Some of it’s funny, like the impersonations you perform of Crazy Aunt Edna clicking her teeth at the end of each sentence or Dad walking outside immediately following every meal to de-gas his intestines. Some of it is just annoying, like your sister always trumping your best story with one of her own that’s bigger and better or your nephew screaming bloody murder every time he’s in the same room with you, and he’s NOT a baby. And some of it is just plain sad, like finding out the neighbors down the block are getting a divorce after fifty years of marriage or witnessing Mom drink herself into a tailspin of hateful comments before passing out while still seated at the dessert table.
This year we didn’t visit with extended family over Christmas. Leading up to the winter holiday we joked about not having to endure the in-laws squabbling about who spends more time with the grandkids or cousin Eloise complaining yet again how there’s not a decent single man left on the planet. We banked on the fact that there’d be less hustle and bustle and more relaxing time because there’s no one to entertain and no one that wants to entertain us. We expected a peaceful holiday but knew without a doubt, we’d miss our family over the holidays. What we didn’t plan on was feeling cheated out of our yearly dose of family member mannerisms.
Part of the fun of the holidays for me is hashing and rehashing the moments, good, bad, or otherwise, that highlight each family member’s most endearing traits. Those attributes, whether cute, obnoxious, or simply just familiar, make us who we are. I like to think of these characteristics as those things that an artist would add to a caricature at Disneyland. For example, my caricature body would have big boobs, but an even bigger mouth that would take over the bulk of the page, as it is always open saying stuff that oftentimes gets me in trouble. Those sometimes ridiculous words that come out of my mouth, are undoubtedly the things that other family members laugh about long after Christmas tree is put out in the alley and the presents have all been put away.
While each household held the key ingredients to for a stellar cast of characters, and the makings of a good story line to later develop into an exaggerated production, it wasn’t the same as it wasn’t my own family. The uncle that literally panted like a dog every time a sweet young thing came within twenty feet of him wasn’t quite as funny or memorable when it wasn’t MY uncle. The step-mom who dressed like a girl hanging out in the red light district, complete with fishnet stockings, four inch stilettos and a bustier didn’t get the full belly-laugh from me when I recanted the story later to friends, as it wasn’t MY step-mom. The brother who kept his Bluetooth on throughout Christmas Eve dinner and all-importantly kept checking his phone for a text from the office regarding that big sale he’s been waiting to close didn’t carry the same level of nostalgia as watching your own family members weave in and out of stages of life.
I guess what it comes down to the fact that we only derive true satisfaction out of teasing those who we love. Yes I’ve had my periods of all-out making fun of people that aren’t near and dear to me, but that ship has sailed, as it just doesn’t seem nice or needed and quite frankly, isn’t as fun or meaningful as collecting quirky characteristics of those who are close to you. Those little nuances, like Aunt Shirley making eye contact with each and every audience member while theatrically playing Christmas carols on the piano on Christmas Eve, make me treasure her for being her. And Grand-Daddy starting every question with, “Now say” before asking, “what do you hear about so-and-so?” while his index finger covers his nose and this thumb is tucked under his chin in alleged contemplation, make him undeniably my Grand-Daddy. It brings me that much closer to that family member each time I recount, replicate, or reminisce about, individual family members’ distinctive behavior. Positive or negative, those traits make my family, and me, who we are. So make no bones about it, I missed my family this year and all that they bring to the table with their own peculiarities. I can’t wait to refill my own family material jar next time we’re all together!