As you probably know by now, it’s coming up to Thanksgiving weekend here North of the Border. As you definitely know, Lynn studiously avoided any sort of mention of that fact in the strip owing to what she referred to as a need to not ‘confuse’ her American readers and you also know that I love to make a meal of a tiresome joke about her being so out of it and paranoid that she thinks that if someone from Peoria were to learn that we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the latter part of November, he or she is going to be so outraged at the sheer anti-God un-Americanness of it all, war will be declared to force us to celebrate it when God intended. This, I think, makes for a nice hook for what I’d expect to see in a Foob Thanksgiving special. That’s because about six months before where I would set the story, Lynn had John and Elly on that cruise laughing at the ‘loutish’, ‘low-class’ American tourists who looked almost exactly like them. The central dramatic tension of the plot would, in my imagining of events, be based on a very silly misapprehension that tells us more about Elly than it does about the American I imagine her to by trying to appease. I do realize that I’ve given the game away but bear with me through the Foob Shaming as I take you back to mid-October 1995:
We would begin the special with Elly in the kitchen cleaning up after Thanksgiving dinner. As she does so, she looks at the camera and states that she wants to have a word with us about Thanksgiving. She’d then go on to say that she was always confused by the day because it never quite seemed to her that there was much to be thankful for in her life. No matter how sincere her parents seemed to be in their belief that their lives were filled with blessings to be grateful for, it sure didn’t look to her as if there was a heck of a lot in her life that she felt thankful for.
She’d then tell us that she still never quite got the point of the whole mess up until now. All she saw up until today was phony flattery from the same unappreciative family as they ignore all the effort she made to inject something nice into their lives. Also, for some reason that escapes her, April is being even more clingy and panicky than she usually is and on top of that, for some reason one of Michael’s American friends came up for the weekend to say Hello and wants to have dinner with them. It’s at this point that we would get to the title card: “Our Thanksgiving Housepest”; after the usual Ritual Pet Abuse, we’d fade into the not-too-distant past to find ourselves looking in on Elly as she gets off the phone with Michael. Michael has done something almost as horrifying as growing that horrible beard of making it look as if she was a bad parent: Michael has invited a class-mate from the United States over for Thanksgiving. When John questions the horrible horror of having a Yank in her house, our hero would launch into an irrational screed that shows us Canadian gutter nationalism at its worst. Not only would we get an echo of Rachel Lynde’s cocksure, ill-informed and unbelievably stupid belief that the whole United States of America was part of a conspiracy to defraud her greedy and oblivious imbecile husband because the jabbering ape couldn’t wait to get rooked and she believed his blaming someone smart for his stupidity, we’d get a paranoid montage of Eaglelander stereotypes that could only be cooked up in the brain of a woman who insists that since it’s called Kansas City, it should jolly well be IN Kansas and should therefore change its name to Missouri City because she has no grasp of geography, history or all that other boring junk that’s bad because it bores her.
After Lynn single-handedly sets Canadian-American relations back to the era of the Alabama claims, we’d herald in the B-plot: April ‘pestering’ Elly and ‘trying her poor mother’s patience’ by asking what she has to be thankful for and who she’s supposed to thank for it. It’s bad enough that Lizzie has suddenly developed some sort of bad attitude about ‘being treated like a child’ and ‘having to give up her childhood to play nanny while Mommy says how difficult something she doesn’t actually do is’ without April’s baffling habit of getting clingy and needing reassurance. Asking questions she doesn’t know the answer to either isn’t at all nice or helpful.
It is then that Mike shows up and introduces the Dreaded American come to complain about how everyone everywhere should be forced to live as he does. Said obvious enemy come to pick her and all Canadians apart offends, embarrasses and humiliates her forever by being a polite, well-spoken young man named “Dave Wilson.” He further makes Elly’s life worse by looking like everyone else and speaking a form of English that isn’t too removed from her own; his offense should be obvious to anyone who thinks about the issue. To put the issue right out there, Elly doesn’t want to have to admit how similar Canadians and Americans look, sound and think and tends to want to magnify the minor differences that her beloved English relatives simply do not notice. While Lizzie and John find Dave to be great company because he’s just a regular guy, Elly spends her time with her nose out of joint looking for proof that this kid is a jerk. The damning thing is that he’s so ‘condescendingly’ polite about things. It irked her to be told that nobody has any say on what, how and when a foreign country chooses to honour a thing because she needs to believe that an October Thanksgiving that he claims could have gone either way down South is a problem. Worst of all, however, is his bringing a useless toy with him: one of those silly digital cameras no one needs. This contrivance becomes important later on.
Before that, however, we deal with more of the Patterson family dancing around the question of what they have to be thankful for in the first place while ignoring the most obvious example of an underappreciated blessing: a reasonably happy (although ‘mysteriously’ anxious) and healthy four year old child full of life because they’re too busy gazing longingly at photos of a dog they sort of ignored or mistreated while he was alive. Things come to a sort of head after dinner when, because Mike and Liz have commitments that they can’t be bullied into escaping so that Elly can avoid wasting time supervising April when there are porches to be swept, Dave is pressed into service. For some reason, he decides that he can demonstrate the video camera feature of his new device by taping a small child at play. Things seem to be going along swimmingly when Elly shows up and explodes because of the ‘mess’ April made and how she doesn’t care about anything ever. Dave pockets his camera before Elly can notice it and, after everyone swarms in to see what April did, invites them all to the computer. He then plugs the camera into the hard drive and shows them all what the commotion was about. They watch as a small child plays quietly doing nothing much of notice only to be interrupted by a foaming-at-the-mouth lunatic with lousy posture screaming her head off over nothing anyone reasonable can notice. Before Elly can reach over and smash the horrible lying camera that makes her look like a crazy woman who’s looking for a reason to feel slighted, John yanks it away and tells her “Remember back twenty-five years ago when I looked at this house it’d take my mom half an hour to clean tops and asked you what you did all day? Guess what?! I know the answer now.” This causes Elly to almost visibly deflate.
As she makes some sort of feeble excuse about how the dishes don’t do themselves, the company sits down and listens to John as he tells them that he actually knew the answer to the question back when he orignally asked it. He then starts to talk about one of his favourite American comic strips growing up: Little Iodine. He says that it was the story of a well-meaning but clumsy and sort of clueless little kid who had really bad parents. While Daddy wanted to indulge the little girl, the stress of being the father in Synchronicity Two by the Police meant that he sometimes took the rage of having every single meeting minute with so-called superiors being a humiliating kick in a tender location out on the kid. The real problem was the mother; as he understood it, Effie was uniquely unsuited to be a parent because children confused the Irish bejabbers out of her. Worse, the woman was terrified out of her tiny mind about the terrible prospect of not being thought of as being worthy by a bunch of overstuffed old megatheria and sauropods who spent their days drinking spiked coffee and complaining about things they don’t understand. Enter the goofy kid who doesn’t understand WHAT she’s doing to irk her lunatic mother and WHAM!!! We’re looking at a situation that in today’s world would result in CPS busting down the door, hauling Effie out on the lawn and beheading her. He then says that Elly was sane and cheerful before and during her pregnancy with Michael but the fear of being a bad mother has resulted in her devolving into Effie Tremblechin in Mom jeans. He’s sure that once the nest empties, he’ll get HIS wife back but for now, they just have to watch themselves.
As Elly overhears this horrible and uncomfortable truth and looks on at the kids nodding in agreement, she simmers in rage. She’s further infuriated by John’s off-hand comment about how if she started acting thankful for things, she wouldn’t know what do with her life because rage, fear and martyrdom are the only pleasures she allows herself. We then find ourselves at the beginning of the story as Elly tells us that she finally does have something to be thankful for: there’s only one Thanksgiving per year and that the next one will NOT feature some meddler who came there for the express purpose of making her look foolish and ungrateful.
The inspiration for my exercise in Elly-shaming is a series of sketches that Steve Smith did on a pre-Red Green program he and his wife did back thirty years ago. What would happen is that he portrayed an American long-haul trucker who, while admiring Canada and its many positive qualities and respecting the Canadian people, had a slight problem. He was confused and saddened by the fact that despite living in a great place and having lots of good things in their lives, Canadians sure did have a hard time admitting that they had a lot to be proud of. He said that if he were a local, he'd be a lot more grateful before concluding “But then again, I’m not a Canadian.” Every time I see Elly go out of her way to not see what she’s got going for her, I think of that man and I remember that Elly is what we Canadians are in the dark: colonials ashamed that we’re not as ‘good’ as people from whatever imperial centre we envy. THIS is why she never celebrates it in strip: she feels shame that the old centre of the world Britain does not have a specific Thanksgiving and that the new centre to the South celebrates it later in the year; either way, we are somehow weak, defective and wrong.