The 12 days of Christmas past – and present. All the feels wrapped into a day.

So yeah, Christmas is tough.   The exhausted thinking organ between my ears is struggling to ponder.  It’s done.  Another one in the books.  Survived.  The only thing left to drudge through will be the returns tomorrow.

Last night and today were outstanding.  The fella’s brother came to visit.  Star Wars exceeded my skeptical expectations, in 3-D nonetheless.  Good friends, gift exchange, card games, and adult beverages.  Today, after opening gifts with the ‘not brother-in-law’ we spent the day with the rest of my family.  Food, laughter, family, and fun.  I’d thoroughly enjoy if this became a yearly tradition.  It occurs to me that I find a certain solace in tradition.

Sadness, however, seems to loom behind the curtains this time of year.

As we drove home this evening, the fella and I began talking about our childhood Christmases, and at what point the holidays became so emotionally difficult.

My earliest childhood memories of Christmas play on an annual repeat.  Christmas Eve was at my Grandma’s house.  We ate chex mix till we were almost sick.  Our gifts were few, heartfelt, and always included underwear.  I can still smell that house, see the yellow glow of the light over the kitchen table and an either side of the sofa.  My uncle would sit on the far end of the couch watching TV with the closed captioning on.  The grown ups would be around the kitchen table, sometimes having drinks.  We loved our time there, but were always eager to get home.  What if Santa got there before us??  On the way home I would scoot as far down in the seat as I could, lay my head in the bend of the station wagon window, and scan the sky for any movement that might be a sleigh.

As if tuned to acutely recognize the first lights of dawn on Christmas morning, we would leap out of bed.  Our parents required us to eat first, so cereal was sloppily slurped down, and one by one each paper was torn and gift exposed.  We never asked for much, and were appreciative for what we received.  After gifts, showers for everyone, and we would all drive to Nanny’s.

Nanny’s house was a much more formal affair.  Best behavior.  No food on the carpet.  Homemade candy, but don’t eat too much.  At lunch I sat in the back middle of the table we all filled.  Nanny, Aunt, Uncle, and my family – totaling eight.  It was best to keep your head down and be quiet.  Frequently I got in trouble.  One particular year, in order to consolidate space, Nanny had combined two jars of pickles into one.  I love sweet pickles and would quietly gorge myself on them as we ate.  This year however, as I reached into the jar and put the pickle in my mouth, I was met with dill.  Nasty dill.  I had no other choice but to swallow it.  I did.  My sister, sitting on my left, reached for the jar.  I slapped her hand away, still unable to stop gagging.  “Not them!” was all I could get out.  She caught on, started laughing, and then we were BOTH in trouble.  See, it was ungrateful of me to be anything other than compliant and appreciative.

Several years later, after undergrad, we were all sitting around the same table.  After some polite quiet conversation, my Nanny looked at my Aunt, nodded, and announced to the entire table that they had known for a long time that I was a lesbian.  Not that it matters, but I’m not.  It is nice, however, to know that they had accepted their conclusion with open minds.  Apparently a girl in her 20’s is supposed to have a husband and several babies, not be traipsing through the woods in a uniform doing ‘a man’s job’.  Years later, when the fella and I moved in together, her reaction was simply, “Well at least she’s over that lesbian thing.”

You see, they used to refer to me as ‘precocious’, and it wasn’t necessarily meant in the most positive light.  At 5-6 years old I recall asking my mother what that word meant.  She answered that they just thought I was as smart as a lot of grown ups.  How could that be bad??  That solution to my curiosity was probably the only thing that kept me present with that half of the family.   My perception was that I wasn’t who they wanted me to be and also not who they thought I was, yet they didn’t seem interested in getting to know me.

I digress.  The point is that we had a routine.  A set of traditions and time with family.  When Grandma and Grandpa died, that foundation was rocked.  It has never been as clear to me as it became today.

Lunch then gift exchange time.  My nieces opened the things I made for them.  As an adult I certainly enjoy giving gifts more than receiving them.  We laughed a lot and many special things were exchanged, until there were only three left…one in front of each of my siblings and myself.  Momma began telling a story about finding a box she had stored decades ago.  Inside she found three quilt tops.  The stitches, she said, were far from perfect because they were made when Grandpa was teaching Grandma how to quilt.  The fabric squares were made from old clothes.  Momma specifically remembered some of her childhood garments and one of Grandpa’s old suits.

I began to cry, completely embarrassed at the wave of emotion that had taken me.  It’s not them…though I do miss them…it’s the time, the place, and the comfort of it.  It’s a feeling of safety and regularity, and knowing that everything is taken care of and okay.  How frequently do we have that as an adult??  I have a job, a full belly, and a roof over my head.  That makes me more fortunate than many, yet I still find myself sad, yearning for something that cannot be replaced.

It is my hope that the times we create now will give my nieces something to look back on, and perhaps to miss…because things change and grow.  I’ll probably always have a little nugget of sadness in my heart for times gone by, but I have more joy for the times we have and the times we WILL have.  I’ll cherish those moment of sadness because they only mean I’m lucky enough to have had experiences worth missing.

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The ___ days of Christmas past – is it over yet??

Yup.  I missed a few days.  No surprise, really.  Work – sleep – work – sleep….lather, rinse, repeat.

I began this holiday blog series as a way to share some holiday cheer with each of you, but also to bolster my own merriment, which has historically been lacking.  We all have our own reasons for finding this season to be tough.  We work to long, are exhausted, feel insufficient in our attempts to gift just right, aren’t able to spend time with friends and family, miss loved ones who can’t be with us due to distance or loss, or simply dislike what the holidays bring out in our neighbors.

In the last few days I have been cursed at, ridiculed, demeaned, and asked if my employer required me to have a degree in dog shit.  I have had TWO near misses as I walked through the parking lot, because people are in too great a hurry to simply look behind their car as they back out.  I’ve seen holiday novice co-workers cry, and even the most jaded of us is ready for this to be over.  Why is this season, when we are supposed to be celebrating the birth of Christ, NOT about humanity and love.  We have broken it.  Rather, we have allowed it to be broken.

This is the point I have to pause and remind myself that if you are reading this, you likely already understand, and might even agree.  I will leave it at that.  Instead I will share this memory of turning the tables on a holiday customer’s bad behavior.

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It was Christmas Eve…4 years ago.  I was helping a family select fish.  They had done everything right, preparing the tank and allowing it to become stable for the fish they would pick together as a FAMILY.  As we discussed what groups would be good to start with and what direction they planned to go in their stocking, a middle aged lady approached the cricket podium decked out in head to toe holiday finery.  She approached the podium, and it was clear she was in a hurry.  When I didn’t jump off the ladder as fast as she expected, she cleared her throat, raising her eyebrows and pursing her lips in agitated expectation, tapping her foot anxiously.

I only had one more fish to catch for the family who, noticing the lady’s frustration, had already apologized (unnecessarily) for holding me up.  As I explained that they were no problem and a pleasure to serve, the lady took her bad behavior a leap forward.  Making direct eye contact with me, she snapped her fingers twice and whistled at me as if I were a dog.  Something in my head snapped.  It was Christmas Eve after all.  The edit button in my brain malfunctioned and the words just rolled out of my face.  Touching my neck, I said, “Oh.  I’m sorry.  I must have left my collar and rabies tags at home today.”

Someone else must have helped her, because a few minutes later I noticed her in line being checked out by my supervisor.  I approached jovially and let the manager know that I was sorry if she received a complaint about me tonight.  When she asked what for, I told her the story….right in front of the lady who did it.  She was looking at me with bile in her eyes as my supervisor said, “What kind of jerk does something like that on Christmas Eve??”  She handed her the bags with her purchase and wished her a Merry Christmas.  I simply smiled.

To this very day, I consider that a win.

 

 

The 12 days of Christmas past – Part 4 We didn’t have a chimney

This is as I remember it…but perhaps Santa did this twice, as the second and third born (twins) probably asked our parents the same question:

As a child certain family members called me ‘precocious’ as if it was a bad thing.  I asked and answered a lot of questions, and according to my parents I wouldn’t walk because I could tell them where I wanted to go, and why I wanted to go there.  It came as no surprise to them when, during one of our first Christmases in my childhood home, I developed an almost compulsive concern at our lack of a fireplace.  We had a chimney.  It was attached to a wood cook stove that had a tiny fire box and a latching door.  The idea of Santa squeezing himself down that small square chimney only to land in the firebox was terrifying.  As I figured it, if Santa came down a chimney into a fireplace, all he had to do was step out and knock the soot off his shoes.  If he came down our chimney he’d get suck in the firebox and get cooked.

My parents maintained that Santa’s magic meant that he would be able to simply walk through the locked door.  I was a skeptic.

On Christmas morning I awoke to quite a surprise.  There were big muddy footprints all the way from the front door to the presents left for me.   Daddy was grinning from ear to ear, and Momma simply said, “I doubt Santa will be back today to clean up his mess.”  Apparently Daddy pulled off this little bit of mischief, unbeknownst to her, using his fire department boots and a creek mud.

Parents, remember.  You have to believe in it so your kids can too.

The 12 days of Christmas past – Part 3 The night my parents killed Santa

Daddy and little brother always had a thing for old engines.  These weren’t car engines, rather the hit and miss engines of use in the late 19th century and into the 30’s and 40’s.  They predate the modern conveniences of push button start and fuel injection.  There is no mistaking the glossy blur of the fly-wheel spinning, the deep pulsating, “Woosh woosh woosh woosh…Boom….Woosh woosh woosh woosh…Boom”, and smell of the combination of oil, fuel, and lubricant.

Five years older than my twin siblings, probably around 13, I had mostly given up the idea of Santa .  At eight years old, they were just becoming fully invested in it.  This one particular year Santa must have had a back woods search team on the ground.  The old guy had located, refurbished, and delivered my little brother a rather large linear piece of engine part.  I still don’t recall the exact name or function of the part, only how it appeared on Christmas morning.

I was the first one awake.  I tiptoed out of my bedroom and to the top of the stairs, scanning the haul.  Newspaper wrapped boxes with yarn bows.  Brown paper bags rolled down and tied w/ twine.  To the right of the Christmas tree, laying on Momma’s hardwood floors, was a sheet.  The sheet was white with small flowers, and draped over something large and long.  One end was rather round, then another roundish part in the middle, and the other end stuck up just like feet.  Clearly someone was trying to hide Santa’s body.  My somewhat morbid adolescent self immediately woke up the rest of the family, screaming, “Oh no!!  Santa’s DEAD!!”

My sister and brother come busting out of their bedrooms.  “What?”
I reply, “Yeah, just look.  He’s there by the tree.  Dead.”

Okay, so yes, I was a rascal of a teen.  My siblings’ tears were quickly abated when the parents arrived, and pointed out that there was a name tag on Santa’s ‘toe’, To: Little Brother From Santa.  They explained that there probably wasn’t enough gift wrap in the north pole to wrap such a gift.  For it’s initially rough start, the holiday ended well.  All were happy, healthy, and together…just as it should be.

We still give Momma and Daddy a hard time about the night they killed Santa.

The 12 days of Christmas Past – Part 2 The things our dogs have eaten

Most of us have at least one or two stories involving the holiday debaucheries of our pets.  Heck, the internet has entire sites devoted to cats destroying Christmas trees.  This post will be dedicated to the variety of inappropriate things our dogs have eaten in the last ten years.  We joke that they are smarter than a lot of peoples’ kids, and some of these incidents still baffle us.  They are hiding those thumbs somewhere under all that fur.  Also, no harm came to either of them…more on this in a moment.

2007 (+/-) Our girls really enjoy bird watching, bird catching, and bird eating.  I’ve always decorated my tree w/ a nature theme.  While we were working our girls pulled up a ladder and removed the artificial bird nests from the tree.  They ate the eggs, left quite a mess of twigs and branches all over the dining room, and looked VERY pleased with themselves when we got home.  Fast forward to 2015 and I get a panicked phone call at work.  “Are pine cones bad for dogs??  What about styrofoam??”  This year they ate the owl.  Did I mention both dogs are birding mixes? (Lab/heeler and Lab/Poiner)  One finds it.  The other gets it.

2009 – I had baked a tray of Betty Crocker double dark chocolate brownies for a party across the street.  Having done this a number of times, I left them to cool on top of the stove…on the back burner…well out of reach.  Returning home a bit later, the plate was empty.  It’s as if I’d never made the brownies.  Immediately, the panic set in.  Dogs and chocolate…no bueno.  I’m not proud.  I call the emergency vet.  She asks what kind of brownies I’d made.  I reply “Betty Crocker”.  She (very patiently) asks what type of chocolate was in the ingredients.  I scan.  “Dark bakers chocolate.”  She says, “Oh dear.  That’s about as bad as it can get.”  She instructs me to watch for changes in their pupils, twitching, and to monitor their pulse, which I do EVERY 15 MINUTES.  ALL NIGHT!  It turns out that we have two dogs that don’t have ANY chocolate sensitivity.  Luck us because…..

2012 – We moved into a lovely little house in the country.  Our new home is much closer to our favorite bulk foods store where they make the most decadent chocolate infused peanut butter.  Knowing he’d LOVE it, I bought some for the fella.  I took it home, wrapped it in numerous plastic bags, put it in a box, wrapped it in paper, and put on a bow.  I even buried it under the rest of the gifts…just in case.  Several days later, gift now an afterthought, I come home from work to two very guilty looking old girls.  Bow and paper to the side, box torn open, plastic chewed off, lid removed (thumbs) and entire tub licked clean.  There was no evidence aside from the trail of gift carnage from the tree to the dog bed.  Chocolate peanut butter…gone.  I didn’t even call the vet this time.  They were quite content in their indulgence.

2014 – Much anxiety.  Doggy surgery day was rapidly approaching.  Elder girl had destroyed her ACL and we were working hard to keep her calm and comfy.  The nieces had visited, snuggling and coddling the patient, and their coloring books and crayons had been left on the coffee table.  I came home from work a few nights later to a mess.  There was dog puke in every room of the house, and 47 of the 64 crayons were missing.  Again, I called the vet.  He laughed.  Loudly.  Crayons, being non-toxic to children, are also non-toxic to dogs.  They do make for some delightfully colorful poo.  For a while we laughed that it looked like we had a herd of unicorns in our back yard, or that our dogs poop better art than some you see in galleries.

Although they have caused me much panic, and created quite a bit of mischief, at nine and ten years old I only hope it continues.  I’m lucky to have quite the family – but for some folks their fur family is all they have this time of year.  So rub their bellies.  Pat their heads.  Give them a few extra treats.  They bring us SO much unconditional love and joy.

The 12 days of Christmas past – part 1

First, let me be honest and say that I just attempted to search yon internet for the plural of Christmas…with insufficient conclusion.  Damned English language.  Christmas, Christmases, or Christmasses…given it is the Mass of Christ…In either case it is NOT possessive, so just accept the title for what it is.

It has become an annual tradition for my mother and I to use one of my limited days off to make a little holiday mischief.  Sometimes we bake.  Most often we venture out to the wilds of retail shops looking for those laughable odds and ends to give the family.  This year, as we drove, we started reminiscing some of our family’s memorable moments.  Around memory 14-15 it occurred to me that some of you might get a kick out of the family laughs, cries, and debaucheries.

Day 1 – Underwear

If there were two things you could count on receiving each year from Grandma, it was a tub of homemade Chex mix and underwear.  Unfortunately, Grandma didn’t realize how underwear sizing worked, and each year purchased the size that was the same as our age.  The average twelve year old doesn’t wear size 12 undies….but CAN eat their weight in Chex mix.

It has been almost 20 years we’ve celebrated without her.  I still have the last Christmas card she gave me.  It’s the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus in her arms.  Inside she simply wrote, “Merry Christmas.  I love you.”  Through all my moves, it has stayed safe, and remains one of my most treasured items.  It was never about the gifts.  It was about the time.

Words, words, words…

This time of year is tough for those of us in food and retail.  As if the rest of the year isn’t difficult enough, this season is a harried frenzy of  maniacal gift purchasing and ‘quality time’.  During this season it can be quite entertaining to simply observe, yet that can quickly turn into something more painful when you end up unwillingly involved.

I spent the majority of today asking the same question worded differently to break up the monotony.  “What can I assist you in finding today?” “Are we your first or last stop today?”  “Who are we shopping for today?”  After customer servicing for over eight hours, I didn’t want to hear my own voice anymore.

Near the end of my shift I saw a lady exhibiting ‘the look’.  Anyone with retail experience knows the look I speak of.  The eyebrows draw in together.  Eyes sort of squint and look left and right, scanning for something that isn’t there.  The lips press together in contemplation or frustration, and if they are really intent, they will raise a hand and beckon you to them.  I approached with a smile and friendly, “What are we looking for today?”  Her husband and young adult son enter the aisle with her as she says, “Pig ears.”  I walk her to the product, saying that if she should need any further assistance she need only let us know.

As I am nearing the exit of this interaction her husband asks if they are ‘good’.  I grin and respond, “I really don’t know.  I’ve never tried one myself, but most dogs seem to like them quite a bit.”  Not appearing to appreciate my attempt at humor, he asks again, specifying their likeness to rawhide.  I explain that though they do have skin, unlike rawhide, they are more cartilaginous.  My use of so many syllables must have blown his mind, as the remainder of our conversation included his sarcastic use of the word cartilaginous numerous more times.  As if to let me know that I’d spoken beyond my caste , he enunciated each syllable while describing several other toys and treats.  “Is this plastic or is it cartilaginous?”  “Do dogs prefer these rubber toys, or something more cartilaginous?” He later used it while being chatty with the cashier.  Between his snide comments, I managed to slide in something resembling a semi-apology for over-speaking, saying that I merely like words that call things what they are….and I left it at that.