A snow globe, a Hallmark special, our own sitcom,
A Christmas card by Norman Rockwell–well,
It’s true. We had perfect holidays back home.
Our schedules, our stockings, our hearts—full, full, full.
We always had to eat before we opened presents,
We ate too much, and THEN distributed the loot.
We took our turns opening, youngest to oldest, we oohed
And ahhed and made jokes. Gran’mommy’s perennials:
“Boxes can fool you,” and “Pretty paper,” (which she saved).
Everyone played nice. It was nice. And it stayed that way
Because the grownups held their breath. I am grateful
For the effort I didn’t see when I was a child. I do grieve
It wasn’t sustainable. We didn’t sustain it. I won’t say
It wasn’t real. It was absolutely wonderful.
We were so lucky. It wasn’t perfect–of course not. Not one person involved was perfect, so the gathering couldn’t have been. But it sure seems perfect in my memory.
Santa visited a lot of years when there were youngsters. This appears to be a Les Hutchison year, and I’m somewhere around three, so it predates my cousin Rob. I was the youngest, so I’d have opened my presents first. Poor Jodie–she had one year to go first, but as long as she remembered, someone else went sooner. (She probably didn’t mind too much.) Then Rob was the youngest for a very long time, 10 or 12 years, anyway. (My mom and her next youngest sister had their children very young; my Mom’s baby sister had her babies much later, right when my brother’s daughter was born, in the early 80s–so the late 60s and all the 70s, Jodie and Rob and I were the kids. My brother is six years older than me, so I’m sure he wouldn’t mind not being listed in this particular lucky cluster, though he’d have opened his presents right after Jodie.)
I remember the bad, bad jokes, and I remember the laughter. We laughed A LOT.
I remarked to a friend once that I never, ever laughed harder than when I was with my family (by which I mean this branch of the family, my Mom’s branch, the Roane/Marlow branch).
This friend had an insightful response, “Well, yeah, laughter breaks up tension pretty well.” Or something along those lines. And that’s partly true. As I got older, I had a stronger and stronger sense of everyone holding their breath, which I’m not nearly as good at (though I’m better at it than I want to be).
Keeping secrets and keeping up appearances. Pretty standard family stuff.
So, sure, there was tension. There still is.
But the truth is, I come from funny people. I just do. Some of it’s corny, some of it’s mean, but it is a constant, and it’s varied, and it’s smart, and it’s just a huge part of who we were. And are.
So whatever else there was, there was humor, and there was love, and there was phenomenally good luck.
We had an extraordinary run of people staying pretty healthy and grownups being mostly employed and marriages working relatively well. No one drank at these family gatherings (that I knew of), and no one fought (that I noticed), and everyone seemed to have a great time, and typically left to go home (we almost all lived in a one-mile radius) only when we’d planned our next gathering (which was never very far away).
On Christmas, that meant making plans for Gran’daddy’s birthday on December 26. If he were still with us, he’d be celebrating his 97th today. By the late 70s, we’d gotten in the tradition of someone giving him fancy collections of sausage and cheese for Christmas, and we’d gather for his birthday the next day and eat them. The numbers and varieties of cheese and sausage grew over the years, and we’d pass them around and around, shouting back and forth about which ones were best, spiciest, etc.
And in those pre-Google years, we nearly always had these two conversations: What is Boxing Day? And does “second cousin” mean the same as “first cousin, once removed?” I actually don’t ever want to look those things up–it was always too fun confusing each other with our answers.
There is no more one-mile radius. We have health problems in all manner of stripes and stages. We’re no longer exempt to national averages on marriage and employment.
Gran’daddy has been gone a year and a half and Gran’mommy seven more years than that.
So much is gone. Over. Done.
But what we had was real. And it was absolutely wonderful.