In the ancient days of the twentieth century, before the internet normalized access to instantaneous contact with other humans thousands of miles away, keeping in touch with distant family and friends took effort and/or money. Long-distance calls weren’t included free in our monthly phone bills and racked up astronomical charges if we stayed on the line more than a few minutes. Cross-country travel was affordable for upper classes but a luxury beyond the reach of my family. That left two choices on the table for us: making do with happy thoughts and prayers; or the United States Postal Service.
Before our first glimpse of Thanksgiving turkey or family, my long holiday weekend kicked off after work Wednesday when I arrived home around 4 p.m. to find Thursday morning’s newspaper already delivered, articles and all. The largest physical edition every year, Thanksgiving Day papers are coveted for their Black Friday ads, more or less the official Christmas season launch. Shoppers can’t wait to get started on it — hence more and more stores reopening on Thanksgiving itself, hours ahead of the Black Friday starter pistols. It stands to reason our carrier couldn’t wait to get past it, to unload this newsprint behemoth as soon as possible.
No, not the song. Egad, no. No no no no no.
Once again it’s the season for family making the visitation rounds for the sake and spirit of Christmas. Our largest family gathering every year is at my father-in-law’s place, where this year over three dozen relatives and plus-ones convened on Saturday morning, though just to brag for the record, Anne and I were among the three (3) people who could be bothered to arrived on time.
One of the major house rules is shoes come off at the front door, because older couples who think white carpet is a splendid decorating choice are finicky that way. By the time everyone arrived and got down to eating and mingling throughout the afternoon, the entryway was a cluttered war zone of castoff footwear. No heels, no Manolo Blahniks, nothing you’d wear to a shoeshine stand. Neither our families nor our gatherings see high rollers like that. Anyone who would object to such carefree shoe storage would be recognized right away as Not One of Us.
And yes, I see you number-crunchers out there scrunching your nose because you count two dozen pairs at most in the photo. Several more pairs were offscreen to my left. It’s also possible that a few of the toddlers were allowed to keep theirs on. I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t looking because no one assigned me to Christmas Shoe Police duty.
The shoe pile is emblematic of our gatherings themselves, whether it’s holidays, kids’ birthday parties, or the annual reunions where we’re joined by a few extra strangers of shared blood. Everyone who’s a citizen of our tiny microcosm nation agrees to throw in together and make one big mess. At the end we agree to retrieve the parts of the mess that were our fault, one by one, family unit by family unit, until order is restored and my in-laws have their foyer back.
It’s Christmas. It’s what we do. In our finer moments it’s how we can be as a family in other matters as well.
Merry Christmas to you ‘n’ yours from us here at Midlife Crisis Crossover. May your days be merry and bright, may your celebrations of our Savior be blessed and comforting, and here’s hoping the circles you belong to will set aside their reservations and come together in happy, sloppy, love-filled pileups of their own.
Here in Indianapolis every year, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the center of downtown is upconverted into “The World’s Largest Christmas Tree”, as it’s been billed for decades. I have no idea if that record holds, or if it was later disqualified for lack of organic roots, or if it was cute hyperbole from Year 1 onward. Regardless, it’s one of our most beloved holiday tourist attractions, and a far more tasteful and aesthetically pleasing tradition than Black Friday shopping.