s birthday and Christmas, we get together with the extended family. By “we”, I mean my immediate fam (mom, dad, sis, grandma, hubbies and kids) and by “extended family”, I mean my dad’s clan. Generally, it’s a fairly sober event – no alcohol and no merriment. My dad’s clan is reserved. They don’t like garlic, or spices, or loud things. They like lefse, and crocheted afghans, and Rice-a-Roni “Spanish” rice. They are all really good at Trivial Pursuit and take it seriously. I used to think they were so different from my immediate family because they were so Scandinavian and we were so Irish. I pictured them as frosty, stoic, bland, like some nordic ice village, but without the cool ice hotels or castles. Lutefisk, that gelatinous wobble of fish soaked in lye (no, I’m not kidding) really epitomized them in my mind. While my Irish bunch, though not into whiskey, were loud and boisterous. Everyone talks over everyone else. Everyone eats and plays pinochle. We know how to have Fun – capital F kinda fun.
Ok, so do I still see this as an US versus THEM kinda thing? Well, sort of. I’ve come to appreciate my grandmother’s silent strength (heck, she scrubbed her kitchen floor right before giving birth to twins so the house would be clean when she got back from the hospital) and the way they all seem quite content with their lives. They aren’t looking for spice, for excitement, for novelty. Bland potato lefse is just fine with them, thank you very much. There’s something to be admired in not seeking beyond the comforts of your own home – something very Dorothy-after-she-comes-back-from-Oz-ish about that. Me – I’m always searching. I’m always looking for the next thing, the next new recipe, new spice, new interest. Some of these things stick around with me (I couldn’t live without garlic) and some of them pass along (like those fancy ice hotels that melt each spring). So I guess I’m a weird amalgamation of the stoic Scandinavian and the hot-blooded Irish.
My Norwegian grandmother used to hate The Golden Girls when it was on TV. She felt the portrayal of Rose Nylund was undignified, that it made Scandinavians look stupid, simple. She didn’t like it. I’ve never though she was stupid but I have thought her approach to life was too simple for me. I just couldn’t get around the fact that she was happy crocheting the same afghans year and year after year. She didn’t vary them, she didn’t change them up, she just held fast to her way of doing things. Looking back though, that isn’t simple. Holding fast is very hard to do.
So We will meet up with Them and I’m offering to make the food this time. No hidden spices, or disguised garlic. Nope. I’m making a 1950s menu straight out of Betty Crocker.
Pigs in a blanket
Hot cheese puffs
I hope they like it. My wish is that I can learn to see them as a little more like family and a little less like strangers we see a few times a year. Maybe grandma will even be excited to see I’ve taken up a crochet hook. We’ll see.