Christmas Eve Nights and Fights

 

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?

 

Simple Truths in a Lifetime Learning

When I was a kid, we did not have indoor plumbing. My Sister tells me we could have had a house with indoor plumbing but our Dad chose rustic over more modern. Even though we lived in a rural area I was the only Kid I knew of in school who used an outhouse and water was delivered by a hand pump.

It was kind of hard to know much about life back then. After all I only saw bits and pieces of life, and I thought that was about all there was to the world. The Adults worked, ate, slept, drank, danced and went to parties on the weekend, and did it all over again. I only knew a few families that had a lifestyle higher than the rest. Most of the families were at about the same level.

Kids were abused by their parents. Many were beaten more than they should have been. A few thrown through walls, or across rooms. Most of us would never interrupt an adult conversation or venture an opinion. Doing so was risking a slap or a spanking. Children were to be seen and not heard, unless it came to fetching another beer, or making a mixed (whiskey and water or some such) drink.

Eventually I grew up as we all do. I saw some of the world, and it really did not make a big impact on me. The world looked different but my place in it had not changed. One day I woke and I made some changes. I did not know at the time what those changes would be, but I knew I did not want to go on living as I was. It was boring. Work all week and have little to show for it.

Something changed over the years. Maybe it did for everyone, I am not sure. I stopped doing those things which were not adding positively to my life. I tried other things I thought would benefit me. Some worked and some did not. Change happened so slowly I barely noticed there was change.

I was a boat without a rudder sailing on the ocean without a map. Was having fun more important than looking towards the future? Was it worth saving a few dollars a week hoping it would grow into an amount worth noting? Was pizza and beer really good, or was it really bad for my health. I had seen a few people die from smoking cigarettes. I had know some addicts who were in their last days. These things helped me decide where I was today, wherever that was, was better than where I could have been.

I thought I had skills that would carry me through my work life. I learned them in the military. Trading my innate aggression for other more subtle skills that would help me carve out the ‘Good Life’. Those skills were old within a decade, and today are ancient in the world of technology. But I am far ahead of where I could have been.

When I look around I see the ancient skills are still in demand. Those skills we used over thousands of years, and refine every decade. Cooking, Baking, Creating never go out of fashion. The way we do it changes, but not the fact that we need people who can do these things with foresight and clarity of vision. A good dinner tastes as good or better than it always has. A fine piece of furniture, or a well put together building is still something to respect and perhaps hold in awe. Some things can not be improved upon.

Two things I learned over the years that will never change. The first learning is you do not need to know where you want to end up, you only need to know where you do not want to end up farther down the road. The second learning is, great things, whether they are the best pizza I have ever tasted, the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in, or the finest piece of music ever heard, did not get that way overnight.

If it is worth having, someone put in a lot of pain and sweat to produce it. The fruit of their labor may be ubiquitous now, but before it arrived, a lot of failures happened along the way. The greatest learning perhaps is do not be afraid of failure. Failure is part of the pavement of the road to success.

Self measured success may small in stature, but large in the distance covered. The reason success is large in the distance covered is because success is generally measured using one scale of  measure. To truly judge success everything should be evaluated equally.

A great meal is not made with one item, a beautiful sculpture was not made with one chisel, and captivating melodies were not written in a day. The real measurement of success is a blend of all ingredients brought together in one place, and compared to their independent original raw state. Only then can success be determined.