Home is Where the Heartburn Is
There's nothing like going home to bring out the worst in us. It doesn't matter how many years you've been away, how old you are, or how much you tell yourself you're a grown up now so you won't pout when your mother tells you to stop picking on your sister and go to your room without dinner -- reversion is unavoidable.You do it, I do it, everyone does it. Face it, at one time or another Ghandi hauled off and slapped his brother when they were both home for the holidays. And you can bet your cardigan that when Mister Rogers returns for his annual visit he doesn't ask his terminally PMSed Aunt Rhoda to be his friend.The truth is, if it wasn't for dysfunction most families wouldn't function at all. These dysfunctions, and the roles that they spawn, don't die easily. We have the same arguments ("I'm 32 and you're still trying to tell me what I want to order for dinner."), use the same childhood phrases ("You are too a poopie-doo-doo-head!"), and eat enough to remind us why it was that when we were ten our waist measurement was more than our height.Recently, my brothers and I were home to help my parents pack up so they could move to Florida. Since they lived in the New York City area they were being forced to move to Florida whether they wanted to or not -- New Jersey state law mandates that anyone who is past the age of retirement and still breathing must move to Boca Raton. This is a great example of a mutually beneficial law, since it provides a steady stream of slow-moving alligator bait in Florida, which in turn ensures that there will be plenty of healthy reptiles to turn into handbags to be shipped to those up North waiting for to retire. All trade agreements should be this good.The first thing I noticed when I arrived was that food was a focal point, not so much for how often we ate, but how much. When I was growing up we all ate, well, too damned much. Since then we've taken to eating better, eating lighter, and eating healthier. At least until we hit the airport.Maybe it's the difference between California and New Jersey, but suddenly restaurant recommendations were based on quantity, not quality. All-you-can-eat buffets were everywhere. Reviewers in the newspaper rated restaurants on a scale of 1 to 4 pig troughs. And every two-bit diner included soup, salad, appetizer, entree, dessert, Rolaids, and a stretcher with the meal. If they ever hear about the "kilo restaurant" trend in Brazil where you pay for your food by weight there will be a citizen's revolt in New Jersey, with people running wild through the streets hoisting forks and flaming brochettesYou learn a lot about your family when you get together. Among the things I discovered was that my father is more obsessive than I realized. No, he's not as bad as the Japanese who are swept up in the Sanitation Epidemic of '99, walking around the streets wearing gauze masks, going out of their way to get their money from ATMs that sanitize it as it's dispensed, and buying antiseptic pens.Actually, cleanliness isn't Dad's focus, collecting things is. Mostly paper. It's like he's stuck on his first wedding anniversary. He's always been an avid clipper, cutting out articles, cartoons, and anything else he thinks he might need for later reference during this or any of his next lives. I suspect there were a few clay tablets in a file folder somewhere but we didn't notice since we threw them out with the file cabinet they were in while he wasn't looking.Dad's not alone in this; Mom helps out. Or enables as they like to say in support groups while beating on drums, hugging each other, and trying to pretend that they actually care about everyone else's problems when they have so many of their own. As we were going through the house we found that they'd saved every scrap of paper we even looked at, from kindergarten report cards to seventh grade notebooks to the first piece of toilet paper they used to wipe our butts. And they were so disappointed that we didn't want them.I don't know about my brothers, but I've spent some of the best hours of my life ridding myself of unnecessary "things". I've held yard sales, garage sales, given trash bags full of junk to Goodwill, and even thrown single shoes on the side of the road to accomplish this. Well, that and because I know leaving the shoes gives people hours of entertainment value wondering what in the world happened to the other one.So now my parents are in Florida where they can start collecting things again. At least now it will be all theirs. But just because they're in a new place doesn't mean I have any misconceptions that anything will be any different when the family gets together. Except, of course, for the food. Now, instead of just quantity, there will be another important criteria to take into consideration: dining time. After all, we wouldn't want to miss an Early Bird Special, now would we?