When in Rome
1260 words long
Traditions, like organisms, evolve.
Notes from the author:
I wouldn't really want the future to be as described here. I like eating too much. I also like biking, roller skating, and going for long walks around town. I like staying active. And I've been a lot more active of late; this season of competitive roller derby has really upped the ante on metabolic and strength conditioning. Coach says we'll be grateful for it when tournament time comes around and we have to play two, three, maybe even four bouts in a single day. Meanwhile I'm exhausted after practice and ravenous all the time. Good thing I like to eat.
But I grew up a bookworm and computer nerd, a sedentary geek who hated being forced to play sports during the school physical education period. That part of me didn't go away just because I learned to embrace the term "athlete" in my late 30s. It's still there, and it would love to just sit around all day, reading or writing or knitting or playing video games or just taking cat-naps in the sun. How wonderful if all my body's physical needs could be met just by sitting in the sun!
The trick is convincing those two parts of me that they can coexist in the same body, each getting what they need without undue cost to the other. It's not exactly like trying to coax two sisters of very different temperaments, like the two in this story, into getting along, but it's like enough that I really do sympathize with their mom.
Trouble started even before Jean put the roast turkey on the table. Not that it was unexpected; Merri had gone full green once they'd moved to the east coast, or at least as green as someone with midwest coloring could manage. Of course she'd pitch a fit at Thanksgiving dinner. But Tom didn't have to fire the first shot. When Jean asked him to bring her to the table, she'd expected him to use more tact. More fool her.
"Merideth Hudson," Tom shouted from the porch, "you get your clothes on and get in here now! Don't make me drag you, because I will!" Jean heard him stomping down the drive, presumably to make good on his threat. She sighed.
A minute later, the argument had made its way indoors. "Bad enough everyone knows what barbarians we are without you rubbing it in. Why do you have to embarrass me in front of my friends?" Merri's voice was muffled somewhat by the shirt she was still pulling on.
Tom laughed derisively as he shut the door behind them. "I'm not embarrassing you. You're embarrassing yourself. If you'd come in when your mother told you, I wouldn't have to come get you."
"And if you'd listened when I told you I was going to do Thanksgiving with Molly's family--"
"And you will," Jean interrupted brightly, "right after you spend a few Thanksgiving minutes with your own family." She set the turkey on the table. "Tom, would you do the honors?"
As Tom carved the bird, their younger daughter began bouncing in her seat. "Oh boy, turkey! I'm starving." Of the four of them, she was having the hardest time assimilating. Her parents both worked desk jobs, and of course Merri had adopted the east coast lifestyle as far as physiology would allow. But Sabrina had played both soccer and basketball in her former school. She had the trophies to show for it. The lack of a sports program at her new school frustrated her, but it hadn't diminished her athleticism in the slightest. Of course she was starving. Not even a bright-green east-coaster could have supported that level of physical activity purely on photosynthesis. That was, in fact, precisely why there was no soccer or basketball team for Sabrina here.
"They don't feed you enough at school, do they?" Tom prompted as he filled half Sabrina's plate with thick slices of turkey breast.
Sabrina, mouth already full of mashed potato, shook her head vehemently. Merri rolled her eyes. "Dad, stop it. You know perfectly well the school doesn't cater to evolutionary dead ends. You pack her lunch box every morning."
"And you don't put big enough sandwiches in there," said Sabrina. "Or enough cookies." She was eight years old and very much valued cookies as part of a balanced meal.
Tom chortled, and Jean winced to hear it. She remembered how grateful she'd been, as a teenager, for adults who'd take her seriously. Tom was not going to be that kind of adult for Merri and Sabrina. "Evolutionary dead ends? Is that what they call us?"
Merri scoffed. "That's the nicest thing they call us. You hear the things they say to Sabrina? They call her an animal." She spat the word like it was a vile slur--which, here, it might well be.
"Humans are animals, dear," Jean interjected, trying to keep it businesslike.
"Only if they choose to be. They could choose to be responsible citizens of the planet, embrace their plant nature, and eat as low as possible on the food chain, like Molly's family. Or they could be animals and put corpses on the dinner table, like you."
"Merri! You will not speak to your mother that way." No laughter this time. Merri got the hint and subsided, glowering. Quit while you're ahead, Jean pleaded silently, but of course Tom didn't. "You should be grateful to her for going to the trouble to produce a traditional Thanksgiving turkey at all. She had it flown in from the Murdochs' farm at no small expense."
Sabrina piped up, right on cue, "Thank you, Mommy."
"You're welcome, dear." Jean said. Then, quickly, before either Merri or Tom could strike another blow, "How was your run this morning?"
Sabrina eagerly began describing every plant and animal, humans included (though under which category was up for debate), she'd seen during her five mile run. Her chatter helped usher peace back to the table for a time. Merri pointedly left the turkey Tom had served her untouched. Jean saw Tom notice this and roll his eyes. Thank goodness he had the wisdom to keep his mouth shut about it. Seemed he'd learned his lesson. Last time he'd tried to force Merri to eat, Jean had put her foot down. He'd crossed a line, she told him, and he could back his ass right back over it. Everyone in the household would be afforded complete and unquestioned sovereignty over their own bodies. No exceptions.
As the meal was wrapping up, even Sabrina's appetite satisfied, Jean turned toward her elder daughter and said, "Thank you for joining us for the holiday, dear. I made pumpkin pie for dessert if you're interested, but if not, I don't see any reason why you mightn't rejoin your friends."
Merri stared at her. She'd probably been expecting more resistance. "Really?"
"Really. I think you're very lucky. Not everyone has two families to celebrate Thanksgiving with. Give our best to Molly."
"Thanks, Mom!" Merri sprang out of her chair. "Love you, bye!" She was already pulling her shirt up over her head so that her hands were tangled up in the cloth when she got to the door. She gave the latch a bump with her hip to get it open.
Tom opened his mouth, then covered it up with a despairing hand. He'd probably never get used to east coasters' casualness regarding nudity. Jean patted his shoulder companionably. The front door banged shut behind their elder daughter as she raced across the street.
"Holiday traditions change," Jean ventured. "Thanksgiving used to be a fall holiday, celebrating the abundance of the only kind of food our ancestors could process at the time. Imagine their amazement if you told them that one day their descendants would eat mostly sunlight and celebrate Thanksgiving at midsummer." She gazed out the picture window, across the street, where her teenage daughter had joined the Hudsons on their front lawn. Merri was now as naked as the rest of them, the better to expose her chloroplasts to the sunlight, and her pale green skin looked sickly next to all those emerald-toned bodies. Even so, she was at least two shades darker than her sister. She'd been adapting to her new home far more rapidly than Jean had guessed.
Jean watched Molly Hudson give Merri a slow but warmly welcoming hug. She began speaking and gesturing unhurriedly, catching Merri up on whatever she'd missed from the book that Mr. and Mrs. Hudson were taking turns reading aloud to the family. "I think it's lovely that Merri has the opportunity to participate in both Thanksgiving traditions this year," mused Jean. "Don't you?"
Tom snorted. "You know she'll just sneak a slice of pie after we go to bed."
"Yes," Jean said, "but that's her choice to make."
"My choice is for pie now," Sabrina said.
"Well," Tom said, laughing, "how about you walk those strong little legs of yours over to the kitchen and bring us all back some pie, hmm?"
"OK!" And Sabrina did.
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