Xmas. Personally, it's never been one of my favorite holidays. I tend to describe the experience as "slippers that are too big, a nightgown that's too small, and cologne that causes a rash." It's one of those holidays that's way too loaded with unrealistic expectations: we're all supposed to be the Cleavers and have a wonderful time decorating cookies, throwing tinsel on trees, and hanging out with family. Everyone gets the perfect gift and everyone is happy. Out here in the real world, of course, we're all a lot more like the Griswolds. If something can go wrong, it will. Typically, the woman of the household gets to work herself into exhaustion cooking, cleaning, baking, decorating, and trying to create the perfect holiday mood for the kids; the man of the house gets stressed out over money because the little barracudas have made it clear that the holiday will be a total washout unless they get whatever this year's favorite overpriced and hard to find widget happens to be; and the kids work themselves into a frenzy anticipating a Red Ryder BB gun and then get a pink bunny suit instead. It's not a pretty sight.
As a Marxist, I've had an almost visceral hatred of the Santa Claus bullshit for years, too. There's nothing quite like Santa to make class warfare real. If you're a rich kid, you can be the nastiest little shit on the planet and you're still going to show up at school after Xmas break bragging about Santa bringing you the gold-plated Class A widget; if you're poor, when you're little you worry constantly about being good and it doesn't make a bit of difference. You still get stuck with the 16-crayon box of Family Dollar crayons and a cheap coloring book. What is the real lesson of Santa and the Christmas season? Two things: Adults lie, and life isn't fair. But that's a digression.
I read a lot of advice columns. Most of the year the modern day Miss Lonely Hearts tackle divorce, infidelity, and typical family dysfunctions. When it gets to be November and December, however, all the holiday weirdos come out to play: controlling in-laws, stingy relatives, ungrateful spawn. Columnist Carolyn Hax does an online discussion, the Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors, where people share their pain: the uncle who dropped dead at the dinner table, the fruitcake that broke someone's foot, the druggie brother who decides to start detox the week before the holiday, the Christmas ham that burnt down the house. It's great. You read it and suddenly your own screwed up family is looking pretty damn good. And so was ours this year.
Our family isn't very large so Christmas is always fairly low key. We're not religious so church is almost never on the agenda. When we were in Atlanta, it tended to be just three of us: me, the S.O., and our younger daughter. One year she came to Atlanta, the other years we drove to where she lived in Texas. Since moving back here, we've been to the older daughter's house twice, in 2011 and 2012. This year we drove to Hurley, Wisconsin to have Christmas dinner at our grandson's -- he had been given a humongous ham as a Christmas bonus so decided to host the family dinner this year.
It was a nice afternoon. The weather cooperated for the 100 mile drive and watching the great granddaughter rip into her gifts was entertaining. Of course, so was watching her parents as they realized they could have gotten her ONE gift and she would have been perfectly happy. In fact, they could have gift wrapped an empty box and the child would have played cheerfully with the box. They'll learn -- unfortunately, as kids age, there's an inverse relationship between parents learning to budget and kids' expectations. I can't be overly critical, though, because I, too, gave the toddler multiple presents knowing full well she's still young enough to have absolutely no expectations regarding the holiday. Then again, I'm a grandmother. Spoiling grandchildren and great-grandchildren is part of the job description.
Because we're geezers, the S.O. and decided that our gift to ourselves would be a motel room for the night just in case there was lake effect snow -- we had no desire to be crawling along through whiteout conditions after dark on the way home. Been there, done that along M-28 way too many times when we were younger. As it turned out, the weather was fine, but you never know. We did delay our departure slightly this morning, but only so I could watch what struck me as being a great holiday film: "Alien vs. Predator." I've been to a few family gatherings like that: the different sets of in-laws and relatives who only see each other about once a century and then decide to kill each other on those rare occasions when they do get together. Backstabbing and acid spraying at its finest . . .
We noticed while driving through Hurley that another vacant lot is in the process of sprouting on Silver Street. A supper club that had seen better days managed to burn down last week. This one may have been an honest fire, though, and not caused by insurance. The ruin is still standing. There have been quite a few fires in Hurley where the rubble hadn't stopped smoldering before it was bulldozed (along with the kerosene cans) into oblivion. There have also been fires where the firemen showed up too soon and were sent home because the fire hadn't broken out yet. It's an interesting little town.