It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas Eve morning and it's a beautiful day

Merry Christmas Eve! It’s that day before Christmas excitement. Not as good as the real thing but the anticipation is great. Mike and I wake up early to watch It’s a Wonderful Life in bed. Coffee, water, and I’m set. This is the best Christmas movie of all time. I remember the first time I saw it in high school. I had heard of it, but I guess the whole black-and-white thing made me think it would be boring (ashamed to admit that, but at that age I didn’t have a clue). I watched it in our family room one night, by myself, after dinner. It was a week night. I was completely bawling at the end. Dad walked in somewhere in the middle. “What are you watching?” It’s a Wonderful Life. “Have you ever seen it?” No. An excited look in his eyes. “Oh, it’s a Classic.” It is a classic, but Dad says that about many things. I’ve watched it every year since, and ever year I meet people who haven’t seen it. This just blows my mind. Not only is it the best Christmas movie of all time, it’s one of the greatest movies, too.

Afterwards I come downstairs and there’s some mail for me: one card is from Katie Niemczyk. Niemczyk and I played field hockey at Monmouth together – she was a junior when I was a freshman. There were five freshmen in my class, but she called me Freshman more than any of the rest. Sophomore year I was very excited to not be a freshman anymore, and she squashed my anticipation by immediately calling me Freshman at preseason. Excuse me, I’m not a freshman anymore. “You’re still a freshman to me.” Dammit. She was my captain that year, so she continued to call me Freshman and I called her Captain. I looked up to her more than anyone else on the team. I felt like I was the most like her – as far as passion for the sport and the team and winning and all that. Some people just didn’t care as much. I never understood that. I loved my high school team and I was proud to be a part of it, but most of the high school players didn’t care about playing in college. A lot of them just did it for fun, or just to play a Fall sport, which made me even more excited to play Division I field hockey. Anyone who plays D-1 HAS to live and die for the sport – at least to a certain extent. This was not the case. It was disheartening. But Niemczyk kept me believing in my team and working hard every day. She was definitely an inspiration. A lot of fun, too. After college, she moved down to Philly and actually became the assistant coach at a local high school – Gateway – while I was covering sports for the local paper. So random for her to be down in South Jersey. And so awesome. After that, she moved back north and so did I – to New York then Hoboken. We didn’t talk much, then I saw she got married and her name wasn’t Niemczyk anymore. We might say a random thing to each other now and then, with both of us coaching and still in love with field hockey, but it’s few and far between. Until I was in California and I got a text from her. “Your blog literally made my day-keep it up stets.” It was amazing to hear from her and now it feels like we’re somehow back in college, friends again, like no time has passed. Even though all she’s doing is reading my words. Her card includes a long, inspiring quote, reminiscent of her cards and speeches during the season. Then a short note: “Dear ‘Freshman’, It is inspiring to be cheering you on as you chase your dreams. Go get ’em Stetson.” It still feels like she’s my Captain, and I’m still looking up to her.

The second card is from Shelley Hink, or Mrs. Hink, as I call her. Her daughter, Ryan, graduated with Sarah, and her son, Shawn, was a year younger than me. She’s always been very friendly with the family and just a nice lady. Every time I see her she wants to know everything and asks how the family is doing. I recently saw her at Girls’ Weekend. LMonny, Jackie, LStever and I were jogging on the beach when we passed her clan with the Potters’ and the Hitchners’…you know, parents. They were celebrating Mrs. Potters’ birthday; all bundled up on the beach lounging on beach chairs and drinking top notch bloody marys’ with shrimp and olives. I want to party with them. They were all very excited for my big move to California. (Of course they knew all about it because I had been living the past two years with Mrs. Potter’s son, Kevin, the coolest kid I know). Mrs. Potter and Mrs. Hink have been following along with the blog, but I wasn’t expecting a Christmas card. Inside are glittery pink snowflake ornaments that I immediately hang on our tree. Love! And a gift card to Target. Then a note: “Dear Lindsay and Mike, I am so happy for you to be following your dream! I love reading your blog Lindsay. Great luck to both of you! Hi to Troy and Sonny and Tara, too! Buy yourself something for your apt, or food!” I’m overwhelmed. This is too nice.

After a breakfast/lunch (it’s not fancy enough to call brunch), of scrambled eggs and toast, I get ready to skype with the fam. It’s Christmas Eve, after all, and every year we do our family pollyanna on this day. We finally get set up and the whole family is in front of me: Mom, Dad, Stephen (eventually), Sarah, Court, Chris, and Aunt Jackie. Mom and Dad have never skyped before today. Mom thinks it’s cool but not in a ridiculous way – like Dad. He’s screaming at me through the computer and waving his arms so I can see him. He’s right in front of me. Stephen is hilarious – or at least he thinks so. “What time is it there??? What DAY is it?” It’s weird to see them all there, sitting in front of the tree, at night, on Christmas Eve and not be there with them. It’s still daylight here, and I have to leave in a couple hours to go to work (not that I’m complaining). We talk for a while and then begin the presents. Sarah has Chris and I don’t really pay attention to what she’s getting…makeup or something. Christine has Stephen, as I feel like she has for the past three years. She gets him a pretty cool looking analog clock and a movie called ‘Cloak and Dagger’ because he asked for a cloak and dagger. I wish it was the real thing. Stephen had me, of course. He sent me a gift card to Amazon. “Something else is arriving Tuesday. Do you want to know what it is?” No. “I think you might.” OK, fine, what is it. He starts rambling about this deal he found and I tell him to spit it out. “A dozen hackysacks.” You’re an idiot. Why would you waste your money on that? What am I going to do with a dozen hackysacks?” I don’t know why I even ask. My family is all laughing, like they get the joke. It’s lost on me. Seriously, a dozen hackysacks? I have Courtney. I sent the gift home and Mom wrapped it for me: three scarves, a pair of long gloves, and one of those re-usable plastic cups with the straw in it that she seems to like so much. It has her name on it. There’s a ‘silly’ gift for all of us from Mom. She tells me what the package looks like and I go to find it under the tree. We all unwrap it at once. Lord. My Mom got us that foot thing you put in the shower to wash your feet…you know…so you don’t have to bend over. Wow. We say our goodbyes and I tell them we’ll skype again tomorrow.

Silly gift

Next is Mike’s family. They do a white elephant exchange every year with their family, which if you don’t know, is a polyanna type deal where you steal gifts, but they might be really silly gifts. Somehow, Mike and I are participating. Mrs. Manfre put in gifts for us and whatever we win they’ll send out to us. 29 family members are participating, and I get No. 1. Usually, this is the worst number, but this year, No. 1 gets to steal at the end, so it’s a pretty sweet deal. Mr. Manfre, John, and Maria are manning the computer. Mr. Manfre and Maria are yelling a lot; John, as always, is the calm and collected one. I make Maria try on some of the gifts for me. Usually Mandy would be screaming, too, but she’s pregnant with her first child and obviously not drinking tonight. We found out before we moved, but she asked us not to say anything. This is very difficult for me. I’m not good at secrets. Not because I want to tell people, but because I FORGET that I’m not allowed to. The gift opening and stealing takes over an hour. Again, it’s weird not to be there with them. I don’t feel sad or depressed or anything, just kind of like it’s not really happening. It’s a lot of fun and we end up getting some awesome gifts. I steal from John at the end: a small bottle of grey goose and an adorable snowman glass. Mike gets a nut themed gift of candy bars with nuts in them and a nut-scented candle. His Dad steals a gift and announces that he’ sending it to North Hollywood. Oh yeaaaaa I’ll take a Homer doll and a bottle of cookie dough vodka.

I finish getting ready and head to work, noticing that a lot of the bars and restaurants on Abbot Kinney are closed tonight, which means we could very well be busy. We are. Corrinne comes in later than me and is standing behind me as I put an order in the computer. I hear her sniffling. Something has been going around. Are you sick? “No.” Allergies? “No, just crying.” I stop entering the order and turn to look at her. Oh my God, Corrinne, what’s wrong? “It’s just my first Christmas alone.” My heart is breaking. Corrinne’s husband is in France and her teenage son is somewhere else across the country…I think visiting a girlfriend. She has some family in other states, too. Tears are streaming down her face as she tries to pull herself together. We had talked before about not having our families with us this year, but obviously it doesn’t really sink in until it’s here. I feel guilty that I’m not crying. I tell her that I skyped earlier with my family. “Yes, me too. It’s fine then, but afterwards…” Ugh. I feel horrible. She tries to laugh it off and insists that she will get drunk tonight after work with some friends. Yes. Good. We have a decent dinner rush: nothing too crazy, but I’m there until about 10:30. I hug Corrinne goodnight. Get home after 11 and am, of course, starving. There’s no cheese left for grilled cheese, so I cook up some rotini with butter and parmesan cheese. Clean the kitchen real quick to prepare for breakfast tomorrow, and head up to bed with my pasta and some wine. Mike was feeling pretty good when I got home but he looks close to passing out now. Still, he sets the movie up for me before he drifts off to sleep. Polar Express, of course. Another recent tradition – I have to watch this movie every year, if not on Christmas Eve, than no earlier than the week before. It really puts me into the Christmas spirit so, so much. I love it. Tom Hanks is the man. I drink about three glasses of wine and fall asleep shortly after the movie. Definitely my most sober Christmas Eve in a long time.

*Johnny Mathis

4 thoughts on “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

  1. aw i love this post. i feel bad for corinne 😦 and i love that you somehow pulled off a skype version of white elephant. we miss you, but of course are all very proud of you. i need to work on getting out there to visit i feel like its already been too long.

  2. 2 things.
    1 you will always be my freshman
    2. Its A Wonderful Life is my all time favorite movie. I watch it in July when I feel like watching a good movie. I feel that people who don’t get emotional during this movie are lacking something.

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