After Nancy and her noise machine left our house for their motel, Toney and I started working on Christmas Eve dinner. I was assigned certain jobs, and performed them with a beer nearby. And Toney’s brother commenced to downing mixed drinks like Dean Martin, and just hanging around the kitchen.
At one point I was asked to peel about a hundred pounds of potatoes, and he was there the whole time with a highball attached to his right hand, smiling and not really saying much. What the hell, man? I kept checking, out of the corner of my eye, to see if he was still there. And he always was.
Just his gigantic presence raised the temperature by about twenty degrees. I had sweat pouring off me, because of his heat-pump of a gut jutting out into the middle of the room. I tried to strike up a conversation a few times, and he answered in a loud booming voice, everything etched in a defiant I’m-a-badass-deep-down tone.
I wished he’d just go to the living room, and let me cut my damn potatoes. All that smiling and loading dock cockiness was making me uneasy.
Toney did most of the cooking, but I did a hell of a lot of the prep work. And it turned out well: one of the better feasts we’ve hosted. And Sunshine, the diabetic, was hoovering up cookies the whole time, and not lifting a jittery finger to help. In fact, nobody offered to lend a hand. I’m surprised they weren’t sitting there with napkins tucked into their collars, pounding their knives and forks on the table.
When Nancy returned the volume ratcheted up again, and alcohol was being consumed with enthusiasm. We had dinner, and sat around the living room as everybody talked in a tenor usually reserved for World Series games at Yankee Stadium, often at the same time. I don’t do well with chaos, even after tearing through most of a Saranac Winter Sampler, and was completely rigid with tension.
At least three times Toney’s brother hollered, “How long are you guys going to keep that tree up?! I’m famous for taking mine down on December 26 every year! December 26, and not a day later!! Oh, all my friends know that the day after Christmas, my tree and all the decorations are gone!! You can’t even tell they were ever there!!”
He repeated this again and again, and acted like he was some kind of hero because he took down his Christmas tree on 12/26. I think he was expecting applause, or the key to the city.
And Nancy told everyone about their living tree, with the big root ball at the bottom, and how they moved it from their front room before coming to Pennsylvania, and planted it – as a family. She always adds that to the end of her stories – as a family – and tries to pretend it was a wonderful experience, full of learning and love and deep emotions. But I’ve seen them operate as a family, and the only deep emotions are blood-red meltdowns, and Nossy yelling “SHUT UP! SHUT UP THIS INSTANT!!”
During the evening Nancy brought in presents for their kids, and they were all wrapped in weirdness. There was re-used paper from previous Christmases, newspaper, tissue (toilet?) paper, and repurposed Priority Mail envelopes. It looked like a Mailboxes, Etc. in there. Festive!
Nancy told a funny story (funny, because it pissed-off her mother) about them taking Sunshine and Mumbles out to dinner in North (or is it South?) Carolina. When it was Sunny’s time to order she said to the waiter, “Yeah, what’s the story with this half baked chicken? Does that mean you only cook it for half the normal time, or something?”
The waiter was reportedly trying not to bust out laughing, as he explained that it wasn’t a half-baked chicken, but half of a baked chicken. Everybody in the room roared, and Sunshine just sat their, stoic and strong against the many injustices she is forced to endure.
Then she wouldn’t talk for the rest of the evening. Heh.
After Nancy and the gang left again (they’ve had it with Sunshine, and we didn’t see much of them), we all started getting ready for bed. And Sunny apparently CRANKED the heat in the family room, which is directly beneath our bedroom. She probably had the windows open, too. And if you think I’m joking, you would be sadly mistaken.
It was like an oven in our room, and I tossed and turned all night. I drifted in and out of consciousness, but never really got to a place where it did me any good. Toney was wallowing in the sheets, as well, and it was a horrible “sleep.”
Sometime during the night I got up to use the bathroom, and saw Toney’s brother downstairs sitting straight-up on the couch, with a PS3 controller in his hands, his head ratcheted completely backward, and his mouth hanging wide open. I wished I had some beanbags, so I could go down there and practice for when the carnival comes back to town.
And at 6:05 am both boys were in our room, wanting to get the festivities started. I felt like I’d been dragged behind a truck, but we eventually hoisted ourselves off the platform and shuffled downstairs.
“You’re going to wake up Mom, right?” Toney said with a smirk. I laughed, and started making a pot of coffee without answering.
And I’ll pick it up there, next time.
Thanks for reading!