Every christmas, we kids could look forward to my mom leaning over in her chair over in the grand room where the adults were eating, and glaring at us with all the resentment of a grown-up who wishes they were sitting with the children.
There was nothing quite as boring as eating at the in-laws for my mother. They never had much to talk about; I remember one time, they spent the whole conversation talking about how a restaurant should have had salad plates.
My mother, a passionate hispanic mom, thrown in with the dry, old irish of my dad’s family, was funny in that she looked and acted grown up the same way an elder-sibling acts older than their younger siblings. I wonder if she has ever caught on to the racism of my irish grandmother, letting Mom do all the dishes and clean up work? Those feeble protestations are hardly worth the wind grandma uses to speak them, yet every year we eat her drier-than-hell prime rib, and tasteless taters, and mom glares at us tittering, chattering kids at the table in the living room.
And it’s for those glares that I have realized I am most grateful. Holiday seasons are full of carols and cinnamon spice and commercials for those gifts that can suit anyone. But no one can glare daggers on christmas quite like Mom.
She rubbed off on Dad over the years. Her and her family of loud latino brethren, after decades of marriage, they wore down his stoicism. That loud atmosphere of their holiday parties echoes even now in my memory even though Mom’s parents are too old to still host such things. Dad laughed, smiled, insulted, and glared too. There was fighting, as there always is with spanish families, it’s like a tradition as old as farolitos; someone gets too drunk, too mad, and too loud when there’s too many spaniards in one room.
But when you’re with the Irish Grandma there’s something more like the silence of a tomb. We used to joke that she and grandpa were the Crypt Keepers; we can’t anymore because grandpa died, but she still seems that way.
Christmas is a time for celebrating; for the Spanish family of my mother, it’s not just for the birth of Jesus or any of the Catholic rhetoric; but it’s like a second birthday for everyone. We celebrate each other, how happy we are each one of our family members was born; whether we hate them enough to mock them, or love them enough to mock them harder. For the irish of my father, it’s a reminder that a lifetime of empty christmas cards and well wishes where people don’t know what to say, but feel like they must fill the silence, isn’t the way to live. But we kids still laugh at the table, inappropriately, loudly, and without remorse.
I look forward to Mom glaring daggers at us again this year, as much as I know that she doesn’t, but every year that she endures is another year I got to spend with her at Grandma’s house. I look forward to seeing the spanish familia, too, when they come to visit; loud, obnoxious, and full of that passion and zeal that gives the daggers in their eyes the sharpness.
But while it is the Season for well wishing and rememberance, and Silent Nights, it’s the lifetime spent marking that double-birthday that is cherished in those lights and ornaments and gifts. So, maybe this year you can give a bit of extra thought to the gifts you give, the cards you sign, and the hands you shake. Afterall, 2014 is leaving us, ne’er to return, with a whole year of our life in tow.