T'was the day before Christmas, and all through the house,
We do a usual routine. We visit my family on Christmas Eve, and visit Melissa's (my wife's) family on Christmas Day. There can be no two more different families on the face of the planet.
The Journey is the reward
We did start the holiday with the last minute chaos to get out of the house -- and my wife has this Bizarre need to make sure the house is clean before we get out. I am not sure what it is, but I think she figures that if we were going to die in a horrible car accident while traveling (or our house was to catch fire when we were gone), then whomever visited our house last would think, "Gosh what a loss to society -- they were so clean".
We live in San Diego -- my Grandparents live in Burbank, or basically a 2 hour drive. Did I mention this was Christmas Eve (day) and southern California? We also had to make a few "quick" stops along the way. So we got on the road about 10:00 a.m. (we wanted to be at my Grandparents at or before 4:00 p.m.)
The first leg of our journey was to some friends house about 45 minutes away (on the way) -- and for this part of the journey we made great time. The roads were clear, and life was good, and we made it right on time. While traveling, the desert bugs (all of Southern California is really a desert) decided to come out, and kamikaze into our windshield like an egg storm. It was "cute" the first few dozen times I wished, "Merry Christmas Mr. Bug", as one exploded on our windshield (in my best Jimmy Stewart impression) -- but the novelty soon wore off (for my wife), and I was threatened to let them go without the mandatory last words and eulogy or I had better start writing my own. Well, someone was certainly not in the Christmas spirit.
We arrived at our friends house and had a great visit, exchanged gifts, and was soon ready to get on our way (about 1:00). We were only a little over an hour away from my Grandparents (though we were zigging and zagging a little on the way).
A lot had changed on the freeways in the the last couple hours. Hmmm... people were getting off work, others were heading out of town -- and we had get to Garden Grove to drop some stuff off at Melissa's Mom. Melissa is not a traffic person, and her heart was starting to bug her (angina), and every person on the road seemed to think that by being one car length ahead of me, they were going to fulfill all their Christmas wishes and make it a much better holiday (for them). I had my usual knack for picking the slowest lane on the freeway, and hours of Christmas Carroll, on all the radio stations, were starting to take their toll. My wife's normally sunny disposition was starting to feel the effects of "El Nino" -- and I saw dark clouds coming from the passenger seat of the car. I knew we were visiting traffic hell, when traffic didn't clear up after we had passed the El-Toro 'Y' (claimed to be one of the largest and busiest interchanges in the country -- with 14 lanes in each direction, at widest point... if you count emergency lanes). Huh, oh. The 20 minutes jaunt from our friends to Melissa's parents, took a festive 2 hours (with a top speed of 15 mph).
At least that guaranteed a quick visit, as it was already 3:00 p.m. (and we had about a 45 minute to hour drive -- on a normal day). So we threw the gifts out of the car (ones that we would open on Christmas with her family), said "Hi, Bye", then hit the road immediately, and headed back to the freeway. Melissa's angina had stepped up the discomfort a degree or three, and naturally, I picked the perfect route to get to the freeway. I was going to take a slightly more round-about (but far more clear) path to my grandparents (a path that Melissa was none too sure about), but I had to take a road called Chapman to a different freeway. Did I mention this was Christmas Eve?
Chapman goes right past a place called "The Crystal Cathedral" where the T.V. Evangelist (not Mac user -- the real kind), does his sermons. Reverend Scheuller had just survived a heart attack and was going to do his Christmas Eve sermon, along with the normal festivities that go on there. I guess 4:00 was when things were planning on starting, because I got stuck in even more festive traffic than before. If looks could kill, then my wife would have been arrested for multiple homicide (all directed at me), "Good choice of directions, Honey" was the quip from the passenger side of the car, and so up in volume went the Christmas Carols.
At 4:00 we hit the freeway that was 5 or 10 minutes from Melissa's Moms house. Whew, on our way -- well, if you can call 20 mph on a crowded freeway, "on your way". After another hour and a half of misery, my plan paid off, and the route I chose cleared up -- and we practically zipped in to Burbank by 6:00 p.m. It was the worst driving day, I had ever experienced in Southern California, and I'm a native (I had one that was worse in San Fransisco when I got trapped on a bridge behind a toxic waste spill for 6 hours-- I kid thee not). We had avoided the worst of the traffic -- and the radio announcers were mentioning the 17 fender benders to avoid (which I had adroitly dodged by taking a long-cut). So in the end, my wife forgave me, and while driving through Pasadena hills we got a beautiful clear night view of the L.A. skyline (20 miles away), and we could see all the way to the ocean (about another 20 or 30 miles).
We arrived at my Grandparents at the same time as my parents -- who had flown in from England. My parents had made better time than I had, quite literally. They left at 1:00 p.m. from Heathrow Airport (London, England), and arrived at the house at 6:00 p.m. (but they were flying with the Sun). Fortunately, there was no fear of us being the latest people there (we are usually the prompt ones). The world would stop turning on its axis if my brother ever arrived on time. Fortunately, he did not disappoint, and life on this planet goes on (I think he strolled in around 8:00 p.m. -- coincidentally just in time for the the table-scraps, desert and the gift exchange).
My family. What can I say? My Grandfather is a first generation German-American (depression survivor who fought in WWII and is pretty "right wing"). My Grandmother is an Italian immigrant (though she came over very young), whose "hot-blooded" culture has influenced the family the most. My Mom and her brother have had a rivalry since childhood that almost guarantees a holiday argument, that will require bringing up issues that are at least 40 years in the past. I have a second (or third) Cousin (or Uncle?) that is a gay communist protester, who brings his "partner" to all these "events" -- (the partner is a lush, that wears pants so tight that you can tell his religion -- my wife complained because he had a large hole in the front of his pants and wasn't wearing any undergarments). Did I mention that my grandfather is conservative? Add in an assortment of kids (grand kids) and spouses, and you get about 20 of the nicest people in the world -- that in NO WAY should ever exist in the same place at one time (let alone celebrate a holiday in a 1500 sq. foot house). Which is proven each and every holiday. This Christmas was no exception.
Fights - No Christmas at my families house would be complete without one good fight. We've done pretty good the last few holidays, as we've been able to keep the knives on the table, and no one was physically hurt (though we still talk about the bloodletting if '93). This holidays fight had something to do with my Uncles-partner being pickled before he got there (smelling like a brewery), and then drinking more until he threw-up all over the place. Since he was drunk, sick, coughing up a lung, had puke-breath, and kept telling stories about how he got arrested and his friend was in prison for murder -- my Uncle moved his food into the kitchen (away from the rest of us)-- and the two of them got into a little hissy-spat in the kitchen. I believe Jay Leno was informed about their discontent with each other (as NBC studios are about 5 miles away).
For the first few years , my wife (and my brothers fiancee) were shocked at these goings on (aghast is probably a better word) -- they did not know how to handle it. But they have since grown quite accustomed to these occurrences, and have learned to play the family game; which seems to be to be to quip, ridicule, antagonize, and take sides -- just to see if you can escallate a loud squabble into a life and death combat. Who needs T.V.? Try to remember, that in MY family I am the quiet and non-opinionated one.
Food - Did I mention that my Grandma is Italian? Let me enlighten you on the formula for preparing food in an Italian house-hold.
food prepared = enough for people visiting ^ 2
We had some 30lb mutant super-turkey, a ham that could feed a small village -- and a full sized dining room table (seats 12) filled with green beans, stuffing, twice baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberries, gravy, rolls (and other breads), salad, and at least two or three other things that I've had to block from my mind (along with other tramatic events). We can't think of sitting at the dining room table (where would the food go?) -- we have to place card tables in all the other rooms of the house. (It was a light year because we didn't also have steak, lamb and/or a large pot-roast as well... I'm not kidding). This was all presented after stuffing us for hours (from the moment we walked through the door) with various hours' devours (a card table full), eggnog, and other things. Not to mention the nut and candy dishes strategically placed within arms reach --no matter where you sit in the house. We finished off the meal with some cheese-cake (I could kill the person that brought that), cookies, coffee, cake, and assorted other deserts. Italians measure love by how much food they cook -- and my Grandmother really really loves her family.
Gifts - So just when you are about ready to puke (explode), or slip into a triptophan induced coma -- we go for the gift exchange. My family believes in buying gifts for everyone else -- lots. First we move furniture, and pile the gifts in the center of the room. This years pile about 3-4 feet tall, and about 20 feet long -- it was a light year because my parents came from England so we (and they) had to buy smaller gifts (for travel) -- and the kids are all now in their teens (or older) so gift certificates are becoming more popular. The adults sit around (hoping they won't burst) while the kids distribute the gifts (seeing if they can bury any of the "sitters"). Then everyone opens their gifts at once, for about an hour, throwing the wrapping at various trash-bags, and shouting "thank you's" to various gift givers -- and trying to hide the terror in their eyes at some of the gifts recieved. There are always a few grins of delight that look suspiciously like a grimace of constipation.
With this wide a selection (and eclectic a family) there are usually some "special" gems. My Grandfather got some big "bear" slippers (from my wife and I) -- a gag gift, which he seemed to appreciate and proceeded to model. I got a 1995 J.R.R. Tolkien Calendar (I had read Lord of the Rings once, in Jr. High School, and the family is determined that I still love fantasy) -- it seems this got put under a bed (or lost), and was found, and we couldn't have a present like this go to waste (even if it is 4, or 20, years out of date). My wife seems to have won the big prize this year -- she got a Faux-Cat-Fur Coat, in a Golden-yellow color, with an embroidered cat on the back, lots of neon colored kitty's in the lining, and the fur is on the outside, sorta tiger-stripped in patches with fur and satin alternating the texture (and color/pattern). My wife is a low-keyed dresser, and this coat would embarrass a pimp. This came from my mother (bless her heart) -- my mom really likely the coat, and would wear it herself, so it was done with no malice. I will try to get my wife to wear it (fat chance), just for the conversation value if nothing else (it was so funky, I liked it). I joked that "that coat certainly catches your eye -- and pulls it out of its socket".
I got lots of clothes (among other things) -- but unfortunately, lots of them are all in last years size. Due to a phenomenon known as "programmers ever-spreading-ass", I am now wearing 34's and couldn't fit into the 32's I got if I used bacon-grease. So this weekend will be spent exchanging and upgrading sizes. (Surprisingly, most of the clothes were actually wearable patterns, styles and colors). But the generousity and sincerity of my family is truly wonderful -- even when they miss the mark (by a mile).
So by 11:00 p.m. we slip off to the local Holiday Inn, after an endless day, to get some much needed rest. My wife had a really rough day (as far as angina), and we need to crash. After waiting in a strangely long line at the check-in desk, and arguing with the desk about our reservations, they finally gave us a key. Turns out that it doesn't work, so they gave us another room, and we settled in (and crashed). It was a cold night, down into the 40's, and I froze my butt off in the hotel (funky heating system) -- but I think pneumonia is "in" this season.
We got up at 7:00 (the frost in the room is exhilerating), I had a shower that dribbled on me (water conservation is such a beautiful thing), and we headed back to Grandma's house for breakfast and to say goodbye.
While I was in the living room socializing with my parents, my Grandmother was grilling my wife about everything (discussions are sometimes faintly reminicent of the spanish inquisition). I guess at some point my wife was asked about the Hotel accomidations (which were graciously supplied by my Grandparents), and was shocked to learn that the Hotel had once again screwed up the reservations (they have managed to pull this off a few different times) -- and they billed us (my wife and I), and not my grandparents (or worse, they may have double-billed). This faux paus had also happened to my Brother and fiance (who had strategically been given twin beds by my Grandmother) -- and a similar occurance had happened months before to another visiting relative.
My Grandmother got on the phone to spread a little Holiday cheer to the Holiday Inn, when the poor manager on the other end of the phone (who had obviously never dealt with an Italian before) made the once in a lifetime mistake of arguing with her. He said, "that they couldn't take credit cards by phone", and made some other lame excuses. Once again, Jay Leno's tonight show was made aware of events in families house, and at my Grandmothers displeasure at the hotel accomidations, at the incompetence of the manager, and she went on to berate the owner of the Hotels obvious lack of intelligence by hiring such incompetant staff, and so on. We sat in the living room (3 rooms away from the kitchen, where this was going on, but still painfully aware of events), wincing and chuckling at that poor guys self-enduced pain. Good thing it was the holidays, or he may have been in real trouble. The exchange left little question in my mind as to where the "hot-bloodedness" was inherited from in this matriarchal family. In the end our credit cards were refunded, and as far as I know so was my Grandmothers and everyone else in the Hotel, just to "make it stop". Of course my Grandma wasn't phased in the slightest, and had prepared Waffles, Omelettes, and other breakfast goodies all during the verbal assault -- and we had a large breakfast, to make up for the huge dinner the night before.
On the road again -- We packed up the car (until there was no possible chance of knowing what might be behind us) -- and we looked like either the Beverly Hillbillies, or some car-dweller, as we do hit the road again. (On our way back to Melissa's Mom's house). Fortunately there was no traffic. I wanted to stop in Compton (or Watts area) for Gas (not so nice areas of town) -- but my wife has no sense of adventure (or humor about some things).
We visited another set of friends briefly, then headed to Melissa's Mom's house.
Melissa's family - Melissa was raised by her single-mom, with help from her Aunt. Her Mom has since remarried a quiet trucker, and his Sister (and her Husband) were over (usually it is just the 5 of us). Her family holidays are as surreal to me, as I'm sure mine are to her.
Her family chats, watches T.V., and snacks. We sit down to a quiet meal (at one table), with a reasonable amount of food. We retire to the living room, where we chat for a bit (quietly). About the only thing that disturbs this is the occasional gasseous emission (of one sort or another), where one person suddenly says, "Oh, pardon me" -- while you know you only have a few more minutes to wait for the next one. This is completely foreign to me, because my family is far more likely to quietly sneak one into the sofa, then blame the person next to them, which will end in a big family squabble after blaming the other person for "starting it", because of some event from the third grade.
Anyways, after a serene discussion, we enter the event of passing out a reasonable amount of gifts -- then we proceed to, one at a time, open the gifts (in turn) and "oooh, aaaah" at the gifts -- and comment on their lineage, what we were thinking when we got them for each other, and comment on the frugal reuse of last years bows, boxes, bags and ribbons. While I like the peace (and the concept), long after the second or 3rd hour of peaceably unwrapping paper (and saving bows and ribbons), I want to create some mayhem, or shout a little, just to prevent myself from snoring through what they obviously care so much about. (Again, I like the discussions and the like -- but after a day and half of Christmas, I'm starting to get a little burned out). The gifts are nice, the presents are very thoughtful and appropriate, but I catch myself being a little antagonistic just to get some action. I found myself constantly insulting my Aunt-in-laws ugly dust-mop without a stick (known as a Lhapso Apso, or Shitzu -- I can't tell them apart), just for the turmoil factor -- and I like my Aunt-in-law (we get along well). Well, the dog truly is a fat little ugly fur-sausage -- that was made no more attractive by the knit sweater it was forced to wear. Of course the dog loves me (most animals do), and it follows me around the house, breathing it's little doggy breath on me, and staring up at me (with its one good eye), trying to get me to scratch his mangy coat.
After many hours of peaceful discussion (and gift exchanging) -- we, finally, say our goodbye's and travel home, where my wife and I exchange our few gifts with each other, and crash in our own beds (under our own roof).
The Holidays are a lot of "fun". I really do appreciate the events and the bonding -- and the time spent with the people (relatives) truly makes it worth while. But it is so comical to look at yourselves as an outsider would, and just be amused by all the "goings on". Doing this through the years is what has kept me sane at my family events. Every holiday seems to leave at least a few precious memories, like a nice morning walk and talk with my father, or some quiet discussions with my grandparents -- those memories make the whole holiday chaos worth-while... but on the other hand, I must say that I am glad that Christmas only comes but once a year.
Hope you had as much fun with yours.
Happy Holidays, and have a very good New-Year.