Interesting Xmas Eve
Y’all know where I stand with the holidays and with family dynamics (particularly dysfunctional ones). But I have to say, Xmas Eve at John’s sister’s house was remarkably pleasant. And since I’m more of an observer and bystander in these events, it’s interesting for me to sit quietly, watch and listen.
I know John was hurt that all three of his siblings dropped the ball on Thanksgiving, so I was kinda relieved (albeit annoyed that it was at the last possible minute) that we got the invitation from his sister S for dinner. It turned out to be a very low-key time, with just eight of us. Not as overwhelming as past gatherings.
When I first met John’s oldest niece and nephew (M and P), they were 14 and 12. And obnoxious. They displayed what I soon learned was the typical collective family attitude toward John — a kind of disdain. Yeah, that Uncle Johnny sure is weird, isn’t he? Never mind that he’s the smartest of the four, or the most successful, career-wise. He’s still the oddball who gave everyone compact fluorescent lightbulbs for Christmas ten years ago when they were new and expensive, because he’s into saving energy and the environment. He’s still the only one who never married or had kids, so he’s not normal. He’s still the one they always teased, picked on and made fun of. “We think you’re a saint for putting up with him,” his sister said to me, during my first year of dating John. Of course her kids were going to pick up on that attitude.
But now, M and P are 29 and 27, and they’ve grown into nice adults. They are warm and affectionate with both of us and show a lot more appreciation and respect for their uncle than they ever did growing up. I watched John bask in this and it did my heart good.
He was the superstar of the evening, because he went into his wine cellar and contributed not only a bottle of 1981 Vintage Port, but a magnum of champagne. This is a hard-drinking crowd, folks. Both bottles were consumed (and do you know how freaking huge a magnum is??), and they wanted more. He also knew how to get a very old cork out of the port bottle without crumbling it into the wine. And, for presentation, he’d brought along a Waterford crystal decanter.
M just got engaged to her long-time boyfriend. He’s going to be an engineer — and John has been one for over 30 years. So he was the go-to guy of the night for answers on an engineering career. It made me happy to see that too. His family has always had this “Oh, John’s such a know-it-all” air. His brother-in-law once said to me, “There are two ways to do anything — John’s way and the wrong way,” which really pissed me off. So this was a pleasant change.
His sister, of course, was plastered early on. But I have to say, she was very nice to me. And so accepting of my food oddities. His other sister (you know, the one who can’t cook anything without a quart of oil, several sticks of butter and a pound of cheese) certainly isn’t. When we came to the dinner table, I saw that S had set aside a bowl of salad for me, before she put a rich and creamy dressing on it. My salad was plain, and there was a cruet of fat-free raspberry vinaigrette by the plate. She also filled my dinner plate with plain steamed cauliflower, before she poured cheese sauce over the rest of it. I thought that was quite considerate; stuff like that goes a long way with me. I feel self-conscious enough about being a picky eater and having an abhorrence for butter/cheese/heavy sauces, and I’m usually prepared for people to give me a hard time about it, not willingly accommodate it.
I was quiet most of the evening. We lingered at the dinner table for a long time; others were chatting it up, but I just sat and listened, fighting a bit of drowsiness from the champagne. I’ve never been much of a talker among John’s family, which is one of the reasons they’ve always thought I was such a stiff. But then P started talking about a word game they all like to play (Bananagrams), and S said, “Oh, Erica would KILL you in that. Erica, have you ever played Bananagrams?” I’d never heard of it, so I said no. “Oh, you have to play! Wanna learn?”
I love games. I grew up playing every conceivable board and card game (and billiards, too), but I got out of the habit because John doesn’t enjoy games. So I felt my enthusiasm and competitive side kicking in as we went into the living room and they showed me how to play.
John told me about this later: While I was in the living room, he’d lingered in the kitchen, helping to clean up. (I know John… part of this was to be nice and helpful, but most of it was so he could wash his own Waterford decanter and not have his intoxicated sister handling it!) He said S came into the kitchen and shooed him out, telling him he really should go in and watch us playing Bananagrams. “You have to see Erica — I’ve never seen her so excited or animated! Go enjoy it!”
Sheeesh. How little she knows me, really. John said he had to bite his tongue so he wouldn’t answer, “Oh, I’ve seen her like that before. You should see her at a spanking party.” (snicker)
We had thought we’d be ducking out around 8:30-9:00, as soon as we could politely escape. We ended up leaving at 11:30.
The family won’t change. His siblings will always be people I really don’t care for, and they probably won’t ever regard John any differently. They’re never going to be the close and supportive family he yearns for. But it sure was nice to hear M call out the door as we walked toward my car, “Love you, Uncle Johnny!” And he was cheerful the rest of the weekend.
Ugh. I’m so glad I was able to let go of the need for family validation. John hasn’t been so fortunate. So, these good times mean a lot.
I guess the best I can do is keep reminding him what a wonderful man he is, and how I got the best of the [his last name] family. 🙂