It wouldn’t really be Christmas without my sister, Roni, her husband, Matt, and their dogs, Sprocket and Gadget. In fact, one year they even came out to China to celebrate the season with us. That was the year I had a brain freeze, and gave Matt a bamboo keyboard because he’s a computer engineer, and it seemed sort of Chinesey and computery. Naturally he was a very gracious recipient of my weirdness, and I have hopes that he can pass it on as a white elephant, or possibly use it to prop an unsteady table. This year he came up with a bamboo keyboard of his own.
On Christmas Eve afternoon, I was standing in their living room when Matt took me aside. “I got Roni a fish, so we need to keep her stocking upright.”
I’m not sure what my face did, but my brain raised an eyebrow. A live fish? In a stocking? With candy and other nonaquatic accoutrements?
“Okay,” I said, silently calculating the number of hours before the stocking might be emptied, and hoping with all my heart that my very tender-hearted sister would not spend Christmas morning watching a dead blue beta fish slide out over her soaking fun-size candy bars and goldfish crackers. I trusted Matt though, because he’s a thorough sort of person who would have asked the pet store clerk an appropriate number of questions concerning the life expectancy of a lone beta fish in a disposable plastic container, assuming, of course, the lid remained in place. That right there was both the fly and the ointment, because to me there seemed to be a lot riding on a cheap plastic lid mass produced for a semi-squishy container that was never designed to last until it would be dug up by archeologists and studied as the key to our cultural and religious beliefs.
I made a mental note to take custody of said stocking as soon as possible, and because I am such a good sister, I then went back to my five-mile To Do List and forgot all about it. A few hours later Matt and Roni arrived at our house, dropped their gear in the guest bedroom, including stockings, which got laid flat on the bed. Apparently, Matt had a long, distracting To Do List as well, and to be fair, we were all excited to start the festivities.
Our Christmas Eve celebration might not have looked like a party to the untrained eye. We all had a casual dinner, some gaming, then my daughter, Abby, looked at Sprocket the Yorkie, and decided he could not go one more minute without getting his eyebrows done. And once she cut a hair or two, she and Roni could not be content until they had cut them all, clipping the dog and laughing like two kids playing Beauty Parlor. About the time both Sprocket and puppy Gadget had been beautified all they could stand, Matt and my boys, Chase and Porter, began to filter upstairs where Porter began holding forth on his latest pet peeve: The Evils of Circumcision.
At about 2:00 pm four days earlier Chase had received a text from Porter, “Dude circumcision is so messed uppp. I’m fuming right now!!” This appeared a tad out of the blue to Chase, but over a series of communiqués it crumbled out that Porter had stumbled onto a series of internet sites proclaiming the serious dangers of circumcision to boys too mini to defend their bits and pieces against doctors looking to augment their salaries by collecting foreskins and selling them to makeup companies.
“All I’m saying is that if we were made in the image of God, why would we want to cut off a piece?”
On Christmas Eve, he could only be knocked off his soapbox by Chase’s accusation that Porter had a whole bottle of chewable vitamins on his desk, which had apparently been a topic of debate for a couple of days at least.
“They’re not chewable!”
“They are chewable!”
It was really all about the dare, and Chase chewed one, just to prove his point. “Tastes like strawberries,” he insisted. “Really, it’s like taking a bite of a real strawberry.” There was a suspicious set to his jaw and a ready hand with the water, but he went on and on, never breaking character. Porter knew, but he had to try it anyway, much like the time when they were little, and the boys put their heads together and decided Porter should hang off the top bunk while Chase hit his fingers until he fell. Sadly, they had not thought to push the train table out of the way, and Porter still has a scar on his head where the hair will not grow. However, he did manage to crunch through that chalky horse pill of a vitamin.
[Sigh] Never underestimate the stupidity of brothers in groups of two.
Eventually we all drifted into the living room and sat around the main tree where we read Luke 2 and began telling stories. About 1:00 am, we prevailed on Porter to perform a couple of Christmas carols in his rich dramatic tenor, which gave me goosebumps and reminded me of all the years my sisters and I had sung around the piano. I dropped into bed about 2:00 am because I’m a lightweight, but the party went on until sometime between 4:00 and 6:00 am, when Abby drifted off to dream of an ultra-plush Minky blanket, Chase an Oculous Quest 2, and Porter hoping for caviar, because between circumcision sites, he’d also been researching fish eggs, and was eager to try it out. But even such heady dreams as these would not be enough to pry them from their beds at first light.
This isn’t really new for my kids. I am definitely not a morning person, but every single year since I had children, I have been the first one up on Christmas morning, and not just by a little. I never set an alarm, yet I would be up, showered, hair and makeup done, and just sitting on the couch waiting for little feet to patter down the stairs. This year I didn’t get up early by any stretch of the imagination, but I still had time to get ready, put the turkey in the roaster, set the rolls, and straighten the house before any of my kids considered moving an eyeball. Sometime around 1:00 pm we finally got our act together enough to tear a little wrapping paper. That’s when I remembered the fish.
I watched warily as Roni pulled candy from her stocking, keeping my eyes on the telltale lump near the heel. With relief I saw the fish come out, still swishing his fins in his little container. Fortunately, Matt had remembered the little critter at some point, and rescued it from its precarious flat position on the bed before the lid gave out. “Don’t eat the goldfish crackers,” he said, “They’re covered in fish water.”
Roni named the fish Stocking, and soon she began to worry. “How long has he been in there? When did he eat? Do we have fish food?” By this point Porter would have been willing to donate the caviar he had excitedly opened first thing, though his sacrifice would have been somewhat marred by the fact that he took one bite and leaped for the sink to spit it out. Apparently, caviar is rather worse than strawberry “chewable” vitamins. Maybe he can sell his caviar to a makeup company; I hear they like all kinds of gross things.
Roni got on the internet to ferret out a shop open on Christmas day, toodling off in hopes Walgreens Drug had some species of fish food, and soon returned with a little packet of vacation feeders, pale pastel and shaped like fish. Chase would tell me they’re chewable and taste like strawberries, and maybe offer me some of Porter’s caviar.
I think I’ll stick to chocolate.