TALES FROM EAST TEXAS/Carol Countryman
Fractured Christmas Memories
I remember that Christmas long ago when my family sat huddled around the
fireplace waiting for papa to make it in from the coal mines. We hadn't
seen him in some time, as he was working long hours far away to earn the
few dollars he could during the depression. Mary Ellen decorated our tree
with a bird's nest she had found, while John Boy made certain the youngest,
Elizabeth, would have a doll for Christmas. Grandpa was sneaking into the
widow's "recipe" ...
Wait! That wasn't my family. That family hailed from Walton's Mountain and
Earl Hamner's pen. My family settled in Dysfunction Junction, a very remote
spot in East Texas where a family's idiosyncrasies and, well, their idiots,
are carefully hidden behind manicured lawns and azalea bushes and the family
photo. A place where Christmas time is the culmination of all the joyful
weirdness that could possibly infiltrate a family.
Until recently our family had always gathered at my parents' house for Christmas,
but circumstances and a restraining order forced us to move last year's
festivities to my country home where there are far fewer neighbors.
I awakened early Christmas morning hoping to get a head start on dinner
preparations so I could relax and enjoy my family. It's also wise to stuff
a turkey's butt when you're not awake enough to realize just how gross it
is. I scowled as I stepped over Uncle Santa, remembering how he had over-imbibed
the night before on eggnog. Next year, there will be more egg, less nog.
At least I was able to take him for $200 in the traditional Christmas Eve
marshmallow roast and poker fest.
Bleary-eyed, I made my way to the kitchen, which I barely recognized. My
first thought of the morning was that a bomb had exploded in my kitchen,
leaving behind bits and pieces of Doritos and salami and unidentifiable
processed foodstuff. I noticed that the ants looked totally satisfied, their
tiny little arms clasped in solidarity as they broke bread, gave thanks,
and sang "Kumbaya" around the stove's pilot light.
Coffee. I need lots and lots of coffee.
I saw the coffee pot gleaming before me, tantalizing me. So close, yet so
far away. Dreamlike, I ran in slow-motion toward it like a long-lost lover.
Closer, and closer ... its shiny sterling base winking at me, its spout
calling out my name. I was almost there when--KABOOM! I slid on my daughter's
skates, a present she had snuck into and opened before anyone had awakened,
stashing the loot behind the counter. My head hit the table and split open
like an over-ripe melon. My last coherent thought was, hey, maybe they'll
hospitalize me. Vacation!
They didn't, and my entire family was there by the time I got back from
the hospital. The turkey was not stuffed, the kitchen was not clean, and
Uncle Santa was nursing a hang-over and drinking "hair of the dog that
bit him." Kids were fighting over toys, there wasn't enough batteries,
a cigarette had melted a hole in my carpet, my father was telling the kids
to "pull his finger," and, just as she does every year, my mother
thought it funny to see the children's reactions when she pretended her
teeth were falling out by bending down to kiss them, then pushing her false
teeth out with her tongue. My daughter is still in therapy.
But my family, my sweet, loving family, proved to me that day that they
couldn't live without me. "You better get to workin' on that bird,"
my husband said as he hugged me, "'cause we'll wanna eat just as soon
as the game's over." And, "I was gonna cook it for you, Darling,"
my mother said of the turkey, "but seeing that this is your first holiday
to host, I knew you'd want to do it." And, "Mom! Kyle's listening
to Marilyn Manson and wearing your shoes again!" my daughter yelled
from upstairs, "He looks like Satan in drag!"
Ahhh, Christmas. Thank God it only comes once a year.
Carol Countryman is a freelance troublemaker in a very small East Texas
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