A few years ago, the family, consisting of Mom, Tom, Daria, Todd, Anya, Corinne, Miss and Mr. Sasha, myself, our various spouses and the growing herd of children, gave up trying to buy each other individual gifts for the occasion we call Christmas, but who cares? The kids still make out like whole gangs of bandits. The adults have gone to a system: Tom picks names and tells us who we’re shopping for, and we pretend we can keep a secret. We used to give Tom lists of things we wanted, mindful of a $50 limit. This year, we somehow skipped the list-making. Yesterday, I was forced to resort to trickery. Stop laughing!
Tata: Anya, what do you want for Kwanzikkah?
Anya: Why? Do you have me?
Yes. I’m a rotten liar so I’m lit up like a jack-o-lantern.
Anya: Then why do you want to know?
Tata: No reason!
Tata: I’m spying! What do you want?
Anya’s inscrutible like the Little Prince and doesn’t answer questions, but she can’t stay in character and eventually gives up when I ask the same question the third or fourth time.
Anya: I want socks and new pillows and a good bookstore in town and socks – did I mention I love socks? And a comforter for my bed and a gift card for Barnes & Noble and socks.
I hatched a plan I didn’t like. When I woke up this morning, I skipped my usual round of How Many Fingers Am I Holding Up? and went to KMart. Eschewing coffee was a mistake. I shuffled around the store seeing double but eventually, the cart was full of small things I needed and presents. A friend of mine needs pizza pans. He will have pizza pans! Anya wants new pillows. Anya will have pillows! Anya wants socks. Anya will have Betty Boop slipper socks! I’m thinking of wrapping these pillows and socks up in the shape of a fat reindeer and leaving it in my mother’s living room until Thursday, when we celebrate Christmas, but who cares? by eating a great deal and making heartfelt sacrifices to the cruel, cruel wrapping paper gods. Anyway, the cashier told me at checkout it was 9:30 a.m., which was why checkout alone didn’t take two hours.
Meanwhile, the family, consisting of Dad, Darla, Dara, Auntie InExcelsisDeo, Uncle Frank, Monday, Barry, Sandy and her boyfriend, cousin Tony and his girlfriend whose name escapes me, Miss and Mr. Sasha, the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) and his fiancee Karen, Mom, Tom, Daria, Todd, plus spouses, children, friends and neighbors, cannot have our customary Italian Christmas Eve because half of us will be elsewhere. The rest of us will have to muddle through extra helpings of amaretto mousse, chicken and polenta, homemade manicotti, savory salads and fragrant roast meats. I may openly weep! A week later, the rest of us will show up and fight for the drumsticks. Dad called this morning and asked the question very stressed people keep calling me and shouting.
Dad: WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR CHRISTMAS?
Tata: People tell me when they’re serving dinner and I tell them I’ll be there.
Dad: Oh. Okay.
Tata: Yep. Did I mention I’m fattening up oddly?
Dad: I’m fat, too!
Tata: Yeah, it’s like my metabolism’s working in reverse.
Dad: I’m impressed your cat’s still alive.
Tata: He’s too cranky to die, thanks!
Dad: There’s a guy near me trying to market sustainable beef.
Tata: Beef, while delicious, is not in itself sustainable.
Dad: He means his farm is sustainable. Yeah, so he’s stupid.
Tata: I wish him luck. And fondue.
I’m not saying my family is too big. When Daria, Todd and I were kids, we had a huge family. We had cousins all up and down the eastern seaboard. As family members of my grandparents’ generation died off, our cousins melted into distant cousins, the kind one never sees. For about ten years, our family seemed very small indeed and holidays felt forced. Then we had children, and we forgave grudges, and my Exes remained welcome at the table, and Daria’s, and Todd’s. For whatever reason, we have this enormous and constantly blending family. God forbid you should pin more than a tennis sock over the fireplace. But this is not what I’ve been thinking about, nope! Ever since TBogg posted the YouTube original version of I Wanna Be Like You I’ve been walking around singing, “Hudle ott de le doo doo” and “Zee ba da ha ba dah!” Perhaps my memory of this is faulty, but at some point, gas stations offered a compilation record of Disney songs. Burl Ives sang Lavender Blue from a movie I don’t remember, and the White Rabbit’s I’m Late, I’m Late. We played records and danced around the living room. This song was one of my favorites. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I recognized Louie Prima’s voice; anyway, it’s all pretty strange that I still love it 35 years later. The gas station five blocks from my house sells soul food. I don’t think that’s going to leave the same kind of mark.