It seems that in most families each member is designated a role early in life. The screw up, the funny one, the ditz, the clutz. These roles are often defined by a handful of instances that mildly reflect our overall personalities. We are stuck/burdened/blessed by these labels for life, no matter how hard we try to break out of them or perhaps in spite of it. Family stories are often peppered with lines like "That's such a classic Nancy thing to do!" or "Only James could have done that!". Our labels are known by our great-aunt in Kenosha and our cousin down the block. It's part of familial lore and might as well be posted on our birth certificates. Being voted "Most Likely to Be a Millionaire by Thirty" by our graduating class means nothing if our family has pegged us as the airhead of the clan. Just being gathered with family can turn us into caricatures of ourselves, over-emphasizing every little personality quirk. It feels natural and easy to act as you are expected to, whether that's still who you are or not.
Our labels will always be waiting for us at holiday gatherings and like quicksand, the more we struggle with them, the further we sink into them. Over time we begin to accept our roles in the family, even embrace them if we're lucky. We become our own stereotypes, if only when surrounded by our loved ones. I think the reasons we all continue to play our parts year after year are simple:
1. It's habit, of which we are creatures of
2. It's part of who we are, we weren't just assigned our roles at random
and of course...
3. It's expected of us and who are we to disappoint family?
Nowhere are these labels more noticeable than at the dinner table. Family Reunions, spontaneous Sunday brunches and Christmas Dinners all have a way of reverting us into our designated roles.
Take me for instance (if you silently thought "take you where?" then you must be one of my relatives). As the oldest of three girls and the oldest of all the cousins in the family, I naturally became an unofficial babysitter and entertainer to ankle-biters of all kinds. At the kid's table I had a good four years on everyone else there and my part in the family dynamic was set before me. During meals I entertained the younger ones by telling stories, making jokes, singing songs and even trying to teach them a little something. I did what I could to keep the kids happy, eating and avoiding meltdowns so the adults could get through dinner in peace. I wasn't forced to do this or even asked to. The most direction I ever received was "Keep an eye on the little kids". The role of entertainer came organically through my own natural personality and a little bit of necessity. I didn't want my sisters and cousins fighting over the chicken drumstick or engaging in a mashed potato throwing contest any more than my parents did. If coming up with goofy cheers and nonsensical portmanteaus avoided all that AND put the attention on me, well then that was just about perfect.
As time passed, I became well known for those silly stories & songs and the tendency to try teach some trivial bit of knowledge to all who would listen. Through the years the stories evolved into elaborate yarns involving decades worth of inside jokes, the songs leaned towards the risque, and the lessons stemmed from real life experience. Today as an adult who is clinging to the last moments of her youth, I still find myself slipping into that performer persona, exhausting as it is. At family dinners I can still be found at the kid's table, putting on a puppet show with knives and forks, speaking in bad, fake accents, regaling tales of the triumphs of great historical figures and belting out little ditties glorifying the wonder that is glazed ham. What do you expect? After all, I am the entertainer.
Pineapple Maple Ham Glaze
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/3 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon brown mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Combine and stir all ingredients together in medium bowl. Brush onto ham during last 30 minutes of cooking, reserving half. Add remaining half to a small saucepan and heat on med-low. Once ham has finished cooking, slice and serve with glaze spooned on top.