Officially, Rocky, Ruby Sue, Francis, Eddie, Catherine, or even Margo and Todd, were not in attendance, but the family gathering was nevertheless “national” in scope with travels originating from New Jersey, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, South Bend, Chicago and California. In all honesty, the celebration wasn’t of Christmas but rather of Thanksgiving, and a joint 60th birthday party of the host couple was to be thrown in for good measure. Over the course of these few days together, more than a little lampooning would take place as all felt free to periodically poke fun at each other with a delicate dose of sarcasm.
Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings and multiple variations of in-laws graced the doors. On my wife’s side of the family it can be argued they “set standards that no family event can ever live up to.” Collectively, they are the last “true family man,” woman and child.
Space was at a premium, closets converted to bedrooms and luggage strewn upon any open floor space.
Meandering below the awkwardly configured tables of varying sizes set up in the basement for Thanksgiving dinner were four domesticated canines scampering hither and yon. They were “all part of the experience” and added to the mayhem amid the 33 adults and children in attendance. Thankfully none of the four-legged creatures bore the name Snots though one was “edible” with the given name of Snickers. As far as I could tell, that sheepish pup had no strain of “Mississippi leg hound in him.” If a “quart of Pennzoil” was anywhere to be found, it was out of reach. I wore long pants anyway.
We weren’t far from the Windy City either as we convened in nearby Valparaiso, Indiana. There were countless good-looking vehicles nicely parked in the driveway and along of the curb of this suburban cul-de-sac, but thankfully none resembled a “tenement on wheels” for someone to enviously fall in love with.
To my knowledge, no road rage was admitted to by all of us weary travelers from afar. “Eat my road grit, liver lips” or being “stuck under a truck” were never topics of conversation around this dinner table.
That “most important of Christmas symbols” had not yet been secured, but in due time when it was, with a spacious great room and a cathedral ceiling, there was no worry our host “overestimated the height of his living room ceiling.” And no, I can’t tell you “what the first tree displayed at the White House was.”
The Grings, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, and nothing like the Griswolds, served as host, and after all invitations had been sent out, may have forgotten “how difficult it’s gonna be having everybody in the house.” Rest assured, all present would be family and “not strangers off the street.”
Sleeping arrangements required an Excel spreadsheet to figure out and it turned out it wasn’t “indecent to ask the grandparents to stay at a hotel,” as my wife and I did exactly that. Even with such close living quarters, no one was heard saying, “Get off me, you little fungus.”
My brother-in-law works in the natural gas business so there was no need for a real “Yule log” in the fireplace, “good golly!” Periodic glimpses of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from New York City could be seen on the big screen TV but the sound was off so we never heard if “Rudolph’s red nose took out a third floor window at Marshall Field’s” or not.
Though our host has a penchant for manicuring his lawn to perfection and handling his landscape with kit gloves, his current health concerns, at present, curtailed employing his expertise in exterior illumination. Thankfully the neighbors two doors down had theirs done professionally as a couple panel trucks were parked out front for most of Friday. Unwilling to “freeze my baguettes off” outside counting to see if there were indeed “250 strands of lights,” no evidence existed that “the little lights are not twinkling” and we all agreed it enhanced the holiday spirit.
With Black Friday part of the mix, there was plenty of shopping to be done, and unlike Aunt Bethany, there was no interest in taking any things “from the house and giving them as presents.” I don’t recall if, given our heightened canine population, any large bags of dog food were purchased which was “just a real nice surprise.”
With this cherished American holiday, the Pledge of Allegiance could have certainly been in order, but instead the hosts invited each guest, before dinner, to pass around an Indian corn, peel off a couple kernels, and offer up brief prayers of grateful thanksgivings.
Our extensive clan needed two big birds to feed the masses, and thanks to those in the kitchen, when they cut into the moist turkey, we were “all in for a very big treat!”
The bonus had nothing to do with a swimming pool or a “one-year membership in the Jelly of the Month Club,” even if there is a claim the latter is “the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.” This time of year, “it’s the Christmas star” that matters. It’s “not bonuses or gifts or turkeys or trees.”
So, “Merry Christmas, Clark,” and happy 30th anniversary to you and your company. You were right in declaring that the “Most enduring traditions of (any) season are best enjoyed in the warm embrace of kith and kin.”
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org