My Big Fat Okie Thanksgiving

Like just about everyone else, Heidi and I loved My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I think I know why this was a hit. Good romantic comedies are pretty common, but this one was more of a romance about family — how you can love them, be with them, and want to run away from them screaming all at the same time. It was about the balance between being your own self and being your family and how you really have to be both. It was about how the best families are wonderful and maddening at the same time. It was about my family too.

The movie made me really look forward to my Thanksgiving trip to the Clarks’ big gathering up yonder in Oklahoma. It’s so big we have to rent out a place for us to meet. One Grandma, eight kids, twenty-six grandkids, of which I am one, and I cannot count the number of great-grandkids. That’s not counting spouses, friends, second cousins, pets, and anyone once-removed. People eat in shifts. Children run in packs. Work crews have to be recruited for cooking, cleanup, and childcare. Even when ninety percent of the little kids are happy, that means at least five or six tots are crying somewhere at all times. It’s a big happy, sloppy, drawly family feast.

The Clarks are game players. If you have four people standing around, why, you have a game of Spades, why aren’t you playing? The clattering of dominoes is even more prominent than the crying of babies. And the Clarks, though they are basically loving compassionate Christians who live Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness in their everyday lives, all that stops at the edge of the gaming table. Clarks are ruthless gamers and sharp-witted card players and you learn to develop your sportsmanship skills playing with them. Can’t be a sore loser, cause you’ll probably do a lot of losing. And you learn not to be partners with Uncle Mike, who goes Nullo with the King of Spades in his hand, or his son Tim who inherited his dad’s bravado. They’d rather lose than be bored, apparently.

I am proud to be a Clark. My dad lived in a tent when he was a baby. The Clarks started off dirt poor, Great Depression poor, hunt squirrels for food poor. And from humble beginnings my Dad and his siblings went on to become doctors, engineers, and self-made entrepeneurs. I have one cousin whose parents home schooled him through the college level (yes, you can do that) and he started what has become a multi-million dollar computer business. I am not self-made. I got my start from my family and I don’t want to ever forget that.

Sure our family has its share of Black Sheep and ne’er-do-wells, but it’s all good when we sit down to dinner and say grace. And yes, there are some fundamentalist elements in the clan — the kind that’ll corner you and start quoting scripture at you and asking if you’re sure you’re “saved” — that used to scare me in my less sure-footed days. And we have our eccentrics, like the uncle who lived in a metal portable building like the ones you can buy at Sears, with a large satellite dish right outside. But the eccentricities add character to a family that has lots of character.

That said, I realize I have the perspective of a person who lives ten hours away and who doesn’t dwell in the maddening mess of family with the gossip and fighting and being all in each other’s business every day. And at the end of the Thanksgiving visit I am always ready to take my paltry little family in our quiet car to drive toward home.

But the movie made me smile and look forward to being in the midst of my big country-kitschy clan. I may even buy myself a pair of overalls, just for the trip.

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