I adore visiting my grandparents house. Especially at Christmastime. Everything about that two-storied structure, built by my grandpa, communicates warmth and love. As I sit tonight, I think about what happens within these walls each year, how we go through the same happy routine.
There’s the room paneled in pine, where we all congregate the evening before the big family gathering. A wood-burning stove quickly raises the temperature of the room to over 80 degrees. I watch the thermometer rise and fall, first as my grandpa adds wood to the stove, and then as my grandma opens three of the windows to let in a blast of chilling, winter air. The dog sits panting in front of the fire, much like the rest of the family – overheating, but too relaxed and happy to move.
We move into the dining room to eat, my grandma insisting that all of us to eat as much as possible. There is the initial calm as we devour the pork roast and potatoes, taking pause only to comment on my grandma’s incessantly perfect cooking. Of course there’s too much food. We tuck in second helpings to appease my grandma, knowing we’ll regret it later but pleased with the smile on her face.
Conversation lasts much longer than dinner does. Despite my grandpa’s protestations we inevitably drift into politics. Perhaps it’s my fault, now that I live near D.C. Or maybe it’s my brothers now serving in the Air Force. Not that grandma needs a reason – there’s a typical pattern to this portion of the evening. A snide remark about Obama and his vacations, then commentary on congress’ poor decision making. In recent years, the talk is capped off with concern for my well-being, living so near to the source of their vexations.
And then there are the stories, each told so many times that I could quote them the way I do my favorite movies. The time I broke my arm and didn’t tell anyone, or how grandma called those people by the wrong name; Marcus was Maxwell, Gideon was Edison, and don’t even start with what she called that game I got for my 6th birthday. We know the words and the endings well, yet they never cease to send us all into fits of laughter.
Back into the room with the pine and the wood stove. More sweating and interchange between fire and open windows. We plan for tomorrow’s Christmas festivities, beginning by predicting how late everyone will be.
Did you tell Julie the actual time we were eating?
When did Steve say they’d leave to come here?
What time shall we start cooking the ham?
Quickly this devolves to reminiscing over past Christmases. Like last year, when the snow was so bad that half of us didn’t make it to Grandma’s. Or the year we tried ordering pizza instead of making food. Aunt Julie is bringing Bev’s slush again….with the slush, my grandma emphasizes.
Each year the traditions grow and expand to fit in the newcomers and changes in our family, while still gently rooting us in the things we’ve built our love and laughter upon. We repeat the stories until even the newest in-laws can rehearse them with us. We mock mistakes of yesteryear with the grace-filled understanding that we’re all hopelessly flawed, so we may as well laugh. We plan around the relatives who will never be on time, though when push comes to shove we’d rather overcook that ham than try to eat it without them. Tomorrow the cousins and aunts and uncles will arrive, and we’ll eat the same jello salad that we have every year, and then we’ll settle down in the same room that really shouldn’t have a fire going with that many people in it, and we’ll talk and we’ll laugh, and it will be Christmas. Beautiful, happy Christmas.