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Why Thanksgiving at the Blouins is always a good exercise in cultural insensitivity
By Lou Blouin
[The kids’ table at the Blouin Thanksgiving, circa 1990.]
Note: All week long we’re bringing you one appetizer-sized Thanksgiving essay per day in the lead up to the holiday. Here’s the first.
For most families maybe, Thanksgiving is strictly a family affair, but as has become the semi-frequent custom at my house, outsiders are always welcome. Bringing people from beyond the Blouin clan — known to be an irreverent, good-hearted, but generally foul-mouthed bunch — doesn’t come without certain risks, however. Like the time my sister Lee brought her Native American boyfriend Nathan home for Thanksgiving dinner, only to have the serenity of the pre-meal social hour spoiled by a young group of cousins playing a rousing game of “cowboys and Indians” in next room — their hands fluttering against their mouths, sending caricatured high-pitched Indian whoops throughout the house. Lee was able to crush the game before Nathan really even noticed, but there was definitely no missing my uncle’s comment during dinner that he’d like to “scalp” a nephew who had held onto his pre-teen rat-tail look a little too long.
It was a similar case with my German friend Birgit who I brought home from college one year later, though this time it was the post-dinner hour that would prove to be culturally traumatic. Usually as the evening winds down, Mom likes everybody to play Scrabble or watch movies, so when she couldn’t wrangle enough people in for board games — she popped in a DVD. “I’m not really sure what this one is about,” she said, “but I heard it got a lot of awards.” Imagine my horror, then, when the opening scenes of the 1997 Holocaust film Life is Beautiful lit up the television. Luckily the movie doesn’t get too serious until the second half, and I was able to divert Birgit and a few others toward the now much more attractive Scrabble option before things got ugly. With the movie rolling in the next room, it wasn’t exactly the relaxing game that mom had hoped for. But Birgit seemed to roll with it. I suppose Germans get used to dealing with these kinds of things. And after more than a few Thanksgiving screw-ups, my family is getting used to them too.
Nothing, however, can beat the now-infamous Blouin millennial Thanksgiving. The source of the problem here was not so much offending an outsider as it was our family’s ongoing rebellion against my mother’s Mennonite roots. Mom has broken from the flock, but many of her relatives still remain within the fold, including many who regularly come to our Thanksgiving dinner. This being the case, it’s always important for the Blouin kids to dial back our filthy sense of humor in front of our more holy brethren. Usually we’re pretty good at it (though I have been known to uncontrollably let the F-bomb fly during intense games of Scattergories), but this particular year, we apparently missed a spot when scrubbing our home of unholy thoughts. Just before dinner, my mother guided a Mennonite aunt upstairs, apparently to show her some renovation that had been done since last year’s visit, and as they entered the bedroom at the top of the stairs, they were welcomed by the flash of a computer screensaver that my older sister had put up almost a year ago in honor of the new millennium — and which nobody had bothered to remove since. “2000 Cunts!” the screensaver flashed, the words wobbling merrily across the screen. Suddenly seeing it with fresh eyes, Mom quickly moved to divert my aunt’s attention. But there was really no missing it, and we later only quelled our embarrassment by convincing ourselves that she probably didn’t even know what the word “cunt” meant anyway. Not a bad bet I suppose: Two years ago, during a session of Scattergories, I remember this same aunt struggling to come through on the clue “Yoko Ono.” After the timer ran out, and the answer was revealed, she admitted she didn’t even know who Yoko Ono was — proof that everyone from the culturally deprived to the culturally depraved are always welcome at our table. ###
Lou Blouin is a founding contributor at Found Michigan.