Lana felt sorry for Jocelyn, her family so far away in Australia for the holiday. Of course, Joss reminded her that Thanksgiving was not a holiday there and that she was perfectly happy to go to her law firm's office to get some work done. "It's just another workday for us Aussie's," she said.
Lana was thankful that her parents and brother lived nearby. She was smiling to herself as she drove from the home she and Joss shared in Ann Arbor to Novi, about an hour away. Of course, Joss had been invited to the Hartman family dinner. Lana's family always showed every sign of fully approving of her choice in partners.
She knew how blessed she was to have the family she had. She loved her parents beyond what most adult children do, and she owed them so much. It was not hard for her to feel the appropriate gratitude called for by the holiday. They and her grandparents had always supported her since she was a little girl, not as a pretty little girl but as a smart one, as a capable, strong one. That's who she still was--a handsome blonde, a together woman, though probably never to be thought of as pretty. Her mom and dad probably knew she was going to be a lawyer for some time before she did, although they never pushed that on her. They treated Jocelyn just the same. Lana never worried about "coming out." They did say, at first, that they were a bit concerned that it wasn't the easiest path she had chosen for her life, but then, she never did. She always preferred the hard way, the challenge of it, and she always achieved what she was after. They also initially raised some questions about the age difference--Joss was 10 years her senior--but that concern also faded when they got to know her and saw how happy she made Lana. And she loved her "little-brother" Clark, always all-boy, who rough and tumbled with her as they grew up together playing sports. Now a professor of history at Wayne State, he was still fun and funny and he still proudly saw her as the superstar of the family. Maybe more than anyone else, though, she was looking forward to seeing her maternal grandparents, whom she simply called Grandma and Grandpa G, or sometimes simply "the Gs," after their names Gene and Gordon Grant. For Lana, they were the very exemplars of unconditional love.
She smiled again at the thought, but, as the car radio played "Alleluia" in honor of the death of Leonard Cohen, tears formed in her eyes. There was much to celebrate today, but also much to mourn.
At the top of the hour, the station turned to five minutes of news highlights. President-elect Trump was gradually announcing more and more key members of his administration, some surprises, some not, some comforting, some scary--she knew more than a few of the players personally. On the other side, the Democrats were trying to sort out their new leadership as a party and in Congress. Daily anti-Trump protests were continuing across the country.
The national news was followed by a local story from a high school in the Lansing area:
Officials and parents are looking for answers following reports that students at North Highland High School formed a human wall to block minority students from getting to their destinations the morning of Wednesday, Nov 23. Loretta Davila says her 12-year-old daughter--who is Hispanic--was stopped from going to her locker Wednesday morning by a group of boys who told her to go back to her country and that they were in charge again now. The incident is just one of what appears to be a handful of racially-motivated confrontations that happened at the school since the election just over two weeks ago. There have also been reports of students encountering similar situations when walking into the school Wednesday morning. Davila says she met with school officials twice on Wednesday to discuss the incident involving her daughter but is not happy with how the district has handled its investigation. "You can never take back what's been done to her. You can't take back that she's endured racism at the age of 12," Davila said.
North Highland is located approximately 10 miles west of Lansing.
Tough-minded though Lana was reputed to be, this was almost more than she could take. The Cohen tears were replaced by those for the girl and her mother. "And," Lana thought, "for my country." Hundreds of these sorts of incidents had been reported from all over since the day after the election. She had pulled up to the curb in front of her parent's house, but she sat in the car a bit longer to collect herself. Finally, she got out and opened the back door of the car and removed the orange jello salad, her usual assignment for the occasion. "No politics today," she thought. "I just want to enjoy my family, plain and simple."
She was welcomed warmly at the door by her parents and then Grandma and Grandpa Gordon. Clark was on his way, they said. Coat still on, she took the jello salad to the kitchen with her mother and grandmother. They were clearly excited to see her and began asking how Joss was.
"We wish she could have come, " Grandma G said.
"I hope both you and she know that she is always more than welcome here," Lana's mother added.
"Of course. Of course she does, but she sends her regrets and says it's just another Aussie workday. You know her," said Lana.
Her mother laughed and said, "I always thought Aussie's knew how to have fun."
"Oh, believe me, they do," Lana said. "She could drink all of you under the table and not feel a thing except how funny you all were acting. She could laugh you under the table as well."
Her mother said, "Oh boy, do we know that. One of the funniest people I have ever known. I'm so glad you found someone who could make you laugh, Lana. That's so important in any relationship but especially for you. You were always so serious."
"No worries, Mom, she makes me laugh every day. And while we are almost on the subject, I'm ready for a drink."
Lana poured herself a glass of white wine from the big jug in the refrigerator and the three of them went into the living room just as Clark was coming in the front door. Hugs all-around as he handed his annual gifts of See's chocolates off to his mom and Grandma G. His mother acted as happily surprised as she always did: "My favorites," she said.
Grandpa G brought Clark a Scotch, just the way he liked it: on the rocks with a splash of water. They all sat down, G taking over Mr. Grant's recliner for the day. The Lions were playing on the big TV screen.
"This year it means something for a change, right dad?" said Lana. She was a devout Detroit and U of M sports fan. Her father and brother had seen to that.
"Yeah, they looked as hopeless as ever at the beginning of the season," his father said, "and they're still not pretty but they find a way to keep winning. Stafford's tough in the fourth quarter."
The small talk continued until the game was over and dinner was about to be served. Everyone grabbed something from the kitchen and brought it into the dining room, where Mr. Grant was already carving the turkey. "Life as it should be," Lana smiled to herself. So much to be grateful for as they sat down, Grandma G leading them in the Catholic grace.
Lana's vegan grandparents found plenty to eat, Grandpa G especially piling on the mashed potatoes and meatless gravy" The two of them were pictures of health: fitness nuts, both of them--up at four a.m., G reading his bible for 15 minutes or so before they adjourned to their basement gym for workouts that tired Lana just to think about--and she was no slouch herself.
Innocently enough it was Mrs. Grant who started it. "Well, we won, right? Trump did it despite everything."
"And he's going to have a Republican congress," her dad added, "and he gets to name a new Supreme Court justice."
Clark and Lana made eye contact but said nothing. The others went on. While not afraid to mention the unconventional and highly divisive campaign he ran, they were still all in. "He's crazy, maybe, but watch and see," G said. "He's a good businessman. He'll be great for the country after what we've had the last eight years."
Lana squirmed in her seat and finally tried to change the subject. "Can't we talk about something else?"
"I'll second that," Clark said. "How about those Lions? And how do you think Michigan's going to do against Ohio State on Saturday?"
Lana happily rose to the occasion: "Go Blue," she said.
Lana's mother had picked up on the looks between Lana and Clark and their attempts at shifting the conversation. "So what's up with you two? We won. And not that awful woman. Republicans are back in the White House,"
Clark said, "Mom, can we just drop it. This is Thanksgiving and this is our family. Let's just be grateful for that and enjoy our time together."
Ignoring Clark, Grandpa G asked, "You guys don't like Trump? How about you, Lana. You've been a staunch Republican all your life and worked all those years in Washington as a Republican. Heck, you were chief of staff for our Republican senator. Don't tell me that pinko university is turning you into a liberal on us."
Mother Jean made another attempt to steer the conversation back onto more acceptable terms, but Lana couldn't keep silent any longer. Silence on politics had never been a part of her makeup. She was a political animal, after all, and this family had helped make her that way.
"I'm still a Republican, G. And I'm still a conservative. Believe it or not, that's why they wanted me at that pinko university in the first place. I'm their claim to intellectual diversity in the law school."
"So what's the problem?" asked her mother.
"Let me just say this," Lana said, "I have not fallen in with the enemy at the university. But, two weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I did not vote straight Republican."
"You voted for Democrats?" her dad asked.
"No, for the first time I had to go through and mark all the Republican boxes, except one."
"So you voted for Clinton?" asked her dad again.
"No. I really wanted to but the Republican in me wouldn't let me. I voted Libertarian."
"Wow," Clark said.
"I knew it wouldn't count but I couldn't vote Democratic and I couldn't vote for that asshole."
They had all stopped eating. They had been exchanging looks around the table but now all eyes were on Lana.
"Lana," her mother said. "I don't believe this is you talking."
"I'm sorry but that's what he is. In the first place, he's not a real Republican and he's not a real conservative. He's all over the place and he's a danger to our country."
"He's a successful businessman and will run the country like a business and that's what we need," said her grandfather.
"Good luck with that," Clark said. "Our governor is a businessman too, and look at the mess he's made just in Flint alone."
"Not his fault," her mother said.
"Then whose is it?" asked Lana. "Besides, I've worked in the government for most of my adult life. Whoever said running a government is like running a business, anyway. It's just not the same thing. When was the last time we had a good businessman as President? Herbert Hoover, I believe. How did that work out? Just about like Trump's bankruptcies, only for the whole country."
Grandpa G stood up despite his wife's warning to calm down. "George Romney was a helluva good governor and he had been damn good at running a car company before that. And he was a Republican."
"I'm sorry, Grandpa G," Lana said. "You're right. I've heard that from you all my life and you convinced me long ago. My belief in you and your belief in him were both always part of what made me get into politics in the first place. But this guy is no George Romney. George Romney was a moderate, like the senator I worked for for years, Senator Godwin. And neither was a playboy misogynist who insulted everyone who was not just like him."
"Oh, that's just talk, typical campaign talk," said Mrs. Grant.
"Typical? No one has ever talked like that in any campaign I was ever part of or ever witnessed," Lana said. "I'm afraid, G, I'm afraid for every non-white, heterosexual male in this country."
Her grandmother finally gave in and joined the discussion: "You're worried about you and Jocelyn, aren't you."
"Damn right I am. It scares the hell out of me. And I'm worried about every Muslim, and every Mexican and every African American in the country. How did Republicans ever get from George Romney to this place? I don't believe that most of them have. He's just an asshole like I said."
Grandma G gave Lana a stern but loving look. "It's Jocelyn, I knew it. We love you, Lana, you know that, and we love Jocelyn. But from the beginning, we told you it would be hard."
G got back in: "And you knew from the beginning that what you were doing was against our religion."
"Oh my god," Lana gasped, "All these years and you've never brought that up before. Of course, I knew that but I also knew you and Grandma and my mom and dad. You all were not like that. You always gave me your love and support, even with Joss and me."
"And we still do," her father said. "We couldn't be more proud of you. It's just that this is all such a surprise to us. We all thought you and Clark would be happy over the victory--part of what we could all be grateful for this Thanksgiving."
"It is not what I would call a victory, I'm sorry to say," Lana said. "Not a personal victory and not a victory for our country. I was grateful this Thanksgiving as I drove over here. I was grateful I was coming here to be with people I love, people who love me. I'm truly sorry it has turned into this."
Grandma G said, "And so are we--grateful, I mean, and sorry too, I guess. We just didn't know. We shouldn't have started in on politics in the first place."
Clark said, "How not? We've always been such a political family. Aside from sports, it's about all we ever talked about, even when we were kids growing up."
Mr. Grant said, "Well this would be a really good time to stop. The Lions won today and Michigan is going to stick it to the Buckeyes on Saturday."
"Go Blue," Clark said and they all burst out in nervous laughter. Dinner went on without further political comment. They kidded Grandpa G when he finished all the mashed potatoes, but the mood had shifted inalterably. The conversation remained polite, and hugs and "I love yous" were shared at the door but nobody left happy.
Lana was filled with angst as she drove back to Ann Arbor. The teary eyes she felt driving to see her family returned but for far different reasons. She had never quarreled with them, not even when she was a teenager. She had also never doubted their support of her life with Joss--never had they raised any religious objections. That stunned her. And, she had always supported Republicans until now. That she questioned--no, more than questioned--the current President-elect, had certainly stunned them. She felt especially bad for disappointing her grandfather. But Trump is just an asshole, she repeated to herself. And she had always been better than just a Republican, dammit.
She smiled through her tears now as she neared Ann Arbor. She pulled into the driveway of their old barn of a house on the banks of the Huron River. Nervous about how she was going to handle it with Joss--how she would tell her--what she would tell her--she slowly gathered her purse and her jello salad dish (already washed clean by Grandma G) and made for the side door. Joss was busy in her upstairs office, giving Lana another few moments to breathe. Finally, after putting the dish in the kitchen she climbed the stairs. Joss immediately got up and gave her a big hug: "I've missed you hon. Have a nice day? I'm sure they were all glad to see you."
"They were and then they weren't," Lana said ruefully.
"Tell," said Joss.
"Well, I had what was probably the first argument I ever had with my grandfather for one thing. And my grandma and parents aren't too happy with me either, I'm quite sure."
"You got into politics, didn't you?"
"Unfortunately yes. I tried my best to avoid it but, as Clark said, sports and politics are all we ever talk about in my family."
"And you usually agree on both."
"Well, maybe we differ on when the manager should have taken the pitcher out, or whether the goal should have counted or not."
"But not politics."
"Not really. All Republicans all the way. Sometimes we might like one candidate over another or some move the senate makes, or something, but we share a common philosophy. At least we did."
"Trump changes all that though," said Joss, both as question and answer.
"You got it."
"He changes everything for everybody, Lana"
Joss took Lana's face in her hands and looked deeply into her eyes: "Never us, my love. Noting will ever change this."
"I'm sorry, Joss. I'm feeling vulnerable and I don't like it. I hate that my family, my wonderful adoring family, is upset. I'll admit that it has shaken me. My confidence is not at its all-time best. But I'll get through it somehow."
"You always do"
"How about a glass of wine and we go to bed."
"Best thing I've heard since you got home."
Dr. Richard “Dick” Ault has written fiction since his third grade teacher praised one of his stories, but only began writing full-time when he retired from years consulting on organization behavior and change. His first career was in public education as a teacher, principal, and college professor. He has published one book of non-fiction about change, two novels, and a book of selections from his prose and poetry. After his wife of fifty years died in 2019, he moved from northern Michigan to the Philadelphia area to be near family.