Monday, January 18, 2010

Christmas Dinner

"I heard a good joke. What did Tiger Woods change his name to?" He sat confidently at the table, his long scrubby hair pulled back with a bandanna, brown cords and his typical long sleeved lined flannel shirt keeping his thin body warm, grinning ear to ear at each of his daughters, waiting excitedly to deliver the punchline. His four daughters braced themselves for the usual racial slur. Their eyes examined the small piles of poor quality restaurant food that adorned the cheap porcelain plates. It was the usual Christmas morning celebration on any day other than Christmas. None of them responded. "Cheetah!" he answered anyway, following it with a gruff laugh.

There was an audible release of tension in their laughter. The knowing eyes of the siblings stole relieved glances from the others. One of the sisters spoke up. "That was actually funny dad!" She lifted her fork to her mouth, still giggling as she took a bite of sausage.

"Well what did you expect?" their dad said as he snubbed out his cigarette in the full ashtray. "Something racist" another sister said. Two of the siblings choked on their food and the third tried to stifle her laughter. "Well, yeah..." His response was provoking. It sounded almost apologetic, as if he had been caught red handed and was quickly thinking up an excuse for why he wasn't guilty. He pulled a new cigarette from the case in his pocket, tapping it three times against his other hand. He freed a cigarette from the pack, placing it in the gap left by a missing tooth. "You know," and he took a deliberately long drag, blowing a fine line of smoke at the ceiling and following it with his eyes as he spoke "I got to know a few of them from work and they ain't so bad."

None of the young women spoke. Their father's racism still showed through, but in a subtle way. African-Americans were still another group. 'Them'. He still kept them segregated in his mind. 'They'. Sitting in the crowded diner's booth, eating unappealing greasy food, they were dumbstruck. Did their father really just pay a couple of African-Americans a direct compliment while insinuating some credit to the rest of the race? Did he really refrain from calling them niggers? No one knew how to react and just held themselves still in that moment of time.

The eldest daughter suddenly started looking under the table and behind her chair frantically. She stood up, leaned across the booth as far as she could and stared straight into her father's face carefully avoiding his eyes. "That's it! Who are you and where is my father?" He laughed, amused by the silly theatrics and secretly thrilled he had finally done something that made his daughters proud. The rest of Christmas breakfast seemed to taste a little bit better and the conversation was a tad bit brighter and louder.


  1. This is very sweet in a way. Did it really happen?

    I think I caught a few typos and I was unsure about the fourth sentence in the third paragraph "His response was provoking." is seems to clash with the tone of the paragraph and the following sentence, "It sounded almost apologetic,....".

    I enjoyed this piece.

  2. It was mostly true. Thank you!

  3. Oh my! Mostly true?

    His response was provoking? What was the response?

    Your descriptions were neat. Liked it.