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Holiday Gift and Event Guide — The Altamont Enterprise, November 20, 2008

Anticipating the chaos of a Christmas journey, where peace will come at opulent service

By Jo E. Prout

When my friends told me they were spending Christmas at home, my first thought was, “Lucky ducks!” Sure, one had to deal with Grandpa’s Jell-O mold with celery and carrots. Another had to see Aunt Martha, who refused to see, and hold, her new grandbaby because she was asked to wash the nicotine from her hands, first.

Typical family drama, I thought. At least they’ll sleep in their own beds. I have to go away for the holidays, by default.

I agreed a year ago to be my grandmother’s caretaker in December while my aunt attends a graduation out of state. My grandmother has always been one of the most important, supportive people in my life. I would do anything for her.

Nine months passed, and I was told that Auntie arrives home from graduation on Christmas Eve morning. Our house is 15 hours away. We’re stuck.

Don’t I love Grandma? Of course.

It’s all the rest of the relatives I want to avoid, besides all the hassle of Christmas morning, itself. My kids are already worried that Santa won’t find them. They’ve been told that, yes, Santa will find them, and that he will bring them thin, packable presents. Santa always listens to parents’ requests, you know, which is why no tarantulas, snakes, Barbie Jeeps, or four-wheelers have ever arrived at our house on Christmas morning.

My husband’s nightmare for this trip is bringing our loud, obnoxious dogs with us cross-country. We would have boarded them, but who would give them their Christmas bones? Annoying as they are, they’re coming for Christmas, too. (I know Hubby is secretly hoping they’ll get lost in a far-off cornfield.)

Christmas Eve morning will find us at my parents’ house. Staying at their home is a Herculean feat for me, requiring my full attention for two days.

The kids know the facts: Grandpa’s brain doesn’t work right, and Grammy doesn’t care. The kids know the rules, too: No sitting on laps; no being alone in the same room with Gramps, even for a minute; and no being out of earshot or sight of me or their father.

Crazy Aunt Jane lives with my parents, and she doesn’t like me much. I’ll be making my own cups of tea while I’m there.

Inevitably, there will be a large family gathering before the big day, where we’ll be reunited with aunts, uncles, and second and third cousins. We’ll tread carefully, so we don’t start, or enter, a discussion about church. Ours is the wrong kind, you see. They’d rather we were “lost,” with the possibility of coming back to the fold, than happy in our church, where they don’t know I’m an ordained elder, occasional minister, and Sunday School teacher.

My mixed-ethnicity children will have their ears blistered as Uncle Jack tells racist jokes and asks why everyone in America can’t speak English. Everyone will agree that those KKK folks in the compound across town are scary, but doesn’t affirmative action just burn your britches?

On Christmas Eve, my husband, children, and I will close ranks and slip away to the Basilica at Notre Dame. We will breathe in the incense from thousands of masses, and gaze on the opulent decorations in a church built to reflect and honor the glory of God.

Along with other believers, we will wait for and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, just as we would have at the traditional candle-lit Christmas Eve service at our home church. We will accept the peace and comfort we find during the celebration, and, with renewed strength, continue our holiday visit on a true Holy Day.

On Christmas Day, we will speak kindly to Aunt Jane. We’ll call Grandma to hear her voice, again, and we’ll share the same meal from my childhood with my parents and my children. We’ll give my mother a “normal” Christmas that she can talk about with her sisters and friends, and we’ll give the dogs extra treats, walks, and hugs.

Come Dec. 26, the car will be stuffed with dogs, packable gifts, kids, and snacks by 9 a.m. I’ll hug my mother lightly, and I may let my father kiss my cheek. We’ll try to catch a last glimpse of the Golden Dome as we drive by, and I’ll cry because I may not be back in town to see my grandmother again before she dies.

Goodbye to Crazy Aunt Jane, Uncle Jack and his racist jokes, and the parents who I have to watch like a hawk.

Home never sounded so good.

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