Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

by Patricia Yarberry Allen, MD | bio

I have finally accepted that I am not a holiday person.

Childhood memories of Thanksgiving trips to Grandma’s house do not fill me with joy. There were too many children in that Rambler station wagon, a serviceable vehicle filled with the fruits of my mother’s hours of baking and food preparation and overflowing with my father’s bad temper and quick slaps in the general direction of anyone breathing in the back seats.

We were always late. How could my mother bathe and dress five children and herself and put us all in the car along with her culinary specialties for the Arnold Family Thanksgiving Dinner and be on time for someone who had done nothing since the completion of his morning farm chores except grow grimmer and smoke more and more unfiltered Camels?

As she placed each child in the car, with the youngest always with her in the front seat, she admonished each of us: “You know how he is. Traveling on a holiday always upsets your father. Just be quiet.”

I was the oldest of this tribe. My sister was a real red-headed fireball, sneaky and stronger than me. My three brothers were born wild, and living with our father just convinced them that whatever living they had in them should be done while they had the breath left in them. You get the picture.

Five minutes of strained silence. No radio. Blue haze of Camel smoke. Then the elbows and space fighting began. Followed by random threats to stop the car and come back there for good. Mother often sang softly to herself and the lucky youngest in the front. But music did not calm the savage beast of that car ride. “Are we there? Are we there? Are we there?” … I hear it even today.

Finally the wooden bridge across Plum Creek and up the dirt road to Grampa’s farm and at least a hundred uncles and aunts and cousins and old maid relatives and widows. Too much food, too many people, too much clucking and kissing and talking. Then dreadful post gluttony discomfort and a miserable drive home.

Most people seem to be rational about this time of the year. They relish spending time together with family and friends. They look forward to the special family stuffing and revisiting wonderful childhood memories. But for those of us whose memories are not joyful, we give thanks when this weekend is done.

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  • Faith Childs November 27, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    For those of us, myself included, who prefer to avoid the forced conviviality, excesses of both consumption and togetherness, and the often empty pieties of family,
    I thank you, Pat, for this holiday grace note.
    The best thing to do sometimes is to heed one’s own needs even if it means defying convention.

  • Dr. Pat Allen November 27, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Thanks, Elizabeth and Sherry.
    It was wonderful to hear from you about how you have learned to go from the suffering of the past to the peace of the present.
    We can never create perfection for our current families. It exhausts everyone. A great joy of growing older and wiser is accepting that holidays are going to be demanding and that the most important gift we can give ourselves is a bit of self care.

  • Sherry Machen November 27, 2007 at 8:50 am

    The holidays with all their “trappings” (pun intended) are nothing but stress if their spirit is gone. I remember similar Thanksgivings — family wars — Christmases and Easters.
    What’s worse is I almost repeated them with my own children. I wanted those times to be joyful, but while trying to make them as they “should” be, I’d get exhausted and sad, remembering my own past and my failure to stop repeating it. Now I know that remembering the past without awareness of what the “trappings”* really were — all those shoulds — kept me from celebrating the holidays the way I try to now — consciously, peacefully, and gratefully.
    And visiting family between holidays! (“Trappings” are all the stuff we feel compelled to buy and consume — too much of everything we don’t really need — decorations and presents, food and activities, and not enough sleep, play time, quiet and gratitude — spirit.)

  • Elizabeth Hemmerdinger November 27, 2007 at 12:17 am

    Survival, it turns out, is a luxury. It’s awful to have lived through what you describe, but awfully good to have you with us. Thank you for this most vivid picture. And I hope you come to our house for Christmas.