Sunday, December 20, 2015

Death of the Family

On Thanksgiving I did something I thought only "those people" do.  I ate my Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant and then <gasp> went shopping.

Now, if what I did doesn't sound earth-shattering bad to you, all I can say is I'm too late writing this article.  In this throw-away society, my tardiness makes me old and obsolete.  Maybe I should voluntarily check in to a nursing home instead of waiting for my children to discard me there.

Ok, I know how the spiel goes.  Some old person spins a tale of how wonderful life was when he or she was a kid and contrasts that tale with how horrible life is today and how everyone is missing out on the wonderfulness of yesteryear.  Well, I get to tell my tale now while adding ammo to my kids' claim I'd be better off in a nursing home - the polite way of saying they'll be throwing me away soon like they do yesterday's smart phone.

When I was a kid, nothing was opened on Thanksgiving Day.  Thanksgiving was the day families spent together.


End of story.

I remember my Dad filling up the car the night before Thanksgiving because we were going to my grandmother's fifty miles away and gas stations, like everything else, wouldn't be open on Thanksgiving. 

Ok, that's not quite true.  My Dad made sure there was at least half a tank of gas because that was enough to get him to the truck stop twenty-five miles away to get more gas.  As nostalgically romantic as I would like to be, fact remained that some people had to work on Thanksgiving and some places were opened to accommodate them. 

Going out to eat a Thanksgiving dinner meant going to your family or friend's dinner, going to your Church, or going to the nearest truck stop opened to accommodate the police, emergency workers, and the cross country truckers who needed to eat and gas up their rigs.  Going to malls, shopping centers, or any store or restaurant was out of the question on Thanksgiving Day.  Some may have considered shopping the next day, a day eventually to become labeled Black Friday, but back in my day, Thanksgiving was about family and four days to enjoy them. 

Over the decades since my childhood, I've watched Black Friday morph from a big shopping day economists and reporters used to gauge the health of the economy to stampeding crowds trampling and fighting each other for electronics and TVs.  Black Friday shopping has become the reality entertainment for the wealthy and affluent.  

But something has changed with Black Friday in the last couple of years.  Perhaps the stampedes and brawls ran their course as top entertainment and just weren't bringing in the big bucks any more.  Maybe good old fashioned greed prompted the big retailers to capitalize on the hours traditionally reserved for family time because, you know, the rich can never be rich enough.  Maybe it's a combination of the two explanations with a conspiracy theory or two thrown in for good measure.

Black Friday used to begin real early, usually around six in the morning.  In the last couple of years, Black Friday has started on Thursday right after Thanksgiving dinner.  Bad enough we gorged ourselves at Thanksgiving dinners in the past, but now we have to gorge ourselves faster so we can make the 6:00 pm opening time for those good shopping deals.

The big retailers insist they are only responding to what their consumers want and they wanted Black Friday to start on Thursday.  I reckon I grew up in a weird family.  I don't recall my family sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table lamenting over the fact no stores were open.  No, we only promised that come Christmas, we'd be smarter and not eat as much as we just did for Thanksgiving.

Here's the modern chicken and egg question: did stores and restaurants open because consumers demanded the service or did they open and then create the demand?  I'm going with they opened and then created the demand, which is how I ended up cruising around on Thanksgiving Day.

I'm near that throw away age so I didn't have any Thanksgiving plans.  One of the other drunk rednecks, who is closer to that throw away age than I, also had no Thanksgiving plans.  He did, however, want to get to Toys R Us at 5:00 pm, Thanksgiving Day, for the Star Wars sales.  We decided we would eat at the Golden Corral across the street from Toys R Us since they were opened for an all-you-can-eat-Thanksgiving-dinner and then we could shoot straight across to get his Star Wars crap.

We live in the middle of nowhere, a place thirty miles from the main road we have to get to take us anywhere we want to go.  The Golden Corral is an extra thirty miles past there.  In that sixty mile trip, or I should say the last thirty miles of it, I thought, "Don't all these people have a family to be eating with?"  I really expected a near barren highway of mostly truckers and an occasional car of throw away people like us two.  Instead, it was near Saturday volume of traffic.

I expected the Golden Corral to be filled with the throw away people who hadn't quite qualified for the nursing home life and had nowhere else to go.  Instead, families from all walks of life packed the restaurant.  Many families had their children with them - grandchildren the throw away people would have loved to have spent the day with if their own children hadn't abandoned them at the nursing home or senior center.  Instead of mostly throw away people (the Baby Boomers and older), the Gen X'ers and Millenials were learning as well as teaching the next generation the moral value of shopping on Thanksgiving. 

After dinner we hit the stores looking for deals on Star Wars toys...errr...collectibles, as my partner Drunk Redneck corrected me.  K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Target, Toys R Us, and the convenience store on the way home for me to get some much needed beer - each store had lines of people waiting for the opening. 

Ok, there was no line at the convenience store, but I'm sure there was by the time everyone got through their two hours of shopping.  I mean, the shopping was easy.  Twenty minutes to put a few items on sale in the cart.  It was the hour and forty minutes waiting to get in the store, finding an available cart that wasn't being used as a blockade to herd customers to the registers, and waiting in the corral to get checked out that wore thin on my nerves.

As we headed home, it dawned on me.  All those Gen X'ers and Millenials we shared dinner with didn't have time to cook a big family dinner nor time to go to Grandma and Grandpa's house for dinner so they could enjoy the time with their children and grandchildren.  The day before Thanksgiving, the Gen X'ers and Millenials worked the retail stores.  They woke up on Thanksgiving and hustled some kind of special occasion they knew best how to provide their family before hurrying off to the retail shop to deal with the lines of people who didn't have to work on Thanksgiving and who obviously thought shopping was more important.

Thanksgiving has always been a family holiday for me.  Never again will I ever venture out on Thanksgiving Day because, if I do, someone else will need to sacrifice their family time to serve me in some form.  If I need to shop, that's what the Internet is for.  If I need to eat, that's what they make frozen pizzas for, which serves as a nice guilt trip to my children who didn't bother to invite me for Thanksgiving dinner. 

If I don't make the commitment now that Thanksgiving is family time, not shopping time, it won't be long before the national retailers start opening at 5:00 pm on Christmas Day with 80% off after-Christmas-sales and, of course, acceptance of gift returns. 

There are just some holidays we need to keep some semblance of reverence for.

TL;DR folks:
Thanksgiving is for families, not shopping.  Suffer with them and don't forget to include Grandma and Grandpa.

For your listening pleasure:

Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks

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