There comes a point in life when it’s possible to become jaded to the charms of family Christmas gatherings. They’re a tad repetitious year after year, with menus etched in stone, and guest lists only changed by birth, marriage, divorce and death.
And just when I thought there’s nothing new under the solstice sun — and I was destined to ride out the longest winter’s nights of my remaining years on a tide of deviled eggs, roast turkey and gooey sweets — something astonishing developed. Just when I thought I had lost the capacity for astonishment, I learned that someone in the heart of my family has decided to take up smoking weed as a centerpiece of their retirement plans.
Of course, there are people in any family for whom this would not be particularly surprising news. This is not one of those people. This is a person who, as far as I know, has heretofore shown not the slightest interest in the devil’s lettuce.
With this opening salvo, my mom’s Christmas party on Tuesday night lurched from the gate with the ‘buckle your seat belt’ light already flashing brightly, and it didn’t stop until time to head home a few hours later. It wasn’t a bumpy night, but it sure was a hilarious one.
Which was not expected. My parents have hosted some festive celebrations in the past, some of them positively raucous, but the hilarity dimmed in 2009 when their oldest grandchild was killed in a car accident, and the good times crashed to a halt when Dad died suddenly in 2013. The gatherings moved to other locations. Having a party, particularly a Christmas party, in the house that Dad had practically built with his bare hands after he was gone was just too painful for some. And it made sense to go elsewhere. Some of their grandchildren now had houses that were larger and better equipped for entertaining large groups of people.
But Mom wanted a family Christmas party in her house, and from the moment she bought that ginormous can of green beans at Costco last month, I knew she was going to have one, come hell or high water. She baked a turkey, deviled dozens of eggs, and made one of those coconut cakes that are supposed to sit in the fridge for three days before you eat it. With the other things she cooked and the things people brought, it was quite a feast. Pretty much the same feast we always have.
But after the delicious, if unsurprising, dinner was eaten, and the gifts were opened, the real surprises began. Having noticed that a big dinner and a truckload of gifts are no longer enough for a successful Christmas party, Mom planned some entertainment.
No one knew what to think when she had someone pass out stacks of play money. The great big play money, bills about twice the size of real money, which was kind of surreal and goofy, and it was unclear to us why we were all sitting around her living room waving around big stacks of big money as we digested the Christmas turkey, but it was a fascinating visual, and soon enough, things became clear.
She had planned an auction, and had dragged a bunch of crap from her attic, from the basement, out of the cupboards, and got some of Dad’s stuff from his garage. In retrospect, this was a totally genius move on her part. She has been trying to divest some of the accumulated detritus of her life, without a great deal of success. You hear stories of families fighting over stuff, and putting post-it notes and string tags on the belongings of parents and grandparents in order to lay claim to them. But Mom has been having the opposite problem. Nobody will take the stuff. Whether from politeness and not wanting to be greedy, or simply from not wanting any more clutter, the divesting process has been problematic.
It took a while for the play money auction to heat up. Before it did, I snatched up a particularly ugly figurine of a horse at a water trough for only $100 without a single opposing bid. Mom said Dad received it as a gift. He had become interested in horses late in life, first riding with friends, then buying his own horse. And as someone who also took up horses later in life, I know people will give you horse stuff as gifts. I already have quite a collection of those plastic horses sold at tack shops that are so beloved by pre-teen girls. All of them have been gifts, and will keep my new $100 horse company.
There was general shock at a hundred dollar bid on one goofy item, but then the idea began to spread that this was a rare chance to be a baller. An opportunity to wave hundred dollar bills around pursuing useless fripperies without dipping into the grocery money.
My nephew spent $400 dollars or so on a set of shiny silver wrenches that his three-year-old son took a shine to. They would have cost him more, but no one could bear to outbid a child who had his heart set on something at Christmas. Upon receiving the wrenches and his dad turning over all of his play money to pay for them, the little boy promptly started giving them away. Turns out he’d only really wanted one. There was much joking that he should be selling the extras to replenish his dad’s cash supply, but Mom just gave him back his money so he could keep playing.
Of course, his sister started yelping that the prodigal wastrel has squandered his inheritance and gets another one, just like always. Family drama, Bible stories and shiny wrenches. It doesn’t get any better.
It was about this time I realized that I have never attended a Christmas party/yard sale before, and happily conceded that family Christmas parties don’t have to be boring carb-fests. Mom was happy to again have most of her family at her house for Christmas, and she unloaded a crap-load of stuff. And a certain relative who shall remain nameless wants to do it again, but after he retires.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.