There was also the Christmas Eve Wine-and-Philosophy Slam, which led directly to The Hangover That Ruined Christmas. This was not my hangover, which was impressive in its own right. This particular prize goes to one of my relatives, who was already Christmas cheerful on the 24th when we arrived after an eight hour drive through Noah's flood. After getting me a glass of wine to calm my nerves, he continued to open giant bottles long after anyone with an iota of sense had gone to bed. My brother and I, not wanting to be rude, kept him company. I was the only one in the group that was up both before and after noon.
We spent the day after Christmas at an impromptu family reunion, which was both welcomed and ill-timed. I saw relatives I had not seen in years, and some I had yet to meet. I'm sure it will be the last time I see some of them in person. But it was clear that virtually everyone in the room was exhausted, and we struggled to do much more than smile at each other.
The second half of the week was spent at a combined Christmas and 50th wedding anniversary celebration with the in-law clan. The Wife found a great big house on a lake to rent in hopes that we could all spread out enough that we might not try to kill each other. Her plan was largely successful.
Throughout the week there were the inevitable slights, snubs, snide comments and bruised feelings that are part and parcel of family gatherings. Someone said a couple of weeks ago that our families are hard-wired to get on our nerves,** and this year was more evidence in support of this theory. Each holiday together features incidents or comments that are so bizarre or surreal that I wonder if they really happened at all, and immediately begin convincing myself that I must have misremembered or misinterpreted. These people are so like me in so many ways that normal social conventions and defenses don't work. But they are so different and "other" that sometimes it feels like they (or I) might be from another planet.
We drove home yesterday through light snow and then heavy rain, and The Wife is already showing signs of coming down with something. I won't even talk about the thing with the cat-sitter.*** It is easy at such times to swear never again and try to put the whole thing behind us. But someone way smarter than I am said once that life is too short to live in a way that makes us wish it were shorter, so I try to find some value and enjoyment in every experience.
My late father's best friend, and practically a second father to me, never saw this Christmas, and his wife and children spent the holiday mourning the loss of their patriarch. Another dear and lifelong friend spent most of the week in the hospital after her husband's surprise emergency surgery. They face tremendous challenges this coming year. We took group pictures at the family reunion, and the first shot was of my parents' generation. When my mother looked at the picture she said, "Surely there are more of us left than that."
The end of the year is a time for looking forward, but for me it is also a time to savor the fullness -- and yes, the bitterness -- of life. Every holiday season is an opportunity that will not be repeated, and I will try not to waste a single one. Time I spend with my relatives helps me understand them -- and myself -- better, and somehow makes me feel less alone. I learned things. I played in snow. I beat my brother-in-law at pool. I got an electric wine opener. It's all good.
Happy New Year, everyone. Say goodbye to the twenty-oh's. I predict this next year is going to be interesting.
_________________________________* Think brightly colored carabiners and LED flashlights.
** I think it was Dr. Drew on GMA. I am very discriminating about where I obtain my medical information.
*** The cats are fine.
*** The cats are fine.