Christmas time is a time of tradition and memories. Every year, I look back and think of Christmases past, with the Christmas Eve candlelight church service; homemade spaghetti and meatballs; getting up at 6am Christmas morning with my sister grumbling, “The presents will still be there at 8:00, you know;” and having a big breakfast of country ham, eggs, and grits. These were the elements of my favorite Christmases growing up.
And then, one year…
One thing to know about me is that I grew up in North Carolina, but when I was 15 we moved to Indiana for my dad’s job. Before we moved, Christmas had always been a tradition-filled, festive, special holiday for my entire family. Both my mom’s family and my dad’s family had always lived within an hour of each other and the usual holiday schedule was for us to spend the weekend before Christmas with the maternal side and Christmas Day with the paternal side.
The year my parents and I moved to Indiana, leaving my college student sister behind, we were presented with the problem of where to spend Christmas. My parent finally decided to spend it like we always had – with family. The only difference is that instead of spending a nice, warm glowing Christmas Eve in the comfort of our home we would stay at my paternal grandparents’ house.
At first, I was really excited. Going to North Carolina would provide me with the opportunity to see all the friends I had left behind. There would be trees! And hills! And actual lakes instead of retention ponds called lakes in order to sell houses facing said ponds for higher prices! Sure, my extended family tended to get on my nerves (surprise, right?), but I wasn’t going to spend much time with them anyway. I’m not sure why exactly I thought that given that I was 15 and couldn’t exactly drive myself anywhere, but, you know. It was a teenager’s idealism.
The morning that we left, I got up at 5:00am because my Dad insisted on us being on the road by 5:30am. It was easy for him because he has a special brand of insomnia wherein no matter what time he goes to bed, he wakes up at 4:00am, wide awake. He’s practically ready for lunch by 5:30. I, on the other hand, cannot function if I wake up at any hour that starts with anything less than a 6. And at 15, I normally saw the AMs before going to sleep. And believe me, if I haven’t gotten 8 hours of sleep, WATCH OUT. “Mandy,” my evil alter ego (I have a really good story about this which I’ll post someday), comes out. You don’t want to meet Mandy. You wouldn’t like Mandy.
Barely able to keep my eyes open, and often failing even at that simple task, I got ready. I pretty much just blindly reached into drawers and threw stuff on. I would have fit right in on People of Walmart.
After stumbling downstairs with my suitcases, I folded myself into the small compartment left in-between all the gifts and luggage while my parents spread out in their spacious front seats. The evidence that I was only 15 at the time is that I was still able to sleep with my feet draped over the luggage and my head laying on my parent’s travel bag. In fact, I slept most of the day given that my dad’s worst nightmare is actually STOPPING while on a 10 hour drive. I mean, God forbid any of us have any hunger or needs for bodily functions because my dad IS NOT STOPPING FOR ANYTHING. PEE IN YOUR PANTS IF YOU NEED TO.
Finally, around 4:00pm, we pulled into my grandparents’ driveway. My grandmother, Grandma Wino, ran out of the house, arms outstretched to wrap each of us into a hug, careful not to spill her ever present wine, and cooing how happy she was to see us in her high-pitched, Edith Bunker voice that I think she purposefully raises in an attempt to sound younger. Following her was my grandfather, Mafia (since passed, God rest his Italian soul), slowly and casually walking out as if he had just interrupted his programs and we had just seen him last week instead of months ago.
I grabbed all of my suitcases and followed my parents into the house. Nothing had changed. It was still the eternally dim house (electricity costs money, dammit!) with the fake tree laden with 1970s ornaments. They still had the same furniture they had when my dad was a teenager. The table in the attached dining room was covered by already-opened bags of Doritos waiting for us to snack on.
“Do you want something to drink, Amanda?” Wino asked. “I had Mafia go out and buy you a Pepsi.”
Thinking that maybe this was the year she would remember that I do not drink diet soft drinks, I answered, “Sure.” She shimmied over to the refrigerator and pulled out the bottle. Diet Pepsi. What a surprise. She poured me a big glass and handed it to me. As everyone else settled around the table with yummy, yummy, yummy, wine (ok, I didn’t know at the time how yummy it was because I … actually didn’t drink as a teenager), they began to catch up from the last visit and I sipped my vile liquid. Finally, after a few minutes I went back to my grandparents’ office where they had their 1990 desktop computer so that I could go play that one game where a snake goes around obstacles to something (was it apples?) and every time you ate one you grew and you had to not eat yourself? Does anyone remember what I’m talking about? Anyway, that’s how I always spent my time at my grandparent’s house. By the way, I’m pretty sure my grandmother still has that same desktop computer.
To be continued…. Next time…What was the rest of Christmas Eve like?