Grandma & Grandpa and a few of my cousins.  I’m on Grandpa’s lap.
My crazy-ass sister is at it again.  Thankfully, this time I’m not her target.  
I haven’t seen our father this upset since my mom left him.  But now he gets it, and he finally understands what I’ve been trying to tell him for years about my not-so-stable sibling.  
Apparently I wasn’t missing anything but drama at Thanksgiving back home in Indiana.  So sad.  He’s waiting for an apology.  I told him he will never get it, and the only way to have a relationship with her is to release that expectation.  He’s upset, and he’s not budging.  And she’s his favorite, too.  Poor thing. 
I’m beginning to feel sorry for my sister, too, as it’s clear she lives in a very ugly world and has not yet found the independence and freedom many women find in their forties.  
When I think about past holidays and associate those days with better times, I wonder why I believe it was happier.  
My grandmother’s tiny house was packed with aunts and cousins and loud-mouthed uncles in overalls.  The older boys parked themselves on the floor, stretched out directly in front of the old television, while the rest of us tripped over them trying to find a place to sit with our paper plates full of our annual favorites.  Soggy green beans cooked to death with ham hocks in a metal vat, yeast rolls the size of softballs, and double-thumbed Aunt Arnetta’s towering cheese ball were my top three.  Under the bed in the second bedroom was a small secret box of toys that we pulled out every year until we got bored and tried to find something else to do, like build a snow fort or venture into the scary cellar or examine all of the jewels and 4-H pins set into a tacky vase in Grandma’s bedroom.  I loved that vase
It always took a little while for the shy cousins to reconnect year after year.  Once we did, we broke off into our respective age groups to talk and play and learn.  I liked that part.  Some years, when my birthday fell on Thanksgiving, the cousins would all line up and force me to go through a “spanking machine.”  That’s a fond memory – not.  
Still missing 3 cousins… my aunt painted the picture on the wall behind us.  This home now belongs to my dad.
At my other grandmother’s house, everyone sat properly and felt uptight in Mammaw’s spotless home, wishing she would stop lecturing Pappaw over how many beers he’d had, because he just got funnier and funnier, threatening to stow his false teeth in our back pockets and telling silly jokes, like, “Wanna roll?” as he passed the dinner bread, and then coming back with, “Well, then, get down on the floor and roll!”  They seemed like such an unlikely match, but stayed together from the time she was 16 until the day he died. 
Later, at my former husband’s family gatherings, we often had the drama of his estranged alcoholic sister coming for a visit and all of the bullshit that went along with that.  One year, she had left all of her cosmetics on the counter in the community bathroom, and I poked through to see what latest brand of makeup she was using until I stumbled on a tiny little bag about an inch square with some itty-bitty white “rocks” and a powder residue.  I also found a sturdy plastic straw.  When my husband confronted her, apparently he bought her explanation that she used the little bags to store her earrings for traveling, and the “rocks” were actually pieces of a makeup compact that had broken up, and she used the straw to dig it out of the container.  Hello???  Can you say “fucked up?”
Maybe what made those days different for me was the dizzy distraction that went on.  It was impossible to know if one felt sad or blue or happy or whatever in the middle of the zoo.  With a smaller crowd, everyone’s individual shit is much easier to experience, particularly my own.
The trick, I think, is to acknowledge the feelings that come up over the holidays, whatever they are, and just be aware of them.  The key to a happy holiday does not exist in a forgotten box from the past.  Nor does it lie in a dream of what could be in the future.  Happiness is right now.  Right now.  It’s in hanging that ornament on the tree or fighting with a stubborn strand of lights.  It’s singing a Christmas song and feeling the love of the season or giggling with my favorite freckle-faced red-head.  Right now.  This moment.  That is where the happiness is. 

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