I forgot to watch that special where the mouse breaks the singing clock, but other than that, no complaints.
Christmas has come and gone, and despite all the travel and forced fellowship involved, it all went off without a hitch. Each holiday session we attended (4 in all, not including our own at-home gift exchange) was lively and food-filled, and we came away with warmish feelings and items that we previously could not claim to own. A holiday experience that did not feature a surprise live appearance by former “Silver Spoons” star Erin Gray could hardly be described as being more successful than the one we have recently enjoyed.
Our first Christmas jaunt was to Springvale, ME, which is where Annie’s mom and her side of the family calls home. It isn’t a convenient locale to visit for any reason, so chances are better than average that you haven’t been there. It’s right next to Sanford, which, again, you know nothing about. It’s about like any “I’m Not A Town, Not Yet A City” location in Maine. There are people, and there are stores. Annie’s mom has recently sort of gotten back together with her on-again, off-again love interest, and he is a stately older gentleman who is always either completely silent or relaying historical events in great detail at an alarming rate. He spent a lot of the visit trying to access his geneology website, with zero success. Meanwhile, there were plates of raw veggies, shrimp, sandwich stuff, and various desserts. These were consumed while opening inexpensive gifts and making jovially crass conversation with Annie’s aunt, uncle, and cousins, all of whom are fairly rambunctious and enjoy vulgarity and spirited retellings of past childhood trauma. It was a pretty decent time. I discovered that wrapping a piece of pepperoni around a raw string bean and dipping it in ranch dip is something that is very tasty to me. Annie’s mom was particularly entertaining, in that she both A) openly wept at a broadcast of “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” on TBS and B) broke frequent wind of a robust quality that made one entertain the idea of renouncing holidays, family, and food altogether. We took our leave around 9 and made the none-too-exciting 2 1/2 hour interstate sojourn back home, making sure to stop at a skeezy rest stop and court a violent, frenzied cornholing courtesy of Augusta-native transients. This did not occur, and a very merry Christmas to all.
Sunday found me in a vile mood, despite its potential as a relaxed day in which we were to enjoy each other’s company, having already opened our gifts to one another the night before after getting back from Springvale. I woke up upset, and remained that way throughout the day, becoming increasingly and illogically enraged with Annie’s dad, who kept calling to confirm Christmas plans. This is typical behavior from Annie’s dad, who is a big confirming enthusiast, and something I’ve learned to accept, but I wasn’t in a frame of mind to deal with it, for whatever reason. I also found it impossible to play “Super Mario Galaxy”, which incidentally is the first entertainment product in many a moon that actually lives up to all the hype and glowing reviews dedicated to it. It’s just a damn good game. Not too hard, not too easy, and almost as fun to watch as it is to play. If you have a Wii, I would be comfortable advising that you can safely plunk down 50 bucks for it without ever even having played the thing. Despite all that, I was seemingly determined to resist the charms of everything that crossed my path, and I’m afraid I pretty well ruined what could have been a nice, relaxing day by being a fat, retarded baby, devoid of personality and function. I feel badly about it.
Monday was better. I had to work until around noon, after which we eventually went to have Christmas with Annie’s dad and their side of the family, who are helpfully situated in downtown Bangor. They’re a fun bunch: crazy, intimidating, boisterous, cantankerous, and hilarious. They’re also big eaters, and Annie’s two aunts, hereafter referred to as “The Aunties”, are excellent cooks. This night, they decided to mostly get catering from The Coffee Pot, an excellent local sandwich place well known to central Maine, but it was still quite a spread. Following the meal, the Aunties were insistent, to the chagrin of all males present, that potentially humiliating parlor games were played, and as a result of men being the vastly weaker sex, a few rounds of holiday-themed charades became necessary. After that, sheets of paper with shockingly challenging “jumbles” were distributed, followed by fifteen stressful minutes of squinting at scrambled words and flagrant cheating. Lastly, after dessert, we all had to play children’s bingo, featuring cards on which the traditional numbers were replaced by pictures of things such as ice cream sundaes and umbrella-toting ducks. No one wanted to play this either, but I think everyone was secretly surprised by how fun it ended up being, and lucky winners got to pick prizes of dubious quality (including Iparty promotional calendars and rolls of Scotch tape) out of a Hannaford bag. Being that we were glutted and exhausted and required to get up vaguely early the next morning, we departed, then overslept and had to run around the next morning wrapping unwanted household belongings for the stocking exchange we’d agreed to take part in with my parents, who were their usual smiling, nonjudgemental welcoming selves.
Not that we could by this time fit much of it into our bloated stomachs, but my mom had prepared all manner of delicious brunch platters (including a scrumptious hash brown casserole thing that I wish I were eating right this second) and lots of little appetizer things that were low-maintenance and tasty, inspiring table hovering and low-key munching. My brother, who lives in Michigan but actually called from a friend’s house in Cleveland, telephoned to talk to everyone and regale us with his latest doings and dealings, among them an ultimately good but initially disastrous Lemonheads concert he attended that was presided over by a frighteningly haggard and disoriented Evan Dando. Giftwise, among other things, I received a “Nintendog” for the Nintendo DS, a game that was far more in demand a year or two ago, but I tend to be late to these things. I have named my virtual black lab puppy “Michael Landon”, and thus far he doesn’t seem to be terribly responsive to my increasingly unhinged commands. You can only intone “Michael Landon, sit down!” into a barking electronic device so many times before real worry and unpleasant reflection being to sink in. I wonder how long it will take for Michael Landon to obey to my satisfaction. I did enjoy throwing a tennis ball for him to chase and halfheartedly retrieve, however, and walking him around the virtual neighborhood was somewhat diverting, but though he does occasionally sit on demand, teaching him to shake hands isn’t going well at all. I intend to document my time with Michael Landon extensively, so get ready for some laughs, America!
We concluded Christmas by heading back to Bangor for a rather rollicking visit to the Doughtys, to whom we are not related but were treated like family all the same. Bill and Erin are the Doughtys who we are actually good friends with, and we were able to drop off some things we had borrowed from them as well as a present for their 2-year-old boy, Liam, but the less-encountered-by-us Doughtys, which included Bill’s parents, brother, and sister-in-law, were all friendly and chatty. We got to listen to George Sr, the affable patriarch, regale us with uninterrupted tales of bear encounters and the joys of disregarding maps when traveling by automobile, with his wife, Sandra, helpfully adding necessary interjections and embellishments. We witnessed joy in its purest form when Erin put in a DVD of an Aquabats concert, and Liam began smiling and jumping up and down. We got to have some homemade carrot cake and chocolate cream pie. It really seemed an ideal coda to the yuletide season: light-hearted back-and-forth and kidding around with a good bunch of people, with no potential for family-related stress; not that we particularly ended up experiencing much of that this year, but still, you can let your hair down at other people’s Christmases a lot easier, and we both really enjoyed ourselves.
I spend most of my waking hours trying to avoid sentiment like this, but I really am fortunate to have such a wonderful family – both the one I grew up with and the one I’ve newly acquired – and so many class-act friends that not only put up with my foolishness but actually seem to halfway enjoy it most of the time, and respond in kind with invaluable foolishness of their own. Everyone should be so lucky. Whatever you all did with your day off, I hope you enjoyed it.