When I was growing up I thought we had a somewhat disfunctional family. In a way it sort of was but when I got older and met people who really were from disfunctional families I figured that mine was only semi-disfunctional and was mostly just loud, hectic and chaotic.
There is something about special occasions - birthdays, holidays, important family gatherings, vacations - that seemed to bring out my family's special talent for turning things into complete shit. Thanksgiving dinner wouldn't have been complete if my oldest brother and my dad hadn't started their let's-push-each-other's-buttons screaming match. My birthday, my sister's birthday and my oldest brother's birthday are on the 18th, 19th and 20th of January so there was keen competition between us to gain the most attention - and you get attention when you're the loudest. And how we managed to stuff six people in a station wagon and drive 800 or so miles on vacation each year and not maim each other is beyond me. But Christmas really brought out the hectic nature of my family. Some of my most vivid memories surround the chaos of the Christmas holiday season.
~ When I was four my father was on the screen porch attempting to saw the bottom of the Christmas tree into a shape that would fit into the ancient tree stand we had. The saw slipped and my father gashed the back of his hand. He came in bleeding like a stuck hog, my mother hustled him into the car to take him to the hospital and my then eleven-year-old sister was put in charge of me and our two brothers. The boys were fascinated by the gore and spent time predicting that Daddy would have to have his hand amputated. Being four-years-old I didn't know what "amputated" meant. I asked.
Cut to my parents coming home an hour later to me in a hysterical crying fit because my brothers accurately but without any tact defined "amputated" as "chop off his hand and he'll only have a stub".
~ Santa Claus presented me one Christmas with a blackboard and a box of colored chalk. I loved the board's smooth black surface and while tempted to try it out, I kept the box of chalk closed and just admired my gift in its pristine state. A few hours later I came into the livingroom where our Christmas bounty was still surrounding the tree to find my sister writing on my blackboard. How dare she! That blackboard was mine
. I not only wasn't going to be the first one to write on it but she was getting it dirty
and she didn't even ask permission first! I screeched for her to stop and lit into her for daring to spoil my gift. Shrieking and whining and crying ensued. And when she could get in a word edgewise she told me she only wanted to write "Happy birthday, Jesus" on the blackboard. I had ruined Jesus' birthday greetings. It's hard to enjoy Christmas after you've spoiled the baby Jesus' birthday greetings.
~ My father worked for an engineering company and on occasion he would be out of town for weeks at a time to oversee projects on off-shore oil rigs. It was the day before Christmas Eve and my mother had been furiously getting things ready for the holiday and my father's homecoming that evening. Cleaning, baking, cooking, keeping four rowdy kids from killing each other - my mom was doing it all and was exhausted. She finally had a few minutes to get a bath and get ready to head to the airport to pick up my father and we were admonished to stay out of trouble while she was in the tub.
One of my brothers decided this would be a good time to take a pencil and throw it up in the tree to see it plunk down the branchs until it landed on the ground. Over and over he did this until he didn't see the pencil come down. Convinced that it was stuck in the branches my brother hauled out the step stool and began hunting for the pencil. I knew better. I could see the pencil laying among the gifts under the tree and told my brother as much. I, in turn, was told that I didn't know what I was talking about and to shut up. There was more pencil searching, more advisement that the pencil was not among the brances, more yelling to shut up and this continued until...
You knew that was coming, didn't you?
There was swearing coming from the bathroom where my mother had been seeking ten minutes of peace and in what seemed like a matter of seconds she came flying out, towel wrapped around her and saw that our tree had fallen on the tile floor and virtually every glass ornament was smashed.
It's been reported that the screams from my mother were heard all the way in Memphis but I have no confirmation of that. And I was convinced that she was going to brain my brother for this stunt but there was no time. It was late Saturday afternoon and as this was back in the day when stores closed around 5 or 6pm on Saturdays and weren't open at all on Sundays, we had to hurry and get to the five-and-dime to try to scrounge up some ornaments to replace what had been broken. And
get the tree cleaned up, upright, and re-decorated. And
fetch my father from the airport. Each Christmas after that saw us decorating the tree and pointing out which ornaments were the emergency purchase dime store ones.
As loud and hectic as my family was and as crazy as celebrations could turn out, I don't have bad memories of Christmas. I love Christmas now as much as I did when I was a kid and these memories of chaos have been smoothed over like a pebble in a riverbed. They're now stories we remind each other of when we talk of Christmases past and we laugh at how we were in those days.
Our quiet Christmas celebrations we now have seem almost dull by comparison.