Three mini Christmas trees were staked to a fence outside of a discount Mattress World.
“What, are they trying to warn off the other trees?” I asked from the back of the car. “Run! Run while you still can?” I laughed maniacally.
It was Christmas Eve 2012.
The strangeness had only just begun.
We arrived at the tiny, cramped rowhome that is my grandparents’ house. It was lovingly decorated and lit, my mentally retarded aunt successfully having taped all ornaments and stockings to the stair banister.
The tree had ornaments too, of course.
“You’re drooling all over your Christmas dress, honey,” my cousin told her nine month old baby. It’s all right. There were a plethora of doting aunts, uncles, and great aunts to assist with the bib.
Which the baby ripped off immediately as she gave us a look like: really? really, guys?
My aunt Monique brought her boyfriend-of-sorts. Friend. Boyfriend. Oh hell, no one really cared. He’s a fun guy around the dinner table that gets our sense of humor. And he also taught us the Stick game.
“This is the year of honesty,” my aunt raised her hands in the air. “This is the year I speak my mind.”
“Was every year before this the year of the liar?” My cousin mock whispers across the table.
“Julia, what did you do to your hair?” My aunt Monique asked suddenly.
She held a hand up sideways in the air between us. “I can’t figure it out. If I look at you from this way, neck up, the hair is fine. If I look at you neck down, the dress is fine. But red hair and a teal dress? It looks terrible.”
A stocking plopped to the floor, its Scotch Taped existence on its last leg.
The table erupted into laughter, including me. “Oh, this is the year of honesty, huh?” I managed.
“The year she stops being nice,” my cousin said through tears of laughter.
It became the running joke of the night, other partygoers lifting their hand up periodically as they said: “you look great neck up but the rest is terrible.”
My mom replaced the stocking on the banister, securing the Scotch Tape once more.
My father, the overprotective sweetheart that he is, took me aside and said: “honey, I want you to know that you don’t have to stop going to the salon and cut your own hair to save money. I will pay for it if you want.”
“Do I look that bad??” I shrieked to the room.
Well, at least my boyfriend responded appropriately with a text of “you look beautiful.”
Christmas Eve as usual, as my cousin called from Florida and we shouted replies across the table.
“It’s 75 degrees here today,” she said over speakerphone.
“It’s snowing here, does that make you feel bad?” My mom shouted back.
“Haha,” she said, which I read to mean “no.”
Gifts were exchanged. My Babci retrieved an old metal lunch tray which she said was for the baby. It was Strawberry Shortcake, and if you can remember what that is, then good.
“It was mine as a baby!” My mom said.
My cousins interjected in between raucous laughter.
“Throw it away!”
“It was mine too!” My aunt replied, banging her fork on the table. “I want it!” She is just doing it to rile up my grandmother, which works.
“I didn’t get a gift for the baby! It’s for the baby!” My Babci shouted.
The baby in question banged her fists on the metal surface, giggling as she drummed away.
“That’s right!” I called, “little musician, yeah!” I was overly excited about this.
“It’ll be great until she closes her fingers in the tray accidentally,” my eldest cousin said, “which is why they stopped making metal lunch trays.”
My Babci gave all of my aunts her famous cherry Bon Bon recipe. I can’t make you understand how valuable this recipe is to our family. Every big event had these confections. And last night we talked of having a bake off at last.
“I’ve been wanting this for years!” My aunt Carol caressed her copy.
My aunt Monique flipped out upon not receiving one.
“You don’t bake,” we tell her.
“But I should always get one! Mom has always been fair! She always gives us everything exactly the same!”
My Babci wordlessly hands her a copy.
“See? I’m happy now,” Monique said, sitting back in her chair.
“I did give you the cherries with stems,” my Babci pointed out, “since you’ll use it for cocktails and not baking.”
“Hang on,” my eldest cousin shook his head, “you guys have been asking for this recipe for years and you just now get it for Christmas? She jipped you out a legit gift! She just photocopied the recipe and put it in a bag!”
“Not only that,” I told my cousin, “but she says she didn’t include the little tweaks she made over the years.”
“What?? Or brandy,” my cousin said. “See? Not even the brandy for the recipe.”
“Hey yeah,” my aunt Carol said, “where’s the brandy?”
My aunt Monique’s boyfriend was reading the recipe aloud. “1/2 cup brandy,”
“No,” my Babci said, “more like a cup. I just, you know,” she tilted her hand like it held a tipping bottle.
“You drink the bottle?” I joked.
“Let sit for a few hours,” the boyfriend said.
“She means sit with the bottle,” Carol laughed.
“Ohhh, that explains it!” I said.
“I’m going to let my cherries soak for a week,” aunt Carol grinned, “Soaked in brandy!”
“Let the cook off begin!”
I will keep you, dear readers, apprised of that situation as it continues.
The evening wound down, my eldest cousin and I sipping Alize out of tiny Christmas mugs while we talked of his time with the Coast Guard in Kuwait.
“Crazy times,” he said, shaking his head. “Crazy.”
There and here, apparently.
The stocking fell again.
We didn’t put it back up.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and I hope you all have found stories and excitement of your own.
More stories to follow as they happen and by god, they will happen! My family is nuts and always provides!