Christmas will be hard. I mean, it is hard. For so many reasons. If I was home in West Deptford it would be hard because of Aunt Jody. She died four years ago. Probably my one regret in life. Aunt Jody was my dad’s sister and my godmother. Of the five siblings in my family, I totally had the best godmother, and she totally spoiled me if she could. She was just the coolest. A free spirit. That’s how I felt, anyway. I think a lot about how she would feel about me moving to California. Mom and Dad are wary and nervous, Uncle Bob is serious, Uncle Chuck gets this tone, some friends are skeptical. And then I just picture Aunt Jody telling me to go for it. She would be thrilled.
Aunt Jody was Miss Christmas. She embodied the Christmas spirit. Might have something to do with the reason people gave me the nickname, “The Christmas Nazi”. She had parties every year, wore as much red and green as possible, decorated to the max and loved every second of it. She lived in North Jersey when I was young, but then moved to North Carolina. I didn’t see her much, but every Christmas she was at our house. She’d come Christmas Eve. Sit outside on the front porch, right next to Heritages, watching the cars go by on Red Bank (a relatively busy road), waiting for her to turn down Carter Ave. Every year. It would be so cold, I’d give myself a number. OK, after 20 cars I’ll go inside. Go inside. Warm up real quick, then back out in the cold again, waiting. Oh, I was so excited when she came, whether I was 5 or 16. As I got older, our conversations started to get deeper, more about life, and then she was gone. It was 2007 when Dad told me Aunt Jody had liver cancer. A shock, to say the least. He was all serious but I wasn’t really worried. She’d be fine. Aunt Jody is a tough lady. Should I have called her? Yes. Did I? No. I don’t know why. Denial, I guess. It was in the summer when Dad booked a flight to see her. It was serious. “If you have anything to say to Aunt Jody, tell her now.” I went to Barnes and Noble, ordered a coffee, sat down, and wrote a letter. It took a while. I was crying while I did it. I mailed it the next day. She never got it.
So that’s my regret. I didn’t get to talk to Aunt Jody and tell her how important she is to me. Her best friend, Karen, told me it didn’t matter. “Jody knows how you felt. She didn’t need a letter.” Her death was really hard, and every Christmas is hard because it’s impossible not to put the two together.
Besides THAT, Christmas is all about family and friends. I don’t care what I’m doing, what my situation is, I’m not working Christmas and I’ll be home in WD. Not so, this year. Nothing I can do about it. And it sucks. No Christmas show with LMonny. I’ve been going with her every year since we were in high school and I absolutely love it. It’s a sort of play her cousins and friends put on with local bands mixed in playing original Christmas songs. I’ve always wanted to be in it! Then there’s my new tradition with Mandy, who is equally as obsessed as I am. We started to meet up at her place to watch a new Christmas movie that at least one of us has not seen before. We edited that in recent years to watch something we have DEFINITELY seen, because it’s basically background with us talking and catching up the whole time. Tradition at my house is a whole other beast. First, there’s decorating the tree. This has gotten tricky in past years. We all like to act like we’re still kids. But we’re not. We have jobs and lives and it’s hard to find a time for all of us to come home and play Christmas music and decorate the goddamn tree. Fine. If you don’t decorate, then your ornaments aren’t going on the tree. Cutthroat at the Stetson residence.
Then there’s Christmas Eve: A sushi feast and the “kid” Pollyanna exchange. By kid I mean the five of us. We pick names every Thanksgiving. This way, we don’t have to buy gifts for every sibling. It’s $40. Easy. We even make a short list. Stephen is always a jackass. His list looks like something like this:
Nothing, Everything, A small horse, A wild fox, A jew bag, Gold, Happiness, Cloak and/or Dagger.
I don’t know. He’s a jerk. One year he did put a small pony and I believe Christine had him and did, in fact, get him an enormous stuffed animal…of a small pony. He loved it.
The old tradition was my dad reading us the Night Before Christmas. Stephen ruined that for me, too. One year, Dad got to the line, “and he threw up the sash,” Stephen burst out, “Ew! He threw it up! Gross!”. Dad, childish as he is, was hysterical laughing at his clever son. Do you think he could continue without laughing? If yes, then you haven’t met my father. I was furious.
Christmas morning is amazing. Waking up early and still, as adults, not being allowed to go downstairs until my parents say it’s OK. Even if we don’t sleep home anymore, we have to go straight upstairs when we walk in the door and wait. If we sleep home the new tradition is to watch the Polar Express. Sarah and the twins do that. Stephen is still usually in Philly, and I stay at the Manfre’s for their big Christmas Eve bash. In the morning, I watch Mike and Maria unwrap their presents. Two years ago, I was dog sick. I shouldn’t have drank, but of course did. Christmas morning I went to lay with Maria in her bed. I was dead. Here comes Mr. Manfre all loud. He decides to jump on the bed to wake us up. I’m trying to lay still, but can’t control my body as he bounces me completely off the bed. I hit the window sill and fall down into the crack between Maria’s bed and the wall. Huge bruise on my butt later in the day. Thanks for that, Mr. Manfre.
Christmas morning at my house is always the same. Waiting at the top of the steps while Mom and Dad are downstairs….doing I have no idea what. It used to be checking for Santa Clause. Now I just think they’re making coffee and dragging their feet so they can have alone time before we tear everything apart. (Dad doesn’t drink coffee, so he has some OJ). We used to race down the stairs (except Stephen), now we kind of meander our way down, hung over from the festivities the night before. Mom never disappoints. Every year it’s the same. “We’re not having a big Christmas this year.” OK, Mom. First we open our pile of presents, then we go into the family room where our one “big” present is waiting. Then back to the living room to give Mom and Dad their presents. Then stockings. All the while listening to Christmas music as Mom’s breakfast bake is in the oven and Dad’s bloody mary’s are calling our names in the kitchen. It’s wonderful.
The rest of the day is spent watching movies, “playing” with our gifts (whatever that might mean for each of us – last year it was playing with Sarah’s Wii), eating amazing hors d’oeurves and drinking delicious drinks. Grandma, Pop-pop, Uncle Chuck, Denise, and the kids come over later. Mike usually spends the day with his family and comes over at night, too. Some other guests might stop by. Kelly O. has made a habit of coming over for a drink. It’s like her Christmas happy hour before she heads to her family’s place. (I hope she still stops by this year even though I won’t be there. My parents would be thrilled to see her.) LMonny might stop by, or on Christmas Eve. The best was when one year her Dad dressed up as Santa Clause (I think he does it every year now). I had told my Dad that Mr. Montague does this, but he has short term memory. Mr. Montague shows up and my Dad has noooo idea who he is. Just plays along, talking to Santa. Hysterical. Other people make their way over. I go nowhere. It’s nice to be home all day.
I hate saying this, but Christmas night, like late, after my parents have gone to sleep – is horrible. It might be the worst night of the year. I get so excited for Christmas every year – the music, the movies, the parties, the decorating, the gift-giving, the love, seeing everyone you don’t usually get to see throughout the year. It really is the best time of year. I don’t care if that’s cheesy. And then it’s all over and I’m depressed. Mike has to deal with that part. I think he’s used to it by now.
So, that is the silver lining of this year. I’m still going to be obsessed with Christmas, and the music, and the movies, and the decorating, and the spirit, and the gift-giving (tight budget, though, ugh). I won’t be home with my family and friends, which means the whole month will be a little depressing, but Christmas night might not be so bad.
*The Classic Brown