Nothing gets me in the Christmas spirit like tequila shots and boilermakers. OK, so I know that may seem a little bizarre, if not sacrilegious, but there’s a story here.
For all intents and purposes, I was raised as an only child (I do have a much older half-brother but he never lived with us) so Mom, Dad and I had to crash the holiday goings-on of extended family for any semblance of that warm and fuzzy Norman Rockwell Christmas experience.
Most Christmas Eves were spent at Aunt Alice and Uncle Dave’s house – a place such the polar opposite of my home as could be imagined. First of all, there was Bandit, the stinky but loyal lhasa apso. There were my four cousins: Tina, Carol, David and Russell. Russell was closest in age to me and lived (not suffered) with cerebral palsy. There was Mrs. Cockfield, my aunt’s mother who lived in the in-law suite and at holidays, her milky-eyed blind ex-husband, Mr. Cockfield, was invited around. Also invited at Christmas was the Ivy family who lived next door, which included two more kids.
As children, Christmas Eve was a mostly unsupervised free-for-all as our parents would be half way into the eggnog by the time the weatherman spotted Santa on the radar. We would speculate about what we might get the next morning, eat Danish wedding cookies and cocktail weenies, and enjoy the merriment that can only be formed by seven kids hopped up on sugar the night before Christmas.
My first Christmas back home from college bore my most memorable Christmas Eve. The scene was about typical except we were all older and the meatballs just weren’t keeping our attention like they used to. “Borrowing” the keys to someone’s minivan, my cousin, David, and new cousin-in-law, Bryne, hijacked me coming from the kitchen and tossed me out the back door where I obligingly hopped in the van to join the rest of the junior crew.
It being about 10 PM on Christmas Eve, there weren’t many places to go so we ended up at a juke joint on Edmund Highway. Once we got Russell situated on the barstool, we did the only thing you can do at an empty juke joint on Christmas Eve – slammed shots and fed the juke box. Several hours later as we sang along with the crackled recording of “Merry Christmas from the Family,” getting the words wrong and laughing like a pack of hyenas, we realized that we would need to make our way back soon before our parents realized we were gone.
I know it goes against the spiritual grain of Christmas but that night and a childhood spent with those substitute siblings on Christmas Eve are what come to mind when reminiscing about holidays past.
We all have our own families now and haven’t spent a Christmas Eve together in ages but I’ll never forget the sense of belonging and family that I felt year after year with that rag-tag renegade group. And of all the Christmas songs and carols, nothing brings a tear to my eye like Robert Earl Keen’s parody, “Merry Christmas from the Family!”