Saturday, November 28, 2009

Happy Holidays, Served Family Style

Winter is here--fine, late fall is here--and that brings the obligatory period of time when all the radio stations I used to listen to when I forgot to take my iPod in the car with me have all gone to Christmas music, creating within me a boundless well of irritation from which I can draw in my forays into malls, bookstores, and yarn shops in my efforts to buy shiny things for all the people I love.

With this time of year also comes the joy of spending countless hours with family members who live between 2 and 12 hours away for a reason.

Just kidding, guys. I love you, you know that!

We invite people into our homes to afford them the opportunity to ask us repeatedly what we're going to do with our lives and why we aren't making a hundred thousand dollars a year yet, and when we are employed, they don't care anymore, because we have a nice label they can tell their friends, so we aren't a shame on the family anymore.

Poor Paul, he spent the whole of Thanksgiving cornered, asked repeatedly how many resumes he'd sent out, what companies he is looking at, where he wants to work, and why, God, why he is not employed after all this time he's been graduated (he finished his last class in October and his diploma will read December 2009).

I was free, this year. I am a "librarian"--this is great to repeat at dinner parties! Everyone is so proud of me! Now if only I started spawning, creating a brood of my very own that can be photographed repeatedly and shared with relations I've never so much as met!

Okay, maybe that is a little bitter, but I don't want anyone dictating to me what my biological clock is saying, when it would take a visit to a lady-doctor to figure it out with any accuracy. I don't think my grandparents have a speculum and a magnifying glass and wait for me to fall asleep, and I'm darn well sure I would wake up if they tried anything like that, no matter if I'd taken my Tylenol PM or not.

It's funny how the holidays, which are supposed to bring out the best in all of us, so often just end up bringing out the worst. Like, I'm normally pretty good natured. But I was the worst kind of anti-social on Thanksgiving, and sometimes, when I didn't like the question someone asked me, I just pretended I hadn't heard it at all.

My family is usually a pretty great group to spend time around. Seriously.

An example, you ask?

Let's take an average family conflict...

The Ugly Stinky Blue Chair

Dad drug the blue chair home one Saturday, rescuing it from a church free-giveaway. He decided this would be the ideal place for him to write sermons, or "sermonize" as we have dubbed the process. He loved to do this, pulling the lever that reclined his seat with the sound of an engine backfiring in the pre-dawn hours, waking me up at 5:00 a.m. for six months straight, before I started my Tylenol PM habit and used chemicals to sleep through the noise.

Of course, since the chair was positioned right in the middle of our home library, it forced my mother to reposition the perfectly matched chairs (the nicest pieces of furniture we'd had up to that point) and crowd the room with the additional chair. Also, we no longer had access to three of the five bookshelves in that room, causing no books to ever be reshelved when we'd finished reading them.

Making matters worse, Dad "moved in" to the living room, storing his clothes for the next day on the bookshelves too. And drinks he forgot about, like his nightly glass of water, and the apple he'd started eating but didn't want to take into the bathroom with him, leading to shelved apple cores.

We hated this chair.

Not just because it was ugly, which it was. But also because it had the distinct scent of old man about it, and because it had a stain on the portion where one was intended to rest one's head, like a dozen years of pomade leeched from old man head.

All of this remained despite frequent shampooing/steam cleaning of the chair. In fact, the scent only strengthened with the application of water.

Mom covered it with a throw, and we spent the next six (6) years pretending the chair did not exist.

It still existed.

But despite all the years we'd fantasized about lighting it on fire and hurling it into the river the moment Dad returned from work so he could watch it sinking slowly as it was carried along by the river's slow current, it remained. We decided that the Viking funeral was too good for the Evil Chair, as it was almost certainly possessed by some kind of demonic furniture energy.

We imagined that the chair was slowly absorbing Dad.

Did his hair seem more salt-and-pepper recently? Had he begun to absorb that old-man scent, or did his clothing pick up the odor from the recliner as he sat in it, reading or playing the Irish whistle? Had he become more opinionated? Was his hearing deteriorating faster than before? Had he always voted Republican?

Dad packed to go off to Colorado recently, folding his clean piles of undershirts and using the chair to hold his hiking equipment.

I didn't notice anything different in Mom's demeanor during the ritual packing, but something must have clicked inside her, because when I returned from work that evening, the chair was in the garage.

The next day, Paul and I carried it out to the curb. I made a little sign out of a brown paper bag that said "FREE" in big letters and also something along the lines of "Please, please take me home with you!" underneath it, although I think my actual wording might have sounded a bit less desperate.

The chair was gone, and Dad was clueless, on a mountain across the country from where we were. We all got a great deal of satisfaction out of this, celebrating together with almost-hysterical laughter fueled by boundless joy.

Later that week, Mom picked up the phone. It was Dad.

Because we cannot tell lies effectively in our family, it was clear to Mom her secret wouldn't last very long. So she told Dad. Then she held out the phone so we could all hear his reaction.

"DEVIOUS, DEVIOUS WOMAN!" Dad shouted over the line, then he dissolved into laughter of his own, continuing to tell Mom how he couldn't believe that she'd done that, as if he was actually more proud of her accomplishment than angry that the chair was gone.

Mom really is the most devious of all of us. She has a legendary Evil Streak that has led her to do such things as: push people into the river, stick a finger coated in cake batter up my nose, move things to freak my OCD grandpa out, etc. and it never stops being funny.

This is what keeps our family live vibrant, this inability to trust each other with our personal possessions. It's fantastic, and I would miss it more than I could say if I ever, say, had a normal life.

But around the holidays, if Dad gets his dinner-time emergency call, Mom finds it an annoyance. I decide I hate the random needy people I don't care about usually, and I think Dad is a sucker for listening to them all the time and not spending time with us on Thanksgiving Day. Dad tells the Christmas story about when Mom accidentally slashed him with a real-live knife when he came at her with the wrapping paper tube, and she doesn't think it's all that funny of a story like normal. We begin to get ticked that we can't travel on Christmas or Easter since he has sermons to preach, unlike being a good Pastor's Family and swallowing the rage down deep where it can fester slowly as mental illness.

It's really sad, because we all do love each other. Someone should just put away the knives.

I mean that, because I read somewhere that I can't so much find right now that there are way more domestic violence calls around the holidays. Could it be that we're just spending too much time together? Could we really need all that distance and work-related scheduling to keep us all happy?

All I know is that, even though Dad couldn't talk us into seeing Ninja Assassin on Thursday, and ended up taking Mom and acting as a chauffeur instead, it wasn't that sucky of a holiday, considering. At least the living room looked pretty, and I did get to make stuffed mushrooms and eat most of them by myself.

Just everybody, please, don't go giving Dad another recliner for Christmas.

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