Sing with me, everyone! Huzzah! The holidays are nearly over!
No more fruitcakes (no, no, not the food...that ONE uncle. Yeah, you know which one I'm talking about). Say goodbye to the wrasslin' wranglers of the store aisles, the ones who give soccer players a run for their money. So long to false smiles when you open a box of tighty-whities (I killed the snickers when I threatened to model them). And no more uncomfortable hugs. Especially uncomfortable hugs.
I think I'm the only one who has a problem knowing when to hug. Hugging protocol isn't in my armory. In my family, if you accidentally touch someone, the knee-jerk reaction is to jump like an Olympic kangaroo. Yet, there's my wife's family, the huggin'-est family around. No problem with that, as I love 'em all, truly I do. I think it's nice, actually. So I studied and watched them. Maybe it's an Oklahoma thing, I naively thought. When the Fed Ex man rang the doorbell, I put what I'd learned into play, welcoming him with a big ol' bear hug.
Well, turns out I still have a bit more to learn.
Anyway, Christmas time. I used to look forward to the holiday. Not so much anymore. Call me a curmudgeon or a realist, I'm okay with both.
Yet this Christmas was different in many ways. For instance, I only heard the cloying "Santa Baby" song whenever we went shopping. Usually it's a mainstay that digs into your head like a dentist's drill. But on Christmas day, the song of choice seemed to be "Let It Snow," a song I loath because the sentiment is treasured only by children and drunk television weathermen. Obviously the singer lives in Florida.
This particular holiday was filled with more than its fair share of excitement, not the particularly good, cozy gather-around-the-fireplace type, either.
A niece I adore decided to get married on December 21st in Midwest Kansas, home of winter blizzards. So, that Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m. (my wife's a hard-charger), we set off for Hays, attempting to stay one step ahead of "Storm (I think they named it) Dumbledore." You know, the storm that blew the socks off everyone in the States (Canada, I'm looking at you!).
We got there okay, albeit bleary-eyed, delirious, and pumped up on caffeine and sugar. My daughter woke up in the back seat, yawned, and with a happily contented tone said, "Wow, that trip wasn't so bad." Even though she's 21, I grounded her for life.
BOOM! Flat tire after lunch. 22 degrees outside. (Merry Christmas, everybody!) Freezing, yet determined to show my masculine side, I changed the tire in, say, fifty-five minutes. Much cursing ensued. Icing on the cake? My wife ("accidentally," she says) kicked me in the nose. Grease-stained, sniffing, and broken-nosed, we're just in time for wedding pictures.
It was a nice and festive wedding. "The Washing of the Feet Ceremony" was interesting. Word of advice to anyone who plans on doing this in the future...wear loose socks.
The next morning (6:30 a.m. again) I'm dreary and suffering a bad back from the lousy hotel bed. And the ice machine, birthing baby cubes right outside our door, kept us up all night. (Happy Horror-days!) But I pulled up my big-boy britches 'cause it was time to go to Oklahoma to celebrate Christmas with my wife's family. At one stretch, the highway was covered with huge chunks and stalactites of snow. It felt like we were four-wheeling (it's a Midwest thing, folks, don't worry about it). And we nearly got stuck in the parking lot of a "Pilot" store getting gas.
And these stores...you know, I never knew there was such a variety of "quick in and out stores." I think we visited them all across the Midwest. There was the aforementioned "Pilot," the downtrodden "Stop-Shop (home of the world's filthiest bathrooms)," numerous "Kum-n-Go's (tee-hee)," and, of course, my personal new favorite discovery, "The Wood Shed." I'm telling you, "The Wood Shed" is Nirvana. It's what the Stuckey's of my childhood used to be. Their logo is great, a Beaver or something glaring at you with googly eyes. When you open the door--just like a carnival funhouse--a ginormous fan blasts you with a ghostly groan and a seriously threatening whirlwind of heat. (While I was waiting for my wife, I amused myself by watching newcomers freak out when they crossed the Barrier of the Damned.) After you survive tornado alley, a giant blow-up snowman with an evil grin looms over you! Fantastic! And the bathrooms...the glorious, wondrous, old-fashioned, smelly bathrooms with antiquated machines boasting of mysterious treasures such as "Big Wally" and other enticing sundries. Plus there was a plethora of crap for tourists to get suckered into. Gave me Christmas chills.
Then the trip turned nightmarish. My wife ran over a red squirrel in the highway. His eyes still haunt me. Took me seconds to shake it...
Had a great time with my wife's family. But I was sleep-deprived and loopy the whole time (kinda' like how I was during college). I found myself drifting off on many occasions--taking a Scrooge-like trippy side-trip--looking down on the proceedings as if I'd died or something. Maybe I did for a minute. With a turkey leg in my mouth.
The undisputed highlight was my mother-in-law's riveting rum-cake performance. She taunted us with a rum-cake she'd discovered in the freezer after a year. Then she decided to taste it - the plan was that we'd all get some if it hadn't gone bad. She sat down at the table with much deliberation, fork dangling over the tantalizing, yet ultimately terrifying, chocolocity (new word!). We sat on the edge of our seats, awaiting the final verdict. But my mother-in-law has nothing on Hitchcock. Ever the master of suspense, she'd lift a forkful up, then drop it back on the plate to recite another amusing anecdote. Many, many times. Finally! We had lift-off! And it was good. And tasty.
Merry Christmas everyone and God help us one and all!