The only memories that really come to mind about Christmas Eve are the fights. They would talk about if they were going to go or not going for a couple of weeks. When Christmas Eve finally arrived, a decision would not be made until sometime in the afternoon. They decided we would go after all, which was the usual.
We would get ready, dressing in our best clothes. I would be exited to see my cousins. I had not seen them all since Thanksgiving which in a child’s mind is just short of forever. We would snack on goodies, open presents, and play. We cousins all knew how the night would end. I think it made us play extra hard, We did not want to lose even a minute because who knew when we would see each other again once the night was over.
The Grown-Ups were always coldly polite to each other. No one wanted to be responsible for starting the first argument. Generally the talk would be about work, the weather, when they were kids at this time of year, or one of the Old Ones we kids never met, but stories were always told with fond memories we kids did not share ’cause they were gone before we were around. We only carried their names, not their memories.
Then it would happen. Someone’s lips would get a shade too loose, and the first disguised barb was uttered. Of course everyone would pretend to overlook it, but they all made a note on the scoreboard they carried in their heads. Conversation and posture would get a little more tense. We kids would play harder, we knew time was getting short.
Talk would turn to something more pointed. The President, the war which was still around because everyone was effected by it, who was the favorite when they were little, one of the in-law’s or their family, usually a parent or their nationality. Voices would get raised, barbs turned into daggers, and it got louder.
We children were in our own world, it was not worth listening to the grown-ups, because we heard it all at least three times a year. For sure our time was short. We became wilder ourselves, never sure if it was the energy the grown-ups were throwing off, or our over excitement, fed by being over sugared and tired. At any rate, the noise level continued to rise, and their sentences became more accusations and defenses than anything else.
Then it would happen. “Get your coat, we are leaving!”, I would hear. We cousins knew what that meant. One of the Grown-Ups said one thing too many. There would be a slew of digs thrown about, everyone angry with the other, trying to talk loader and say something meaner. All of them wondering through their own brain haze, why they bothered – again. Most of them wanting to get, ‘The hell out of Dodge’, too, but not wanting to make it too obvious they wanted to get away too.
I would hear it rehashed all the way home, as I am sure my cousins heard their families version too. This, that, and every other thing that gets brought up every get together except maybe one or two new slams or slaps were brought up this year. It was always someone else’s fault, they were trying to be polite, and keep their tempers in check. “Hell with it, this is the last time”, I would hear.
Christmas day would start early for me, usually after only a few hours of sleep. Due to the hangovers, their day started some hours and a ritual later. Church followed by cups of coffee and aspirin for good measure. The angry discussion would start, over coffee this time. “I don’t want to go”. “I am mad she said that, who does she think she is. Ma always liked her more and she knows it.” So on and so forth through the early afternoon.
I was sure this time they meant it. There would be no family dinner, no cousins to play with, just the drone of the same old family matters never settled, nor would they ever be as they were pulled from the past, and tainted by faulty memory and perception.. “I suppose we better hurry, we’re supposed to eat at four”, or whatever the chosen time was. Yeah! We were going! There is a God, there is a Santa Clause!
They would all sit at the adult table, looking a mix of sheepish for what they remember saying to each other, and a little ill from to much of what made them say what they said to each other – again – last night. It was brushed aside while we ate dinner. The kids at the kids table, trying not to eat too fast, or look too excited being together again. We had to reflect family opinion and values. After all, we were the foot soldiers of the battles long fought. The adults at the adult table making small talk as if they were strangers and not family.
After dinner, we would gather around the Christmas tree and open out present(s). A couple for each kid form the other families, and something for each adult. Some of the gifts were funny things no one would really use. We all knew to act excited and be happy their was at least one gift for each of us.
The kids would look at and play with their gift(s) for a few minutes, the adults would sneak off to the laundry room where the liquor was kept. The Mom’s would watch the toys with eagle eyes, ensuring they were played with right. Everyone would relax as the headaches and queasiness went away. They conversation became almost jovial, telling happy stories about each other. The Women would gather up the toys as we kids started playing with each other.
These are memories of Christmas time, probably modified by time. Forgetting some things, and adding others that may or may not be true, but are from a child’s memories of times long ago. One thing about those memories is real. They are better memories than many of us have, and better than some in the world will have. There was family, love, presents and plenty of hot food. There were cousins to play with, and Aunts, Uncles and Grand Parents to fawn over us kids and make us each feel special. What more would anyone want?