Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Ruins

My sister ruined Christmas. She didn’t mean to, at first, but by the time she was finished she had totally demolished it, leaving it strewn across the floor like a big, fancily wrapped present attacked by a hyperactive 5 year-old on a Snickers bar and fruit juice binge. Susan started her destruction three years ago, with a slightly frantic phone call to my parents on Christmas Eve. She was at the airport but she had some problems that caused her to miss her flight. At first, she didn’t say why she had missed it so we were left to imagine all kinds of things- she overslept, traffic to the airport was bad, she and Kevin had a fight before leaving the house, she went to the wrong airport or maybe there was a pilot’s strike. We had no idea and since I have a vivid imagination, you can guess what kinds of theories I came up with. A few calls later we found out the actual story. She was at the airport about to get on the plane for North Carolina but security had stopped her because her bag was supposedly too big to allow through as a carry-on. Of course, the agents at the check-in area didn’t warn her that this would be an issue. No, it was only the security folks who thought it was troublesome even though they aren’t the ones who operate the planes or load the baggage.

This meant that Susan had to go back to the check-in area to check her bag then go through security again. Naturally they didn’t allow her to go to the front of the line after checking her bag. Nope, she had to go to the end of the line, which caused her to miss her flight. That’s when she called us to tell us the news. Now she was on standby for the next available flight. Since it was Christmas Eve, you can imagine how many unoccupied seats there were. In other words, she didn’t make the 1:00 flight, the 2:00 flight, the 3:30 flight or even the 4:00 flight. Each time she called to update us on her status she was a bit more hysterical. The four of us- my sister, my parents and me- have always been together on Christmas Eve. I don’t recall a single time that wasn’t the case. When my Dad was in Vietnam, there may have been some missed Christmases but I was too young to realize it. When he was stationed in Alaska without us, there may have been a missed Christmas but I was old enough by then that I probably would have remembered that happening.

So basically every Christmas that Susan and I can recall, we went to my parent’s house and celebrated. We followed the same rituals every year. It started with listening to Christmas songs while eating nuts and oranges during the day on Christmas Eve, a ham dinner for supper, opening one present that night then poking and prodding the rest of them before bedtime to see if we can guess what they were. The next morning we checked out our stockings, often having to guess who got which one since they didn’t have names. This was a bit easier when our dog Perky was still around because the one with a rawhide chew in it was usually his. Then we opened the rest of the presents after breakfast, including those that “Santa” had brought overnight. We would call relatives on the speakerphone, thank them for any gifts and wish them a Merry Christmas before tucking into a big dinner, usually a turkey dinner. Then it was time to relax for a bit, maybe read a book and eat stocking candy or perhaps watch some of the Christmas specials on television. In the last few years it also meant Susan or I heading to the airport late in the afternoon- me for a flight home and Susan to meet Kevin at her in-laws’ house in Michigan.

Now those traditions were in jeopardy. If Susan could not get on a standby flight, everything goes down the drain. We can’t give her our presents, hers are in that no-longer-a-carry-on bag. The food is getting cold, and poking at presents isn’t as fun without her. By 5:00, with no good news from Susan, we figured the worst. By 6:00 gloom had descended. My parents were stuck with just me- not a spunky attention-craving daughter, no successful and engaged child to share career and marital advice with. Nope, just me- the quiet one who doesn’t say all that much and isn’t as interesting. Then at 7:00, we got another call. Susan had made it onto a flight and would be at Charlotte airport around 8:00. Christmas was saved! The traditions had been trampled on but the holiday was still salvageable. It was the Goodman family equivalent of the Grinch pulling the sleigh back from the edge of the cliff. There was much rejoicing in our Whoville.

Then came the next Christmas. The following year, Susan must have been over-confident about squeaking out last year’s last-minute miracle because she gave herself an even bigger handicap this time. On the day of her flight, she wasn’t even in the same state. She was in Arizona, driving back to Colorado from a work meeting. She had planned to fly back to Denver and pick up her suitcases from home before flying to North Carolina but a huge snowstorm in Denver had closed the airport. She could rent a car and get back home earlier than she could by waiting for in-bound flights to resume. I was already at my parent’s house since I normally get there a few days before Christmas so I can interact with them before being overshadowed by Susan. It was amusing to hear Susan call and give us updates about what state she was in, whether the airport was open yet and if her flight was back on schedule. By the time all those things aligned, there was no time left for us. If she came to North Carolina, she would only be able to stay part of Christmas Day before leaving to catch her flight to Michigan. She would be able to keep the second leg of her Christmas tour intact though if she cancelled on us. I was a bit disappointed but it made sense. I would probably do the same thing if I was in that situation. Heck, if it was me I wouldn’t even try to do a back-to-back, not with the limited amount of vacation time she had left these last couple of years. I would flip a coin and see who to visit this year: heads- the Goodman’s, tails- the Schaub’s and if it lands on its’ side then me and the hubby are going to Italy by ourselves.

I think of this second Christmas dilemma as the speakerphone Christmas because that’s how we celebrated Christmas morning. Mom, Dad and I unwrapped the presents that were there with Susan listening to us on the speaker phone and she unwrapped some gifts on her end. There was no fighting over where to sit at the dinner table or who got to eat all the stuffing or whether it was time to stop peeking at the presents. Mom told me which stocking was mine, I couldn’t guess Susan’s presents before she opened them and Susan and I didn’t go for a walk around the neighborhood with our folks. Our traditional celebration had now been hit by a bus, sent to Intensive Care and was eating liquid food through a tube. We were experiencing more folly than holly jolly.

Christmas couldn’t get much worse, right? I didn’t say that out loud at the time, I only thought it but someone must have heard because the following year the good news was mixed with a big dose of bad news. The bad news was that Susan wasn’t coming for the holiday. She wasn’t even planning to come, let alone getting waylaid by weather, security guards, delays or timetables. She was staying in Denver and ending the Christmas traditions of her own accord. No more family festivities, no more rituals, no more quality time. I had upheld my end of the ceremonies, coming home every year, not expecting others to come to me, not getting married. (Wait, should I consider that a virtue or just stupidity?) My parents also did their part- no Christmas trip to Europe, no bizarre holiday in Florida, no nursing homes. Nope, it was Susan who ended things. She pulled the plug on our Christmas which was on life support. She’s the one I can point my finger at and say “Ah! It was you!” Her excuse was pretty good though- that was the good news. She was eight months pregnant. Baby Brendan was due in January so she couldn’t very well get on a plane at the end of December, nor would she want to. If anything, we should go to her but we didn’t. I’m not quite sure why not- something to do with bonding time with the in-laws- but we instead tried something new.

Mom, Dad and I joined Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill in Texas for Christmas, along with my cousins Alan & Wesley and his wife and Bill’s son and Bill’s “foster” son and girlfriend. Oh, and four dogs, an RV, and a timeshare condo an hour away. Yep, it was definitely something new. A whole different kind of family experience but that’s another story. Today I just wanted to look at how Christmas was taken out in the alley and beaten up by Susan. I also wanted to thank her for that because sometimes you need to try different things and go outside your comfort zone. I really enjoyed the Christmas with my other relatives; it was an interesting change of pace. This year looks to be unusual as well. My parents are staying home while Susan and I go to Michigan to spend the holiday with her in-laws. Again, I’m not quite sure how this all came about because the original plan was for all of us to go to Susan and if that didn’t work out then it would be the parent’s and I in Florida while she stayed in Denver. No, I don’t know why Florida was under consideration. I don’t decide these things, I just report them. As it happened, Susan’s invitation to me to come to Denver was converted to an invitation to join her in Michigan which I readily accepted. This means that I’ll get to see my nephew for the first time and also spend more than a few minutes around Kevin and his parents. I’ve asked them not to get me anything because I would have no idea what to get them in return so the holiday will really be about spending time with people and I’m happy about that. Maybe some new traditions can start. Plus, there is a much greater change of having a white Christmas in Michigan than there would have been in North Carolina or Florida.

I think the only thing that I’ll be sad about will be the fact that Mom won’t be making the stuffing. She does it exactly how I like. It’s better to fight with your sister over how much stuffing to have then to have all you want of some that is no good. I’m still holding out hope that whoever does Christmas dinner makes it right or that we go out to eat at some place like Boston Market where the odds of good stuffing rise exponentially. So I’m actually excited about Christmas this year rather than just being generally happy about the holiday. Of course that means it could turn out horrible and somehow end in bloodshed and burnt Christmas trees but I’m choosing to be optimistic. If I won’t be home for the holidays, at least I’ll be entertained for the holidays. This might even be the start of a new tradition, which is no traditions. I’ll let you know how it goes.


Mimi Nowland said...

Yeah for blogs! This is just as good as your year in review book. I do not like change very much, I am getting better at it though. Christmas traditions were sacred in my family, but then my older siblings started getting married and you know the rest. I was 11 when my older sister got married, so I had to accept the change much earlier. By the way, I LOVE STUFFING TOO! It is my favorite part of thanksgiving and christmas dinner.

Richard Goodman said...

I went to my sister's in-laws in Michigan for Christmas and had two wonderful things as a result. First, there was snow for Christmas! Snow on the ground and snow gently falling outside the windows for two of the days. It's been a long time since I saw a white Christmas. Second, not only did we have a turducken, but her mother-in-law made a big bowl of stuffing and it was fantastic! (and the crab claws, nut bread and beef tenderloin weren't bad either.) A nice Christmas!