Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Memories Thought Out Loud

My early Christmas memories seem, looking back, pretty wholesome and festive with family, family, family.  When I was young, oh, say single digits up to age 10, it was always a long drive and an overnight stay.  The drive was about 200 miles, filled with car games, fighting with my younger brother and carsickness from my dad's smoking.  (Ironically I would grow up to be quite proficient in the smoking arts.)  I have plenty of memories of having to listen to crappy music and my father's arm flailing wildly into the back seat while he swears and threatens to pull over while my mom wails and cries, trying to stop it all before we have an accident.  After I was 11 we had moved much closer to the relatives-ground-zero, within around 45 miles, so the car trips weren't so bad, relatively speaking.  By then there were 3 of us kids in the back seat, my little sister usually got the 'hump', the middle back seat separating me and my brother and besides, we had seniority for the windows!  I remember always picking the seat behind the driver - see the aforementioned arm flailing wildly, I was more out of reach.

There was always two stops, both my grandparent's houses.  Both lived in the same town, basically my parents' hometown, and near where most of both of the rather large extended families lived.  My mom's side was always a bit more religious.  A bit meaning borderline fanatical.  When we stayed there at times other than Christmas (unless we stayed late enough) we always had to recite the whole damn rosary after dinner.  I do have fond memories of - because we were made to kneel somewhere - kneeling on the staircase with my uncle Art, a young teenager at the time, our fronts out of view while we stealthily read Richie Rich comic books and tried to set speed records of saying a whole 'Hail Mary' ten times when it was our turn.  There was always a large turnout that packed that small house for the Christmas celebration, but it always seemed to run smooth.  Dinner, check, cleanup, check, presents, check, cleanup, check, football, check, and maybe some euchre and seeing who naps first, check and check.  On this side of the family I was the second oldest grandkid and my youngest aunt was less than a year older than I, so you can see the age range and catholic influence there.  Speaking of catholic influence, I do remember having to go to Christmas services and when we were there for overnights when I was younger I believe we went to their church, either on Christmas day or the night before.  When I was a bit older and it was a shorter drive we went to our own church before a day trip to the relatives' town for the holiday.

My other grandparents' house, my dad's side, was a bit smaller, well, if not smaller it seemed like a bigger house.  On this side I was the oldest grandkid.  I had two aunts who were teenagers and they had a pool table downstairs - guess where I liked to be!  Everything ran pretty much as it did at my other grandparents' house, like clockwork, year after year.  All the traditional roles were reinforced, women did the food and dishes and men drank beer, watched football, scratched and napped, year after year.   Looking back from then and up to now, I am glad I have those memories.  I know that I don't see many of my aunts or uncles at all anymore, but with the families I'm from I know I could get the benefit of the doubt from them if ever I needed it.  That's just from the way it was back then.  These days, although both my grandmothers are luckily still around, those big family gatherings have splintered into each family's own gathering with their own kids and grandkids.  And that is as it should be.

When I think back now as I write this, I remember mostly all the good.  All the presents I received, good and bad (read: toys or clothes), and I could start to tell who really gave a shit as I got a bit older.  But I can't ignore the bad memories, either.  The hell car rides, endless waiting, tired crankiness and the yelling and tension that always seemed to  accompany these things, usually on the ride to and from.  I'm not sure if any of this has anything to do with me being agnostic (practically full atheist now) or my disdain for religious, commercial holiday gatherings that seemed to start with my adulthood or not.  I do try to remember the good times more than the obvious bad stuff, but that is selective memory for me.  I'm not sure where I was going with this.  I was inspired into thought by a Diamond Geezer post and I just thought writing it out might help somehow.  Now it's time for bed.  I hope it's not a tough read, I'm not actually a real writer.  Happy Holidays, all.

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