Explosions in the Sky and at the Table

by Steve Hooley

Tomorrow is the 4th of July. Two days ago was Canada Day. You may have a long weekend off. You may be traveling to or hosting a family get together. In short, you may want a short blog today so you can get back to the festivities.

When I thought about a shortened version for today’s blog, I began looking for a topic. And since we always need conflict for our stories, I thought fireworks would be a good metaphor for family conflict on a 4th of July, or a Canada Day, weekend.

I don’t know about your family, but mine traditionally argued at the meal table—big time. My wife, when first exposed to the tradition, thought it was terrible, a real fight. I always thought it was just a lively discussion. As my siblings grew older and we became more stubborn in our opposing political leanings, we had to ban politics from the “discussions.” But we could still find something to “discuss.”

Our family did not consume alcohol at family gatherings, and we did not carry weapons, so there were never any physical altercations, injuries, or deaths. But after every holiday, our blood-thirsty media announces that somewhere in the U.S. some family has suffered a tragedy as a consequence of an argument which has gone explosive.

So, the discussion today:

What family conflict, at a holiday gathering, have you witnessed? Or what such mayhem have you created in your writing? Give us the explosive details.

And, I wish you a safe and happy 4th of July weekend! For those of you who are Canadians, a belated Happy Canada Day!

39 thoughts on “Explosions in the Sky and at the Table

  1. Good morning, Steve. I actually can’t remember a family conflict during a meal at a holiday gathering. There were any number of them at non-holiday meals, however.

    I think that a number of the holiday meal conflicts described in the media (as opposed to what happened at your holiday table) are due to a combination of alcohol ingestion and long-simmering conflicts between relatives who have not seen each other for several months. The alcohol loosens tongues and inhibitions. Resentments boil to the surface. And they’re off!

    Have a safe and happy Fourth, Steve. And thanks as always for an interesting blog and question.

  2. Thanks, Joe, for stopping by, and for your comments. I agree with your theory of what leads to the conflict becoming violent. Having worked in emergency rooms, and seeing those kinds of situations, has led me to become a nondrinker.

    Glad that there weren’t any holiday conflict disasters with your family. And I hope you have a wonderful 4th of July weekend.

  3. Man, did we have a peaceful family. The closest to any ‘fireworks’ were quiet mumblings between my cousin and me, wishing Tante Lene wouldn’t require Cousin Frank go through the entire Passover Seder. My grandmother got drunk on Mogen David (last year that libation was on the table), but she just got sick. I remember Mom saying to Dad, “She’s your mother; you go take care of her.
    Then, except for weddings or funerals, there was very little long-distance travel for holidays, so gatherings were small and familiar.

    • Thanks, Terry for a peaceful report. That is healthy. Your mention of the murmurings about the Passover Seder reminded me of a conflict I didn’t include in my post. Every evening after supper, my father would have devotions, then begin to preach. That was the signal for my oldest sister (the rebel) to start an argument, which usually ended with her running from the table and standing on the steps, yelling and screaming at my dad. Great times.

      Thanks for your comments. Have a great 4th of July weekend!

  4. I don’t remember any conflicts at holiday gatherings at my parents’ home. However,
    when I took over the hosting of Easter dinner from my mother, a pattern emerged where my older sister, after a couple of glasses of wine, would reveal minor family secrets. Since my inlaws were present, I found this embarrassing, but survivable. After my parents died, the telling of secrets grew more darker, more detailed, focused on the years before I was born, and were possibly fictional. My sisters were 12 and 13 years older than me, so I had no way to prove or disprove these stories, but I dreaded hearing them.

    Nothing worked to stop this practice–removing the wine, talking to my sister about it. I couldn’t and didn’t want to disinvite her, so here is how I handled the dinner itself: since all 20 family members didn’t fit at my dining room table anyway, I sat my husband in the dining room with my family and I sat in the adjacent (much nicer) living room with my husband’s family. That way, there was still a host in each room, but our conversations were separate.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Truant. I loved your story. As it was unfolding, I was thinking, why not put that wine bottle cork in your sister’s mouth. Just kidding.

      Family secrets can be hurtful. Years ago I quit going to family reunions on my mother’s side for several reasons. One of those reasons was a cousin who loved to mention that my mother was conceived before my grandparents were married. The first time she told that story, I became angry. The second and third time, I quit going to reunions. Relatives can find our vulnerable points.

      Have a quiet and peaceful 4th of July weekend!

  5. Our family motto is “Life is too short to spend it fighting” so I have no human firework stories to add.

    My dad and his twin sister were born on the 4th of July so for us it was a fun time. I’ve lived all over the world but the best place to watch fireworks is still Fairhope, Alabama on the bluff overlooking Mobile Bay and the Big Pier.

    Daddy used to say “These fireworks are mine, but I’ll share them with you.”

    I still think of them as Daddy’s fireworks.

    • Thanks, Cynthia, for sharing your family motto. Many families would do well to adopt it. I’m not succeeding in stirring up any trouble this morning, but I’m happy that your family memories are happy ones.

      Have a Happy 4th of July Weekend, and many fond memories!

  6. I’m Canadian. Patriotisms is in question these days where many towns and cities didn’t celebrate Canada Day. All of this was caused by the Residential School issue. For those that do not know, I would suggest looking into the Residential Schools—this is very heart breaking as thousands of Native North American kids died while being forced from their homes.

    With so many questioning Patriotisms and unity, there’s indeed a lot of conflict here and more to come. Not sure what 2022 will bring, but in 2021 Canada may have a long road to recovery that may seem impossible.

  7. Great question, Steve. Made me dig deep into some memories.

    Growing up, we were arguers, and it didn’t have to be a holiday. Dinner table conversation, four teenagers and two parents, was always, as you say, “lively”. I was a middle child, and just wanted everyone to shut up and get along. I still feel that way most of the time. Back when I was a young adult, after leaving home and establishing my own, I did not want those memories repeated.

    But you know what? Those dinner debates are some of my fondest memories now of my growing up years. I still see my dad, a Korean War Navy vet and as stubborn as all get out, looking with astonishment at my older brother, equally stubborn, after said bro waxed eloquent about why Dad was totally wrong about, well, whatever. This was in the sixties, and, like present day, there was a lot for parents and teens to argue about.

    They are fond memories because those conversations shaped us into the older folks we are today. They taught us how to fiercely disagree and fiercely love at the same time, something sorely wanting in today’s environs. We could violently disagree with each other, but boy howdy, if any outsider tried to breach our wall, we closed ranks lickety-split. We could beat on each other, so to speak, but no one else was allowed.

    I now have three of my own grown children, and they couldn’t be more different in their individual outlooks. The sparks fly between them sometimes.

    And Mom just watches and listens with a small smile on her face, as they make their own memories. 🙂

    • Thanks, Deb, for your comments. Great thoughts on memories. We’ll have to ask our resident expert on brain physiology, Sue Coletta, but I believe the more emotion that is involved, the stronger the memory. Maybe it has something to do with more neurons firing. And, isn’t it interesting that we are taught that emotion must be used to connect with our readers. So, in other words, it sounds like you had good upbringing and training in becoming a successful writer.

      Hope you have a wonderful weekend with family, and make some more memories!

  8. Happy Fourth, Steve! My family gatherings have always been pretty calm and peaceful. The same for my wife’s side. The most drama we’d get would be when her brother, a pediatrician, would have a call weekend that happened during a family gathering or holiday, and we’d be commiserating with him as he juggled various medical challenges for various patients. I don’t think he’s on call tomorrow, so we’ll just be having a nice, low-key family gathering at his place, out in the country about a half hour south of us.

    My biggest worry is the possibility of fires in the Portland metro area. After last weekend’s scorching heat, we are bone dry here. Our various counties and cities have generally put in either bans or strong advisements against setting off fireworks, but given human nature, there’s certainly a risk.

    • Happy Fourth to you, too, Dale! I was surprised when I learned of the heat you had recently. I had always thought of Oregon as a state with great temperatures and adequate rain. I hope you get some rain soon.

      And have a quiet, peaceful weekend with family!

      • Thanks, Steve! Our climate has definitely been changing here–we had a hot, dry summer last year, and a week of very heavy wildfires in September which essentially closed everything down. But last weekend’s heat dome was unprecedented for us–116F in Portland on Monday, and the dome extended from Northern California well up into British Columbia where Garry’s at.

  9. My family conflicts were mostly at weddings and funerals, where big crowds and lots of booze triggered trouble. As a kid, I loved to listen to the adults argue because of the secrets they would reveal. I never knew staid old Aunt Marie “had” to get married because she was pregnant — a major scandal in 1959.

    • Yes, Elaine, isn’t it amazing how often booze can trigger trouble? JSB always talks about that obligatory “pet the dog” scene. Maybe we should add that every novel needs at least one “pour a drink (or a whole bottle) scene.”

      Your comment made me wonder whether weddings or funerals had more conflict. I would guess weddings.

      Have a great 4th of July Weekend!

  10. A friend of mine in his fifties learned at a party from a loose-lipped relative that the woman he’d known his entire life as his loving aunt was actually his mother, having become pregnant when she was very young. He described the moment as “very awkward.”

    • Thanks for your comments, John. It’s amazing how loose-lipped relatives can cause psychological trauma to younger relatives. I experienced that with a cousin commenting on my grandparents and my mother. I eventually quit going to those reunions.

      Maybe some of these emotionally damaging stories will provide fodder for plot points in our stories.

      Have a great 4th of July Weekend!

  11. My mom, the Southern Steel Magnolia, had a firmer grip on the family behavior together than she did when we were separate and available victims for the evil brother. She was too busy keeping the family and the business afloat while my dad went out and did important and selfish guy stuff.

    My dad, the chatty charmer and storyteller, talked through most meals, and my older brothers chatted back. My sister and I stayed quiet because we couldn’t get a word in edgewise. But, boy, were we doing a lot of thinking, and I was doing a lot of storywriting in my head. So, no explosions, no upsets, and certainly no major discussions.

    I imagine some people wonder why the younger siblings and I have spent our lives as psychologists and writers trying to figure out what makes people tick, particularly toxic people, and why some are so utterly clueless about a monster even when they are told he is a monster.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Marilynn. Sometimes that “trying to figure out what makes people tick” turns into learning ways to keep those monsters out of your life. My wife has repeatedly read FOOL- PROOFING YOUR LIFE (Jan Silvious) to help her deal with monsters in her life.

      Hope you have a monster-free and happy 4th of July weekend.

  12. I can’t recall one argument during a family dinner party. Not once did an argument break out. We’re all so happy to be together, no one would dare dampen the mood.

    Happy 4th to you, too!

    • Thanks, Sue. Glad you’ve had peaceful family gatherings. Interesting how some writers who’ve grown up with peaceful and healthy family relationships enjoy (or write) stories with major conflict and trauma.

      Have a wonderful 4th of July Weekend!

  13. I didn’t particularly grow up with my parents. They’re ministers and the church transferred them here and there. So I had many homes while growing up and can’t say this is exactly where I grew up. At times, I lived with family friends or relatives. Other times, I was with my parents. I can only talk about places I lived the longest as a child. I documented some of these experiences in my recently published book, INTROSPECTION: A Poetry Series in Heptastichs. It’s on Amazon.

    On few occasions when I had to live with my parents and siblings, the rule was simple, ‘Don’t talk while eating.’ I grew up cherishing that instruction.

    There were hardly any arguments as we lived at the mission house. When I was home with my parents, my big brother and I were both best friends and best enemies. We had many physical combats when parents weren’t home. But we’re best of friends now, not enemies anymore.

    • Thanks, Stephen, for sharing your story. It sounds like you had little conflict in family relationships, even though your life must have been challenging with constant moving. That must have made it difficult with personal friends, moving away, forming new friends, etc. I’ve heard of those challenges in military families where there was constant moving.

      Congratulations on your book, INTROSPECTION.

      Have a great 4th of July weekend, and I hope you’ll stop in often at The Kill Zone.

  14. My folks loved to throw a 4th of July potluck for the neighborhood. This was back when neighbors actually knew and looked out for each other, and had lots of kids running around. We’d have the gathering in our back yard, lots of good food and cakes and home-made ice cream. We had one of those old school ice cream makers with the crank that used rock salt, etc. At one point in the festivities my dad would recite a poem, like “In Flanders Field.” Then when it got dark we’d have a few fireworks (bought outside L.A. county) and all the kids would get the real sparklers, the ones that lasted a long time and made beautiful lines and arcs. The only “incident” I recall is when a guest of one of the neighbors—a Hollywood character actor who usually showed up in Westerns—got rip-roaring drunk. A couple of the men had to escort him from the festivities. This was little Jimmy’s first time seeing a man, live and in person, three sheets to the wind. It was a little scary. But the ice cream and sparklers helped calm my nerves.

    • Thanks, Jim, for sharing that story. Oh, for the days when neighbors were neighbors, and had community get togethers.

      I could imagine a young child’s first exposure to a drunk would be a frightening experience. As an adult, I’ve been frightened at times, worrying what could happen.

      I hope you have a great 4th of July Weekend with family!

    • In my family it was my younger brother who loved to throw a 4th of July fireworks extravaganza for the neighborhood. We also had a very neighborly group with lots of kids running around, including my three. On one occasion one young boy needed to use the bathroom and asked my wife to guard his grocery bag of fireworks while he was taking care of business. She said, “Oh sure. Just put them under my lawn chair.”

      He plopped the bag down and turned to leave before noticing it slumped to the side with the opening pointed to the street about 60 feet away where all the fireworks were being set off. A 10X10 aerial mortar was next up, rocking the neighborhood with its 100 deafening blasts. Then my youngest brother wanted to shoot off a Roman candle but was concerned that it might blow out the back, so he jammed the butt end into the spent mortar base so it would shoot straight up without him having to hold it.

      So far so good. After about the 3rd shot from the Roman candle, its recoil caused the mortar base to tip over. It could have chosen any one of 360 compass degrees to fall, but does anyone want to hazard a guess of which one it picked?

      The little ball of blue fire skipped across the driveway’s surface like a flat stone thrown low across a pond’s surface and found a hiding place in that grocery bag. In about 2 seconds, all hell broke loose.

      Then the real fireworks began. My youngest, a daughter fearless from birth, was the first to react. She waded into the flaming mess and pulled my wife up from her chair, taking her to a safe location. Then pulling her 12 year old frame up to its full height of 5′-1″ and with hands on her hips began interrogating the entire crowd, “Who did that?” Everyone knew but no one said anything. No one wanted to be an accessory to murder because that little girl would surely have found a hatchet to scalp the culprit.

      A topic of conversation for years afterward.

      • Wow, Lars, what a story. Talk about explosive conflict and excitement at a family (and community) event. It’s amazing that no one was hurt. And your daughter is truly a hero. Yes, that is a story to tell and retell. And hopefully it will remind family of the need for safety in handling fireworks.

        Someone else won the gold star for persistence today. You take home the trophy for the best story.

  15. As an only child, our mealtimes were pretty peaceful. The biggest thing was when my mother had to work late and my daddy sometimes cooked liver. My response to that was “I’M NOT EATING THAT!” Otherwise, the biggest hoo-ha I ever witnessed was at a restaurant with my mother and her two sisters. All three of them talked at once. It was total chaos.To this day I have no idea how they knew what the others said or were saying. For me, it was a spectator sport as I marveled at the cacophony and wondered why the restaurant didn’t just toss us all out on our ears. (Must confess, one of my favorite things is silence.)

    • Great story, RLM. I’m with you on the silence. I hate big gatherings where I have to make small talk with people I don’t know, in dimly lit settings, and with loud music playing in the “background”. Silence is golden.

      Thanks for stopping by. Have a great 4th of July Weekend!

  16. Wondering why I have been shut out of the comments. I tried twice earlier. Even clicked “Post Comment” but the comment never showed up. Just wondering why.

      • RLM
        I didn’t shut you out. Honest. I’ve read some other comments recently from people who had problems on the site. I tested an old computer recently, with Windows 7, and could get on TKZ, but not the current day’s post. I’m suspecting some problems with WordPress or our hosting site. But, then, I know nothing about computers.

        Thanks for your persistence. You get the gold star for the day!

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