Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Holidays...then and now...

As I remember it from my childhood (which in the interest of full disclosure, may or may not be 100% accurate...but "it's my story, and I'm sticking to it" as they say...), my family’s “season of traditions” seemed to officially kick off with the over-the-river-and-through-the-woods trek to my Great-Aunt Renie and Great-Uncle Ralph’s apartment for the Thanksgiving feast. (Well…actually it was more like “down Interstate 270”…and “across the Baltimore/Washington Beltway”…but you get the picture…) I remember a couple of things so clearly: the first order of business when we arrived was always to get me a cold glass of ginger ale, since the 45- minute backseat passenger experience invariably left me nauseated...and the absolutely staggering amount of food my great aunt prepared, as though she were feeding a small army, rather than 5 extra people. (But did anyone complain? Don’t be silly--it was a giddy, celebratory gorge-a-thon, I tell ya!)

Incidentally, after Ralph and Renie retired to Florida (I think I was in college by then), my mom took over the Turkey Day duties. Later, when Team WestEnders came to be, we would make the half-hour journey from our suburb to my parents’ house (but fortunately no one ever got carsick). My mother followed the same pattern of creating a veritable food-a-palooza…ensuring that it would rival even Christmas as one of Derek’s most beloved holidays. Seriously, the more helpings her oldest grandchild tucked away, the more my mother beamed with pleasure. (So really, he was just trying to make Grammy happy…yeah, that’s it…) Before and after the meal, the cousins (5 in all, in a 7-year age range) would run amok while the adults—sedated by calories--would sink into couches, relax, and chat.

Now (stick with me), back to the past--on the ride home from my great aunt and uncle's, my mother would find Christmas music on the radio…or maybe pop in an 8-track tape, for all I know—I was woozy from the late hour and the carb overload by this point…much to my father’s disgruntlement. (She always won the battle, though…Dad didn't stand a chance once the holiday spirit overtook that woman...) Then the next day, the all-important “decking the halls” was accomplished, which involved hauling the boxes of decorations down from the attic and distributing everything into its proper place under Mom’s watchful eyes (and with copious amounts of...ahem..."helpful guidance").

In the next week or two, our fearless leader (yep, that would be Mom again, in case you had any doubt) would drag—I mean “escort”—us to a local tree farm of her choosing, where we would tromp through the woods (which I love, of course) in the cold (which I soooo totally do NOT appreciate, as you well know), examining oh, approximately a thousand specimens, before our matriarch would finally decree that one of them was acceptable. At this point, Dad and/or the helpful attendant would be charged with cutting it down and loading it onto the top of the car…and we could finally go the heck home…for hot chocolate (probably my favorite part, honestly. Do you blame me?).

So why the trip down Memory Lane? Well…a heartwarming bit of nostalgia for ME, obviously. But also for my boys to understand where some of their own traditions are rooted (and to be assured that their mother’s not just, you know, “making stuff up as she goes along”…although this is positively the case at times…shhh! Let’s keep that between us, yeah? Thanks…) Now, obviously when we moved to North Carolina the Thanksgiving routine changed. For Team WestEnders, this now means that the trio of boys heads out to the southern grandparents’ abode, while I stay home and concoct a gluten-free, vegan buffet for myself, before taking an overnight excursion for my own education and entertainment. It may seem like an odd setup to some…but it definitely works for us.

Just like my mom, however, I allow myself to begin basking in the holiday tunes as early as the Friday after Thanksgiving….even if the rest of my clan isn’t quite on board with this. For example, the boys and I got into the car the other day for an errand, and as soon as I turned on the radio, Riley groaned and said, “Ugh…is that Christmas music?” (He delivered this with all the drama and disgust that he might have inquired something like, "Ew, is that liver on my plate?" It was quite a performance.) "Why yes, my dear, it is—and you can suck it up." (That last part may have been implied…but I’m sure he got it.) 

He added, adamantly, “I don’t like to hear this stuff until about…December 10th. Then it’s fine for a few weeks.” Okay, clearly he’s considered his opinion, and has developed a firm stance. Bravo for him…but still too bad. To further illustrate his position, he shared that one of his friends has taken to singing carols in P.E. during their warmups—to which Riley’s response was to shun him and walk with someone else! (And can I just say: Jeez, dude…how about you give the cheerful little elf a break!)

Then Derek had to get into the conversation; he commented, “Is this the Beatles?” Um…what the WHAT? I glanced at him incredulously in the rear view mirror, and informed him that we were, in fact, enjoying the upbeat strains of Merry Christmas, Baby, by the BEACH BOYS. He was unapologetic, however, as he replied, “Eh, I get them mixed up.” While I processed the sheer nonsense of this statement he chuckled and asked, “Is that painful…for someone your age?” Oh...excuse me? Actually, yes it is…but maybe not quite as much as you using that particular phrase on me, my precious child. Sheesh! (And for the record, while I can differentiate the Fab Four from Mike Love and company…I’d like to unequivocally state that… I’m not THAT old…)

Anyway, moving on: as for the casa, it gets all kinds of fa-la-la-ed before the Thanksgiving weekend is over as well. Because I’m…picky (compulsive…control freak…whatever)…about where things go, I don’t require (er..."permit") any assistance in the process. Nope, the Male Posse is saved for the next big thing, which of course is the Evergreen Extravaganza. Now, for years we used to get a fresh tree—riiiight up until I realized that the reason I was getting a sinus infection every single December was due to the presence of either the needles themselves, or the mold that grows on a large, dead plant when you keep it inside. (How's that for festive, yeah?) Whatever the reason, once we switched to an artificial version—voila!—no more antibiotics for Christmas.

So the gentlemen, working as a smooth, seamless unit, unpack the branches and commence building ye olde tannenbaum.  Ha! Who am I trying to kid? There is generally much goofing off, a fair amount of silly behavior (such as attempting to fence with the longer pieces—true story, this has happened more than once), quite a few smart-aleck remarks, and a smattering of curses (from Husband…when he reaches the critical, yet  fraught-with-peril “stringing of the lights” portion of the event. Come to think of it, this very much reminds me of my own father and his yearly Battle of the Twinkling Strands. NOT necessarily the warm and fuzzy tradition you want to perpetuate, but what can you do? Those things have a mind of their own...). Is it any wonder that I retreat upstairs, and avoid the whole scene, until they declare it “ready for ornaments”?

But once the adorning of the faux fir begins, we have a great time pulling out our eclectic mixture of baubles…preschool crafts made of popsicle sticks, modeling clay, and construction paper…special keepsakes given to us by friends and family over the years…mementos from our vacations…even the tacky Hallmark Store ornaments that I used to let the kids choose each December (and that they utterly refuse to give up). Each one is treasured, and hung with love in a carefully-chosen spot…that I will most likely rearrange after everyone else has left the room, to achieve my own standard of aesthetically-pleasing arrangement. (Yeah, yeah…that’s Madam Control Freak to you, okay?) Sometimes this occurs earlier than anticipated—such as when the goofballs get rambunctious and start chucking things haphazardly onto the tree. Then they’re unceremoniously banished, of course.

Let’s see, what other charming rituals do we have? Oh yes: the classic holiday shows that we like to view at some point during the season. We have a very short list of Must-Sees, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas (which I can recite, word-for-word...don't test me unless you want to hear the whole thing, right now...), A Charlie Brown Christmas (obviously), A Muppet Family Christmas (cracks us up…Every. Time.), and The Year Without a Santa Clause (because truly, you never outgrow Heat Miser/Snow Miser, do you?). Now, Husband tried at some point to introduce another one, that he used to watch with his mother, during his own childhood. It’s called Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas…and in my humble opinion, it’s…well, exactly as awful as it sounds. All I can tell you is that it’s like…cheesy, singing…hillbilly Muppets. Shudder—I got through it once, then forbade it from being shown in our house ever again. I can still hear the hokey warbling of those unfortunate musical numbers in my nightmares, I tell ya.

So, there you have it. It'll be interesting to see which of the holiday customs my sons continue, once they grow up and have their own households. I'm guessing that poultry-less Thanksgiving dinners...and Christmas songs...would not be high on the list. But I'd be glad to offer my ornament-organizing services, should their trees need some...sprucing up. (Ha! Sorry...). And I'll watch any of the holiday videos their hearts desire...with the exception of the otter-who-shall-not-be-named! Whew--all this talk of food, and the joyful season, blah blah blah, has put me in the mood for a treat. I'm gonna go scrounge in the kitchen for hot chocolate...and some gluten-free cookies! Mmmmm.....

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