Thanksgiving Surprise

It was ten years ago, in 2010 at Thanksgiving. We were sitting there enjoying our turkey and mashed potatoes when Grandpa (who just turned seventy) let loose with the vilest monologue ever heard. It was as if an entire lifetime of filth just came pouring out from his mouth, as if someone had directed the sewer pipe into our dining room. And we all just sat there while raw sewage poured over us. It was as if he’d been plugged into some collective filth pool and was draining it into our dining room. Sewage poured over my new dress, the one Mom bought me for Thanksgiving, the one she bought to make Grandpa happy. “He’s been so sad since Grandma died,” she said. “Maybe seeing you looking nice will make him happy.”

Grandpa started out talking about all of the sex he’d had with, it seemed, nearly everyone in the family. And the family was so polite and accommodating that everyone just sat there while filth flowed all over them. We all tried to act as if nothing was happening. Grandpa offered all sorts of embarrassing facts about family members living and dead. He mentioned stuff that didn’t seem possible. His reported acts seemed to violate every law of nature and of man (and woman).

Grandpa released a ton of F-bombs, S-bombs, even a few bombs I’d never heard of. Everything was F-bomb this, F-bomb that.

He mentioned all sorts of vile things he’d done to each family member and those things he still wanted to do. He related his entire sexual history and any and every sexual fantasy he’d ever had. Most of them, if acted out, would result in long prison terms, chemical castration, or a return of the lobotomy.

Grandpa mentioned an incredible array of sexual activities that he had performed with neighborhood dogs, cows, and a whole farm of animals. Every pet in the family had been violated, it seemed. Shawn, our cat, had suffered unmentionable indignities at Grandpa’s hand (and other body parts). Grandpa talked about various machines he’d used for sexual gratification and how he’d used them on family members. He told of crimes he’d committed and gotten away with. He implicated each and every family member in a wide range of felonies.

I felt a chill that I was so close to this vile and disgusting man and that he was my grandpa. I trembled. I averted my eyes. No one seemed phased by any of this except me. My hands were shaking, and I tried not to cry. People in my family weren’t allowed to cry. It wasn’t that I was upset by what he was saying. It was the first time I ever felt alive because I lived in a family of the emotionally repressed. I was overcome with emotion because there was at least one who wasn’t dead emotionally.

Grandpa would point at a relative and dump out every embarrassing thing he knew about that relative. It was a lot to take in.

No one spoke or contradicted him or even looked at him. Everyone continued to look down and eat in silence. I was part of a family of strange, unemotional beings. No one ever connected with anyone else on an emotional level. And this was the result: when you turn seventy, you just cut loose with the vilest one-person show the family had ever seen.

He pointed at me and described in lurid detail my first clumsy sexual encounter with my boyfriend. How did he find that out? I tried to avoid eye contact with my mother or father or brother… or anyone else.

He talked about horrible—just horrible—things he’s done to my mother. These things were so awful, they couldn’t be true.

He even talked about what sexual humiliations he’d visited upon my father after my father began dating my mother. I heard words and deeds that I never thought possible. A tear streaked down my father’s cheek. My father never cried. It was the first time I saw any emotional reaction from my father.

“Hey, hello everyone. Sorry I’m late,” Uncle Donovan said from the kitchen. He showed up right in the middle of Grandpa’s diatribe. Grandpa continued speaking. “Hey, whoa, what’s going on here, Grandpa?” Donovan said after he came into the dining room. Uncle Donovan was different from the rest. He would speak up if something was wrong. I wanted him to shut up.

“He flipped out,” my brother said.

“Shut your goddamn trap,” Grandpa said. He pointed at my brother.

“Hey, Grandpa, hey now, stop,” Donovan said. “Just stop, OK?”

Donovan noticed my brother’s video camera. He gestured his head in the direction of the camera. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing,” my brother said. He put the phone/camera in his pocket.

“Give me that,” Donovan said.

“No,” my brother said. He ran upstairs. I could hear a door slam. And lock. I knew he was uploading the video to the Internet for safekeeping. I hoped I’d be able to enjoy it later. My brother was somewhat useful, occasionally.

I was sure that everyone thought if Grandpa dropped dead right then and there, if his head flopped forward into his potatoes and gravy, and he drowned in his gravy, all would have been right in the world. Instead, he just stopped talking and quietly resumed eating his dinner as if nothing had happened. “Delicious stuffing, Carol,” he said. My mother smiled a little and nodded at him. “Hello, Donovan, nice of you to join us.”

“Sure, Dad, what was that all about?”

Grandpa shrugged. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I started crying. I was overcome by the emotion of the moment. It was an incredibly moving emotional experience. Grandpa’s losing control gave me hope. I never felt closer to anyone in the family than I felt toward Grandpa at that moment. That’s why I cried. I enjoyed Grandpa’s passion. I wanted to hug him.

“Someone needs to give her a whack,” Grandpa said. He stared at me. Most everyone smiled and nodded. I thought he was going to resume his diatribe, but he just sat there and sampled the yams.

“Dad, stop,” Donovan said.

I got up and went to the bathroom.

“What’d you think of Grandpa?” I asked my brother later. We were in the basement playing pool.

“Glad I got it all on my phone,” he said.

My brother had not only audio but also video. He had pointed his phone directly at Grandpa hidden from the others between the bowl of green beans and the bowl of corn. The video was excellent. The audio was excellent. The holidays made him generous, and he offered me a copy.

I knew the video would be my most prized memory of Thanksgiving. I felt connected to Grandpa. I wanted the family to be like him all the time. I wanted them to scream at each other and say awful things. I wanted some passion. I was tired of living amongst the androids.

We spent the next few months playing and replaying Grandpa’s performance, trying to wring out all of the meaning we could from his eighteen-minute recital. We had to search the Internet for clarification of a lot of the things he discussed. So much seemed outside what was possible. It was as if a being from an advanced civilization had channeled through Grandpa on Thanksgiving and offered us its wisdom. True, what came out was filthy and pretty disgusting, but we treasured it. We had one unspoken rule: Neither of us ever mentioned what Grandpa had revealed about the other. There was always an awkward moment whenever we got to those parts of the recording.

I eventually ended up making a transcript. That took until the next summer. I carried it around as a sacred text. If I ever felt down or confused or misunderstood, I’d pull out the transcript and read for a little while, and I’d feel better.

Grandpa died almost five years later, at seventy four. We were never again treated to anything like that Thanksgiving. Each year I eagerly awaited another Thanksgiving and the advanced, crude, passionate, filth-ridden civilization as it visited through Grandpa. Gradually, I realized that never again would Grandpa take the stage.

I think Grandpa’s outburst gave him five extra years. It so rejuvenated him. The family had been wounded by his outburst, but there wasn’t any lasting damage, unfortunately. No one ever discussed it, and if I ever tried to talk about it to anyone other than my brother, I was told to drop it.

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