Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian

Over the River and Through the Woods — to Sanity’s House We Go


Not exactly Norman Rockwell.

Not exactly Norman Rockwell.

The surgeon carved the turkey. Though Dr. Peacock preferred a scalpel to an electric knife, on Thanksgiving the electric knife would do just fine. And fine was what everything had to be. Not just fine — but refined. My father insisted on orange zest in the cranberry sauce, oysters in the stuffing, and lemon peel in his espresso. My manic-depressive mother somehow managed to oblige and laid the table with Lenox, Waterford, and Irish linen.

And on that fourth Thursday of November, each of us little Peacocks had to be perfect. Or at least appear to be perfect — family portrait perfect. My brothers, all in suits and ties. My sisters and I in smocked dresses and patent leather shoes. Hair curled and tied back with a bow. All of us — beaming in black and white and frozen in a silver frame. Perfectly pretending that we were perfectly fine.

So perfectly not so.

There was always yelling before and after and even during the meal. The turkey was overdone. The stuffing was dry. The relish was runny. The sweet potatoes bland. The pumpkin pies burnt. The kids misbehaving. The relatives rude. Everything half ass and nothing quite up to snuff – for Dr. Peacock.

Happy Thanksgiving – at 5408 24th Avenue.

Over the river, and through the woods, to sanity’s house we go.

I swore that when I grew up, Thanksgiving would be calm, cool, and collected. At the tender age of seventeen, I married into such a family – par excellence — the Clark family. Their lives seemed so blessedly routine – so blissfully quiet. I married the boy next door – yes, the boy next door. No more chaos. No more dysfunction. No more crazy Thanksgivings.   At least so I imperfectly thought. But the Clark routine turned to rigidity. And their quiet became passive aggressive. And my father-in –law, an alcoholic just like my mom. Their traditions seemed more traditional but they were just straight jackets of a different kind.

And still year after year, over the river, and through the woods insanely to their house we would go. We would go with all three of our kids in tow….Until one blessed year, when Jacob threw up.

Rolling down George Washington Parkway, our Subaru Station Wagon was packed to the gills. All three kids were bundled up and buckled up in the back seat: Zach with his comic book; Colleen with her Barbie; Jacob with his pacifier. All was right with the world until Jacob erupted all over his brother and sister. Projectile vomited everywhere.

Thanks be to God.

It was just about the best Thanksgiving we ever had.

We turned around and went back home. After hosing down the car and the kids, we made dinner from whatever food we found in the refrigerator and some random canned goods in our cabinets. We ate dinner in our pajamas while we watched “Ernest Saves Christmas” (a classic!) on TV. The kids dozed off in their sleeping bags on the living room floor. And William and I had a little glass of wine before turning into bed.

Over the river, and through the woods, to sanity’s house we go.

Now one of my favorite movies is “Home for the Holidays” – with Holly Hunter, Robert Downey, Jr. and some other really good actors whose names I don’t remember. The characters — all grown — return to their childhood home for Thanksgiving and some dysfunctional living: The neurotic sister. The gay brother. The rebellious teenager. The single mom. The uptight in-laws. The alcoholic dad. The codependent mom. They all get together for a hellacious holiday.

It’s not exactly “A Wonderful Life” but it is wonderful and I recommended it  to a friend. Appalled after seeing it, she asked me how I could possibly like this movie. The family was so terrible, she said. Just terrible people, she said. These are my people, I said.

And these may be your people too: a bipolar brother; a schizophrenic sister; an obsessive compulsive cousin; grandiose grandchildren; traumatized spouses; paranoid partners; manic relations.

And some of your people may be hard to break bread with. It’s a blessing if you do. It’s okay if you can’t. And it may be a blessing if you don’t. Being bipolar myself – being crazy myself – I understand there is only so much crazy any one of us can handle — especially at Thanksgiving.

So for sanity’s sake, this year, sadly I won’t be having turkey with a particularly delusional and dysfunctional loved one of mine. Totally in denial of her opioid addiction, she is totally indifferent to the damage done to herself and the pain caused to the family that loves her. For now she chooses to refuse all help. So for now, I choose to have Thanksgiving without her. Maybe next year will be different. Maybe not.

So “thank we all, our God” for the people not at our Thanksgiving tables this Thursday. Thank God, that God loves them even when we cannot. Thank God, God loves us even when we cannot. Thank God, God commands us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Yes — ourselves. Even on Thanksgiving.

Over the river, and through the woods, to sanity’s house we go.


Author: celticjlp

Episcopal priest, 24 years. 15 years, balanced and bipolar. "Associate for Liturgy & Hilarity" @EEC. Bibliomaniac desk jockey and docent at Library of Congress. Washington DC born and bred. Half marathoner and avid pedestrian. Friend to many and mother of four. Blogger, Storyteller & Mental Health Evangelist.

7 thoughts on “Over the River and Through the Woods — to Sanity’s House We Go

  1. Hi Joani, Thanks for your Thanksgiving Post. It made me think of my own imperfect family. The one I grew up in. Not that the one I have now is perfect. ha ha. What I’m curious about is your description of your family’s Thanksgiving dinner. It doesn’t sound possible that your Mom could mess up a dinner that badly. Wasn’t she a great cook? Or were you using poetic license to make your point? Sorry for being so literal but that’s my brain. We didn’t get so fancy as you guys clothes wise,(I think we saved the bow ties and fancy clothes for Easter. At least that’s what the photos say.) I don’t think we have a single photo of a Thanksgiving. Our Thanksgivings were very boring. No extended family to invite. The majority of our really large extended family lived miles and miles away. That’s why to this day I don’t get all excited about Thanksgiving. My mother was not a good cook and I have many memories of my father asking her, “Did you salt this?” “Did you taste this?” And sometimes my Mom just blew off his comments and sometimes she yelled and sometimes she gave him the silent treatment. The third type of response led to very uncomfortable dinner. Looking back I can see what a jerk my Dad was to say what he said. He knew how to cook and I guess that’s why he felt he could pass judgment. But like a typical man (back then) he left the kitchen a mess, which of course gave my Mother good reason to yell at him about that. But maybe my own feelings of inadequacy in the kitchen stem from those non-holiday dinners. Ken thinks everything I cook is great. He’d better or he’d be making supper! And maybe that’s why I yell all the time when I’m making dinner! This is very interesting. Another reason to thank you for your post!

    This year might have been my 3rd time to cook a thanksgiving meal but my neighbor invited us over in the nick of time! So Andrew, Ken and I will march down the street tomorrow carrying cranberry sauce, carrots and parsnips, pumpkin pie and chairs to Madonna and Hamlet’s house. I’m looking forward to it.

    I know the person your not inviting is Clare and I agree that that is the best thing to do. Like you said, maybe next year will be different. So who are you having Turkey day with? I hope you have a great meal, a great time and a great day. love, Nancy I’m looking out the window and the snow is pouring down. Doug Kemmerer from channel 4 got it so wrong! He said no snow in the metro area except maybe a dusting around 3! ha haha . I love it when the weather people are wrong.

    • Nancy, my mom indeed was an amazing cook. But because of the dark side of manic depression she was not always able to get her act together in the kitchen. Things would not get done on time and not come out at same time. So the less functional my mother was the more my father became critical. So nothing was good enough. Families – even w/o mental illness can relate. I am glad to hear you are joining your friends for Thanksgiving. Friends are one of God’s greatest gifts and you are one.
      I am on train to NC to be with Jacob and his girlfriend and her three little boys. I am excited to see them. Colleen is in Europe: Brussels, Edinburgh, and London. Zach is with girlfriend Jen in NYC!

  2. That “terrible people” judgment whacks me in the solar plexus. They may be terrible people, but they are MY people.

  3. P.S. I plan to overeat and overnap!!! Gobble, gobble….

    Sent from my iPad


  4. I can relate to this in sooo many ways! Have a blessed and good crazy holiday, friend!!!!

    Sent from my iPad


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