It's Christmas Eve! Is this your chafing dish?
Dodge pulls into the driveway at Grandma’s House. Mom, Dad, Todd Junior and little Susie are all quivering with anticipation and full bladders as they limp up the driveway, trying to stamp a little blood flow back into legs and feet made all tingly and numb by Dad's unwillingness to pull off the highway while so much as a pint of gas remains in the tank.
Grandma's front door swings openm and the succulent Christmas aromas of roast turkey and mince meat pie dance in the crisp December air, laced with just a hint of Vicks Vaporub and moth crystals, and hotter than an afternoon in Death Valley.
Louise, Grandma and all the other women raise the traditional Banshee Wail of Greetings and Hugs, while Aunt Bertha gives the children wet garlicky kisses and pinches them on their Dodge-weary little behinds. Dad goes into pack-mule-mode from car to house, balancing boxes full of gifts, scalloped potatoes, child-rearing equipment and unfamiliar serving dishes that turned up in the booty from the last reunion.
Within minutes Dad is in the garage with the other men, standing next to a sputtering turkey fryer with a beer in his hand. Mom has joined other women in the kitchen, conspiring on the perfect recipe for candied yams.
Todd Junior is engaged in a fist fight with Carla's Tommie over who would win in a cage match smackdown, Barack Obama or God. Charlene’s oldest boy, Randy, has let the cat into the spare bedroom where the parakeet flies free, providing an unexpected holiday feast for little Puffylumpkins. Little Susie and Carla's twins are in the parlor playing European Union Financial Crisis Barbie.
After slightly less time than it took for the glaciers to make their way across North America, dinner is ready. Charlene's middle boy, Luke, somehow sat in the candied yams, so he’s in the bathroom putting on a pair of Grandpa’s old bermuda shorts. Charlene is back in the kitchen fluffing up the candied yams. All the other children are seated around card tables set up in the middle of a large tarp in the living room, trading volleys of creamed carrots and mashed potatoes while Charlene’s other middle boy, Thor, sobs, "I-hi-hi wa-hant fre-he-he-hench fries."
The adults sit around the dining room table listening to Aunt Doris' detailed recounting of deceased relatives dating back to the Stonehenge, while the one lone housefly left over from last summer decides to end it all in the gravy boat. Uncle Edgar sleeps leaning back in his chair, snoring through a mouthfull of clam dressing. Mom and Charlene head for the living room to determine if Charlene’s youngest, Beelzebub, will need stitches. Grandma and Grandpa have one of their typical conversations;
Grandma: "I wish now and then you'd eat some peas."
Grandpa: "Whaddya mean the fish has fleas? That’s dumb."
Grandma: "Who broke their thumb?"
After dinner, it’s gift time! Everyone opens each package with unbridled excitement; "Wow! Tater Mitts! How did you know?"
Finally, post-gravy gravity and televised football overcome the men, so they scatter, Budweiser in hand, onto every available piece of furniture in the living room. The women are in the kitchen, scraping turkey crust off of pans, loading the dishwasher and drinking white zinfandel out of a box.
As the football game gives way to an interview with a player thanking Jesus for causing that fumble at the five yard line, the men begin to regain consciousness. Turkey scraps wind up in sandwiches on reheated dinner rolls, and the last of the pie is consumed over protests of, " just a sliver oh my, that’s huge, I couldn’t possibly well ok, after all, it’s Christmas."
Finally, it’s dark outside and everyone gathers up leftovers, child-rearing equipment and any identifiable remains of gifts. The women raise the Banshee Wail Of Departure and Hugs, while the men pack boxes, bags and inert children into the cars. Each family is expected to take home at least one unfamiliar serving dish and leave at least one glove, mitten or child behind. And as the taillights disappear into the night, each family heading for home, Grandpa is heard to say,
"Rome? Who’s going to Rome? Damnit, nobody ever tells me anything "
Mike Ball is the Erma Bombeck Award-winning author of "What I've Learned So Far..." and the book What I've Learned So Far... Part I: Bikes, Docks & Slush Nuggets You can now get Bikes, Docks & Slush Nuggets on Smashwords for Nook, Kindle, and all other E-readers.