Christmas with the clan

The day began at 10am. I had gone to bed at roughly 4am, having been watching movies all night before. So of course I was going to be in my regular happy-go-lucky mood. I stumbled out of bed as my sister was putting the final touches onto her face to go out with her boyfriend to see his family for the day. Rolling my eyes with a cynical disdain (stemming from the untimely feeling that it could have been me doing the same sort of thing not two weeks ago), I washed my face to wake myself up, then stumbled downstairs. I was greeted by my mother, shared a hug and a kiss on the cheek (the third and final one of the year), and then we exchanged presents.

In regards to buying presents, I have a simple philosophy: Cash is good. There have been occasions I have gone buying people presents, but that’s usually for a special event. A 21st, or an engagement present, or a 50th. For just another Christmas, or a birthday, I’m going to be handing out cash. Unless I am told something specific to go and get and I have the time. For some reason beyond me, none of my immediate family wanted cash. I even got a few strange looks when I ventured it. So I threw down an ultimatum: If you didn’t want cash, go and buy yourself something, and I’ll pay you back for it and then give it to you. I figured this was best because it meant I didn’t have to go to the stores and brave the crowds (something I have a problem with when it’s not even crowded!) and I wouldn’t have to find time off during this hectic period at work.

By the end of it, my mother had bought herself this wire butterfly to hang in the laundry, and my father the Andre Agassi biography. I had remembered that my sister was collecting the fancy variations of Absolut Vodka bottles, so I grabbed the latest one at the Duty Free store on my trip to Malaysia. So all my shopping was done. I just had to do wrapping and that crap. So it came to the night before, at about 2am, and I still hadn’t done it. It was going to be a massive effort, with a lot of delicate care and love put into this.

I grabbed a handful of those bag things that look like they are made out of wrapping paper and went to work. The butterfly wouldn’t fit in any of the bags, so I made it fit in one. A bag was overkill for the book, so I used it for that too. And I, luckily, found one that was designed for bottles for my sister’s present.

Done.

Next I had to fill out cards. There’s a strange reputation around my family that I write the best cards, and (in all seriousness) people hope that I write their card. Maybe because I write good cards, but rarely am responsible for writing cards. So, due to the rarity of my cards, there’s the idea that they are good. Fair enough, I guess, as at least people in my family think I’m good at something. I wrote out, what I thought, were good cards for my immediate family. I did the sentimental stuff for mother, found (what I would call) a ‘politically correct’ card for my father and played it up, and mixed immature jokes with a touch of sincerity for my sister. With the last sign off, I was done.

So I had to give all this out. I gave my mother back the butterfly (which was in a ‘Happy Birthday’ bag, by design), and her card. She was touched by the card, and pretended to be surprised by the butterfly.

It was around 10:30am, and that was the highest point in the day.

Mum gave me my presents, some DVDs and books. I had received the bulk of my present prior to going on holiday. My electric shaver’s trimmer had stopped working as good as it used to, so I got a dedicated trimmer to maintain the permanent 3-day growth that I sport these days. And mum had gone me halves in repairing the camera that I had busted.

I was then informed that i should give my sister her present, because she was going out. I lugged it up from beneath the tree and handed it to her. She was pleasantly surprised, liked the card, and then returned to her make-up. That marked the most interaction my sister and I had throughout the year. An acceptable level, I feel.

I went back downstairs to have some apple juice and wait for my father. Eventually he came from somewhere, we shook hands and I gave him his present. He shook his head at the card with a wry smile (he is quite right-wing, I should probably mention) and thanked me again. I left him to go and get ready for the rest of the day. This would include a lunch at Canterbury League Club for their lunch with my father’s side of the family. Always a riveting affair.

Did I say riveting?

My sister didn’t have to go (conveniently timed lunch with her boyfriend’s family), so it was just mother, father, and I. We drove there, which in my father’s new car is unenjoyable: sitting in the back, you are as stifled as the conversation. It was raining, which I thought was unusual as I can’t remember the last wet Christmas. In saying that, I can’t remember the weather for Christmas in 2008, so don’t use me as a guide.

We got there, and were met immediately with a surprise. Now I have an uncle – my father’s brother. And where my father worked hard to get to a position of success from an upbringing of struggle, my uncle had no intentions of doing the same. Drugs and alcohol have, and I believe still do, play a big part in his life. He has no place of residence, though manages to bounce from somewhere to somewhere throughout the year. And we have a number that we are supposed to ring in the event of a funeral or to tell him where we will all be for Christmas so that he can come. It’s not even his number, rather a woman who generally knows his whereabouts at any one time. However, in calling that number this year, we were unable to get through. After weeks of trying to locate him through other various contacts, people had started assuming the worst. I hadn’t because, well, I didn’t waste my timing thinking about something I had no idea. But if I had to make a wager whether he would turn up or not, I would have bet not.

Anyway, there he was, waiting for us to arrive. He had, apparently, dropped in to see his mother a couple day before and she had told him. My mother had paid for a ticket in the event that he might front. And sure enough, he did. He did not look well, but he looked improved from years prior. We exchanged hellos and went in to wait for the rest of the family, who arrived intermittently. My grandmother, two aunts (one whose child is my Godson who was not in attendance; one who we suspect is a lesbian and who brought a friend with her), my disappearing uncle, and the three of us made up the whole table.

The event was, for the most part, the once-a-year thing that you wish was even less frequent. I am cruel and unfair, you might think, but you have to understand what it’s like. My grandmother, who has MS, is exhausted just by getting up in the morning. It’s unfair, but she can’t carry any sort of conversation. My disappearing uncle is hardly up-to-date on current affairs and whatnot. My two aunts are actually knowledgeable, especially my aunt who brought her friend. She just graduated her Master of Criminology at USyd’s Law Faculty in the year, and is about to start another postgraduate degree in law. But she is very eccentric and would much rather talk about Julie Andrews (and her impending trip to go see her in London, where she will also stop into Las Vegas to see Barry Manilow – all with her accompanying friend). That was alright, because I was able to talk about my recent trips. But it’s a very excluding conversation, especially for those who don’t travel or haven’t been to the places in question. So that was 15 minutes of talk out of, about 4 hours of attendance. Another 15 minutes might be found with my other aunt, but she would much rather talk about her latest television, or dog, or something she has bought. And, speaking honestly, she is not all that well off to be buying all these things. So all the while I’m internally rolling my eyes.

Obviously I am not going to talk to my mother or father. So there’s not really a whole lot of conversation for me at an event like this. I make every effort I can to make the whole thing enjoyable, but it doesn’t usually result in much. Highlights include: Should Hussey be dropped from the current cricket team, what did I get my former girlfriend for Christmas (having broken up with her before it and which the person asking actually knew), am I actually gay, when will I finally graduate, and whether I liked Vegas or not. Over 4 hours.

eventually that lunch ended. I said my farewells, and we all headed off back to our house where we would host my mother’s side of the family for dinner. We had, maybe, an hour turn-around before my grandparents would arrive to help out. Of course, this wouldn’t necessarily result in being ready earlier – my grandfather (mother’s father) is a prodigious talker (which often grates my father) and holds strong opinions on things (which very much grates my father). We arrived home, and soon they did as well. While I thoroughly enjoy spending time with my grandfather (as evidenced by my trip to Europe with him for a month), it became clear that, early on, my father’s patience was wearing thin as he was trying to get everything ready. I took the bullet (as it would be the least upsetting to my mother, as well as being known to start arguments for the fun of it), and started to just say stuff that I knew would frustrate my grandfather to the point he would wander off to talk with my mother and leave my father. Things like “Shane Watson might well be the greatest all-rounder this country has ever seen” and “I’m glad Copenhagen failed”. Things I clearly do not believe, but for my grandfather is like trying  to force a torrent of water through a funnel such is his want to respond. He wandered off, to my disappointment but to visible relief to my father.

Eventually we were all ready and we could engage in enjoyable conversations all-round. And the day certainly picked up. Eventually my mother’s sister arrived with two of my three cousins and my uncle. One of my cousins has recently graduated and is part of the navy now, on submarines. The family is exceptionally proud of him, given who he is. I spoke mostly to him, as we had grown up together (he is a year older than me) and, up until I hit year 10 and he dropped out of school, we had spent every second weekend with each other. Since then we’ve not had much to do with each other, much to my lament. But we are very much different people, so it stands to figure. But this Christmas provided a chance to really catch up.

My aunt enquired about my honours, and said she’d like to read it. However, when I showed it to her, she reassessed her original intentions. There was also a lively debate about quality beers between all the men in attendence. It was interesting in itself, though a sociologist would be able to make a lot of hay out of it. I advocated only for foreign beers. My grandfather shared a similar sentiment. My father vouched for a mixture of foreign and local beers. My uncle only held local beers in reverence. And my cousin spoke of commercial beers. Why might this be interesting?

I travel, a lot, as everyone knows. My grandfather is an English immigrant and also enjoys traveling. My father travels more than me, but is extremely Australian-minded and ‘patriotic’ and was raised that way. My uncle is extremely pro-Australian to the point of being a Redneck (in American terms) or bogan (in Australian terms). My cousin is the type of guy who drinks what is fashionable and popular among the ‘it’ crowd. So make of that what you will.

Eventually everyone upgraded from regular beers (as it is what is done after dinner proper for some). If this family has one thing that we all respect, it is good drink. Even if there are ‘uncultured’ family members, we still all have respect for quality drinks. So the upgrades included a bottle of Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage 2003 for the wine and champagn drinkers (not me), a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label King George V (my bottle), or some premium beers that made a showing. Most people latched onto the Moet, which was good for me not having to splash out my Blue. And those on the beers felt they were getting the same enjoyment out of their drinks.

This evening pulled on, and I started to get somewhat tired. So did everyone. Eventually my non-navy cousin had to get moving; she had to get to her boyfriend’s house to spend some time with his family. They eventually moved on, and it was left with our family (my sister and her boyfriend had arrived through the afternoon for dinner) and my grandparents. I chatted with my grandfather for a while, then eventually they had to leave to tend to their cat at home. We all exchanged goodbyes, and parted ways.

Things returned to normal after that: All of my immediate family went to separate rooms to do their own thing. I ended up watching Jerry Maguire and checking things on my phone. I don’t know what everyone else got up to, but eventually they all were off to bed, leaving me to see out the night alone. As is preferred. I watched another move after Maguire, then headed to bed myself.

And that was my Christmas.

Thomas.

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