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Monday, January 4, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Dark Christmas

In my 34 years on this Earth, there have been more forgotten Christmases than ones I can remember. The first three are a bit hazy, for sure. Sure, there was the year I got the Millennium Falcon and immediately broke off the radar dish. Something that foreshadowed the events of Return of the Jedi. Then, there was the year we got an Atari, although to be totally accurate it was the Sears Tele-Games version that came with the darker word grain finish and Target Fun instead of Combat. But for the most part, Christmas seems to come and go without a memorable event that makes it stand out against the mosaic of all Christmases combined. That was, until this year. Perhaps the two most remembered quotes of the holiday will be “Remember Caillou” and “Fire! Fire! I need a grown up!”

To start I should back up to Christmas Eve. Our two year old and a half year old is starting to get the idea of Christmas and we wanted to record the act of putting out cookies and milk for Santa. Of course, my daughter is all about quality assurance and immediately checked the cookies for suitable eating after she put them down on the stool in front of the tree. We also put some carrots out on the front porch in case the reindeer get tired of waiting on the roof. After lights out, we made sure Santa had enough space to put out all the presents. In fact, Santa became quite the vandal as he left messages on our back door, front door and refrigerator in red washable ink. It was something of a cross between Danny Torrance’s “REDRUM” and John McClane’s message about having a machine gun, "Ho, Ho, Ho." From the scrawling penmanship, I felt Santa was a sadistic bastard who didn't realize how hard it would be to clean up the mess after all was said and done.

The next morning, my in laws came over to watch the joy and awe like effect Christmas morning has on a child. The night before she was able to open one present and her excitement for that told us that a room full of presents should be a big deal. I stood in the living room, camera at the ready, and she waltzed down the hallway. She walked into the living room, right past the tree and over to an end table where her gift from the night before was sitting. She proceeded to stand there and show it to her grandmother, reveling in its coolness. Meanwhile, the blazing tree and multitude of gifts, that stood not two feet from her, went unnoticed. She didn’t even bat an eye at the cookie crumbs or gnawed carrot bits on the front porch. Looks like Christmas memories for her will be few and far between as well these first few years.

After we coaxed her into opening at least three of her gifts, we managed to clean up the discarded boxes and torn paper and prepared for a trip to my parents. It’s always hard to travel with children. They get so worked up because of the holiday and then you have to do all this travelling which just exhausts everyone. Not to mention, all kids want to do is play with their toys after they open them and to rip them from that playtime and trot them off to another person's house is not pleasing, even if that person also has presents for them. Since, my child was oblivious to presents at this point I figured it shouldn't be a problem. Although, it’s nice if we can work in a nap for her before we leave. She was already excited, not because she would be opening more presents but because she would be able to play with her cousin.

Now, we haven’t really seen a white Christmas around here for years. They are usually rainy and cold, but not white. This year was no exception, adding wind to the mix. It was hard at times to keep the new minivan on the road. Center of gravity was the one thing I hadn’t considered when replacing my low to the ground coupe. The car shimmied all over the road as the wind whipped over the hills and onto the turnpike. As we pulled into my parents’ driveway we could see the pine trees, that lined the driveway, bend and sway in the breeze. We took a few minutes to sit in the new sun room, which they had just added, and watched the closest pine almost kiss the glass more than once on the large windows.

About ten minutes before we were ready to eat, the power went out. My wife and I were standing in the living room with our daughter when it happened. I immediately called out to her to stand still as I walked over to try and find her in the darkness. Even if the outage had been confined to our house, alone, there would have been no outside lights to even give off the faintest glow through the windows. My parents live on the outskirts of town in a semi rural area, surrounded by farms and small housing plans. The only lights you get out there are from other houses and the occasional street light. We were pretty much in total darkness. Once I had gotten a hold of my kid, I picked her up while others worked on getting flashlights and candles. Once we had some light to go around, I grabbed a flashlight and aimed it straight at the ceiling. The white ceiling acted as a reflector bouncing the light around the room creating enough light to see but not enough to blind you from pointing a light in your face.

Luckily, my mother had finished cooking and was just getting ready to serve dinner when this happened or we may have been reduced to eating a Christmas dinner that was smiling at us. "Fa Ra Ra Ra Ra..." Now, I half expected my daughter to be in hysterics at this point. After all, she has issues with the dark in our house. But instead, she kept repeating the same thing over and over in the darkness. “Remember Caillou?” and then she would trail off into toddler incoherency. For those of you without small children, Caillou is a Canadian kids' cartoon on Sprout, based off of books. It’s about a little bald headed boy named Caillou. One of the episodes centered around a storm that caused the power to go out. She made it a point to tell everyone in “This one time at Band Camp” fashion “Remember Caillou, when the lights went out?” This went on for a least 30 minutes.

Dinner was excellent as always and afterwards we retired to the sun room to open presents. Usually, we would all just open simultaneously but due to conditions we took turns. One person would hold a flashlight while the other would open and vice versa. My father who claims that he doesn’t need or want anything for Christmas was actually jazzed for one present he opened this year. It was an LED lighted head band. It was practical and easily applicable in our current situation. We had candles around the room and a few oil lamps but this thing threw off a lot of light. He even hung it on the ceiling fan shining enough light for everyone. Even in perfect conditions we would have had trouble navigating from one side of the room to the other with all the presents. Because of the outage it was twice as tricky and this little bugger helped out a lot. At times, we couldn’t tell what exactly we had opened or who it was from, but we all enjoyed ourselves.

After presents, traditionally came pumpkin pie, but for some of us Tylenol would have been welcome. A couple of us began complaining of slight headaches and a bit of dizziness. We didn’t realize that maybe three oil lanterns would be a hazard. We decided to forgo the lamps during pie and coffee and I opted to wear the new most excellent Christmas present since Ralphie got his Red Ryder B.B. gun. The light was great if you needed to shine directly in front of you but in this case you could blind someone. So, I flipped it upside down and allowed the light to point upwards. I walked out into the living room where my daughter was playing and heard my nephew calling from the kitchen. He had taken up residence at the kitchen table with his new Nintendo DS while waiting for desert.

On the table, a gel based candle had finally reached its flash point and the gel caught fire, creating a larger flame. “Fire. Fire” He called out, calmly, while still playing the game system. My wife and sister in law stood in the kitchen and assessed the fire. It didn’t look that bad but it soon became bigger. “Fire. Fire” he called again, “I need a grown up!” They rushed over and I made my way around the living room and into the kitchen. Both my wife and sister in law had begun blowing on the table which was now engulfing the entire candle and with every blow threatened to spread. They both seemed sort of stunned and a bit alarmed at the growing threat. I calmly walked over and grabbed one of the pie plates. In what looked like my ignorance of the situation, in order to save the pie from disaster, was actually methodical. I merely placed the plate on top of the candle, snuffing out the oxygen supply. Both women looked at me like I had just grew antlers.

With the fire out, we proceeded with desert which deteriorated into fits of giggling and uncontrollable laughter brought on by what I can only figure was exposure to the oil lamps. My brother asked what my father used for fuel to which my father said, "Some can in the garage." I followed up asking if the can had a dirty old rag for a cap. All the while, I wore the head band lamp upside down on my head shining upward at the ceiling. My head nodded as I laughed at the littlest of things causing the light to create a strobe effect. My wife, who had really felt the downturn of the holidays this year declared that this would be the most memorable Christmases ever. With that, my daughter looked up with a whip cream goatee and said, “Remember Caillou?” Once again, we broke up into hysterics.

But my wife was right. I admit, this season was a bit of a downer. After all, 2009 was pretty unfavorable in that we had more valleys to navigate than peaks in terms of moods. Her mom battled cancer most of the year, beginning with surgery to remove a brain tumor, moved onto pulmonary emboli and a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, that ended with her having additional surgery and chemotherapy. She lost her job due to redundancy from a merger/acquisition in her company and her home was flooded during heavy rains in June. Her usual spunky attitude towards Christmas was dour with thoughts of having to wear a wig or shell out money for repairs and Christmas presents from her savings instead of regular pay. In the end, she came out on the winning side but had taken a lot of lumps to get there and it showed. We should be thankful that we get another Christmas with a woman that should have been dead 13 years ago. That’s 13 Christmases that were unremarkable just because no one was missing. Had it gone the other way, my wife would have probably done everything she could have to forget the holiday.

Still, she was right, this was the best Christmas ever. Thankfully we weren’t all too hopped up on diesel fumes and could remember it….and Caillou.

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