My nerves were jagged from anticipation of the Thanksgiving Day I would be spending with my boyfriend’s strong Southern Baptist family. The drive from San Antonio to Arlington seemed an eternity, my heart pounding with fear of the assured rejection from the entire family.
My divorce had been finalized more than two years prior to this invitation, yet I felt tainted and unacceptable. I had been taught, that those of the Baptist Faith did not accept people touched by divorce; definitely not if it led to the potential marriage involving one of their children. To make matters worse, I was a “packaged deal”. My son, from my failed marriage, would be attending with us. I was on the brink of tears the entire trip, barely able to draw a full breath. I feared that my son would have his feelings dashed, feeling the brunt of this rejection.
We pulled next to the curb in front of the family home; the twelve o’clock hour was upon us. My son leaped with excitement, I froze with fear. Taking a deep breath, we entered the house.
The aroma of the prepared holiday menu filled the air; there were children running and playing, football games on several TV’s, laughter, and more food than I had seen in quite a long time. The entire family was present; my boyfriend’s mother, both older brothers with their wives, four nephews, two cousins, two grandparents, and one Aunt and Uncle. I felt weak and overwhelmed.
I felt no tension during the introductions. Everyone smiled politely, exchanging seemingly genuine, “We have looked forward to meeting you” expressions. The family gathered in a circle, holding hands, as the Thanksgiving meal was blessed.
Several beautifully dressed tables were arranged, ensuring everyone had a place. One at a time each of us filed through the “buffet” line in the kitchen, then returning to the place at each table in which we had taken our plate. Superficial niceties were exchanged over the course of the meal. How or when would the “real” family feelings begin to show?
Dishes were cleared from the tables, food put into containers and refrigerated, the men went outside with the children; left alone in the house with “family”, my heart was racing. I felt I might faint should I have to speak to anyone. In an effort to avoid “attack”, I stayed close to the counter in the kitchen, hopefully out of sight.
Pondering my options, I failed to hear the footsteps of the person now standing directly behind me. I was trapped. Here I stood at the bend of the “L” shaped counter; no escape possible. Tootsie, my boyfriend’s aunt, stood smiling at me. My soul screamed for help. How would I manage to remove myself?
As Tootsie spoke, a quieting lay flowed gently into my screaming soul, “I don’t know what you have done to him, but I haven’t seen him this happy in years! I just love you!” Genuine love cannot be fought. My fears of judgmental rejection began to resolve.
In the seventeen years that have followed that Thanksgiving Day, Tootsie and I have become kindred spirits. We share more than a love of the family. Our competitiveness is unmatched; Jacks tournaments occur each Christmas, each of us holding a record of two wins and two losses. We share the same birth date, love of Christ, and love of life. We share immeasurable admiration for each other.
Thirty-Four years my senior, Tootsie now struggles, on occasion, to remember books she has read, or conversations we have shared; still no opportunity has passed her to mention the memory of the very first meeting in our now long history. She reminds me often that I am still her favorite, her “partner in crime”, and loved more than life itself.
The first of two daughters born to a farming family, Tootsie (Wilma at birth), was given this endearing name by her father; she delighted him as much as his daily Tootsie Roll treat. Full of life, joy, unconditional love, and the refusal to judge, may Tootsie know through eternity that she, too, is my favorite, my “partner in crime”, and loved more than life itself.
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