DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was thrown for a loop by this situation at Thanksgiving, which I was overseeing at my 88-year-old mother’s home.
My brother’s brood of young adults arrived before noon, an hour earlier than I’d expected them. I was effusive in welcoming them in, and did the best I could to be gracious as they all crowded into the kitchen, each asking what they could do to help. I said thank you, but I really just needed to concentrate on completing my mother’s dishes for the “landing.”
The next thing I know, two of them are going for the coffee maker and preparing to brew a pot. I regret that I snapped – stopping the operation with the admonishment that this wasn’t brunch but dinner, and we would serve coffee after the meal. After the meal, before I knew it, they were all standing in the kitchen with mugs of coffee they’d made (instead of letting me use my mother’s lovely, little-used coffee service).
I realize my sore point is a minor one (although not for them, as they had apparently skipped breakfast and planned to make coffee here). But I also find the coffee thing has spiraled out of control the way cigarettes once did – the assumption that everyone is entitled to have a cup (or three or four) whenever and wherever they are.
Please advise on how to accommodate this new addiction with more grace than I did. I still feel terrible.
GENTLE READER: Addiction? Because your nieces and nephews asked for morning coffee at Grandmother’s house and were willing to make it themselves?
Were you suffering from a touch of Thanksgiving over-stress?
Miss Manners does not mean to be unsympathetic about the task of putting on such a dinner, apparently single-handedly. She understands what a nuisance it can be to have crowds in the kitchen while you are in the throes of preparation. Perhaps uniquely, she shares your feelings about the pretty coffee service being bypassed in favor of mugs.
However, things would have gone better if you had really taken charge, not just made the meal. You might have accepted offers of help. Or you could have said: “Thanks, but I just need a little room here until I’m done. It would help if just one of you made the coffee over there, and took it out to the rest. I’ll be serving coffee after dinner, so don’t worry about it then.”
Please remind yourself to have a presumption of good will. These are not vandals attacking your dinner; they are your young relatives, gathering for a family holiday. Good will would be a good thing to have at Christmas.