Thanks, But No Thanks(giving) by
(193 Stories)

Prompted By Family Feud

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There are many quotations that say, in effect, that there are no truly “functional” families; rather, each family is dysfunctional in its own unique way.  The featured image is one of my favorite renditions of that idea.  And, in keeping with it, I do not pretend that my family has been immune from family feuds.* That said, I come from a very private family and, notwithstanding my love of Retro, I wish to keep our feuds within our family.  Sort of like the “What happens in Las Vegas…” line.

However, I have already addressed in an earlier Retro story the event that always springs to mind when I think of family arguments, if not feuds: the absoutely cliche that is Thanksgiving dinners with the crazy and and/or politically incompatible relative, and so I link it here.

But no real need to read or re-read the whole story, which is generally about the joy of family dinners in the dining room, with Thankgiving being the notable exception.  In keeping with this week’s prompt, let me just repeat here the “moneyshot” paragraphs that focus on the horror that was too frequently our Thanksgivings:

“Second, dinner of the whole family in the dining room was not always a felicitous affair.  I speak in particular of several Thansgiving dinners where my mother’s brothers (my uncles) would join us.  They were, of course, much more mature than they had been in the nursery growing up, but somehow — and, as I consider it, possibly due in some part to their disinterest in the adult conversations in the dining room even after they were allowed to eat there — their politics had not evolved very much.  I’m not sure if they would be Trumpians today, but they were pretty conservative, especially for educated Jews, and they would get into some fairly loud and ugly arguments with my mother and mock her for being the archtypical “limousine liberal” that, for better or worse, wasn’t too far from the truth.

Political arguments with crazy uncles at Thanksgiving dinners is almost a cliche. But, worse than their choices in politics were my uncles’ choices in wives.  Both seemed to be attracted to increasingly more unhinged women over the years.  Almost all of these women, it ultimately became clear, were very serious alcoholics.  As a result, by the time dinner rolled around, they had frequently been drinking for hours and were quite out of control.  In retrospect, their episodes of screaming at the dinner table, and sometimes having to be physically restrained (if they didn’t simply pass out), was a pretty good object lesson for both my brother and me as to the dangers of excessive drinking, and one which we both have remembered well and taken to heart.

These sad, temporary aunts certainly did little to enhance my memories of family dinners in our dining room.  Nonetheless, take it from this otherwise unreconstructed liberal: such dinners are still a wonderful thing to experience and impose upon one’s kids.”

Let me just add two further points to my earlier story.  First, due to a series of family events, including kids and grandkids off to Iceland and the fact that we all just had a surprisingly felicitous family reunion a week ago at my mother-in-law’s memorial service, my wife and I will be celebrating Thanksgiving all by ourselves in a nearby inn that we love.  Since we get along quite well 99% of the time, and certainly agree that much politically (call it the “99% Rule”), this should be a very pleasant and non-contentious dinner  Then, the day after Thanksgiving — no “Black Friday” madness for us — we are going off to an inn near Hyde Park in New York with my brother and his wife.  And with them, too, happily, the 99% Rule applies. And none of us drinks very much.  So re-runs of those previous crazy Thanksgivings is virtually impossible.

Second, though I am usually reluctant to recommend prospective spouses, restaurants, or movies to others, since tastes can be so varied, I will break my rule as to the third of these categories now.  The single best movie ever made about a dysfunctional family Thanksgiving is “Home for the Holidays,” with an all-star ensemble cast and directed by Jodie Foster.  I’m sure it is streaming somewhere.  And, as an added bonus,I am also sure that somewhere on YouTube there is a video of how they filmed the famous “turkey carving” scene.  Here is a shot of it from the movie, but no spoilers:

Hopefully, not only will you also enjoy the movie, but it will put your own family feuds in happy perspective.


*  I should note that I grew up on Hatfield Road.  However, since it is in Connecticut, I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with the Hatfield-McCoy feud of West Virginia and Kentucky.

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin

Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Thank you for the reminder of those uncles of yours, John. But even more, those alcoholic aunts! Those Thanksgiving dinners of yore must have really been a scene, deeply embedded on your childhood psyche! We had a hectic, but lovely day here, but I think your weekend sounds quite nice too.

    But leave it to Betsy to unearth a real family feud to share, from so long ago that no one yet alive knows the genesis of it.

    Happy Thanksgiving, John!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Betsy. And you too! As advertised, having lovely time with my brother and wife. I even dared to mention those Thanksgivings over dinner last night and my brother was glad to chat about them and not be part of them, as we all had our usual one drink each.

  2. Thanx John, I remember reading your earlier story and now enjoyed this one!

    This Thanksgiving that quiet inn with just you and your wife sounds delightful!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Dana. It was delightful. And fun time with my brother and wife. We visited the Beacon Dia — cool place even if I don’t understand most of the “installations” — and lunching and visiting with former law colleague of mine who now owns a restaurant in Beacon and showed us around this now incredibly hip town.

  3. Suzy says:

    Thanks for reminding us about your crazy uncles and alcoholic aunts! No wonder you were happy to have a quiet Thanksgiving a deux this year, and time with brother Tom afterwards. Wonderful.

    Tried to find “Home for the Holidays” but it isn’t streaming anywhere for free. And I’m not inclined to pay for movies at home. I did just request it from the library, but their one copy of the DVD is checked out, so I’ll get it when that person returns it.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Suzy. Sorry you couldn’t find the movie, at least for free. I’m surprised it isn’t just running on some TV station this weekend, like other holiday classics like “Miracle on 34th Street” at Christmas.

  4. Dave Ventre says:

    Coincidentally, this was the first Thanksgiving in many years where it was just Gina and me. For a long time we spent it with our friends Stacy and Jeff. Stacy died a little over two years ago. Last year we were invited to a different friend’s TG dinner, which was good because our place held too many fresh memories of Stacy for Gina to handle. This year she was ready and it was just us and the dog.

    I am already dreading Christmas and the one vocal right-wing relative, though.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I’m not sure I saw that movie but it sounds great so I will check it out. Your quotation in the featured image is perfect. Like you, we enjoyed a relatively small Thanksgiving dinner with my in-town daughter’s family. Even before Covid, our Thanksgivings had shrunk from their record high of 43 guests, as my husband’s ever-expanding family broke into smaller units. Since I always hosted (said daughter’s birthday is near Thanksgiving) I am indeed thankful for the peace.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Laurie. Yes; definitely there is (relative) safety in small numbers but, as the quotation makes clear, you’re only really safe with the smallest number possible. And 43 guests is not simply unsafe, that’s about the size of a Big Ten football squad.

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