It always starts around Thanksgiving day, and lasts until New Year. And the dream is always the same. It’s the family–the old family–the first family. And we are all together again . . . for Christmas.
Death, and time, have no power here.
In the dream, either at night or day, we gather once again around the Christmas tree and yule log. I have no memory of their passing–or of their funerals. It is all normal and natural–the way it was. We all just are.
I am home.
And it was a good one. Ed and Ruby made it so.
That’s Ed (dad) at the top of the photo. And Ruby (mom) holds me. I’m probably two years old, or maybe a little less. Sister Lorraine (Gene) is at the left, and brother Dale at the bottom. Dale and I are still around, although neither of us are exactly spring chickens anymore.
Everyone else is gone on to glory. Those in the photo, and the others who gathered every Christmas Eve and day in the old homestead back in Walled Lake, Michigan.
They were a sterling bunch. Grandpa Reuben and Grandma Elsie (my mother’s parents) Ruby’s sister Geri, Geri’s best friend Violet, and every once in a great while, mom’s brother Kenneth.
They were good people all, and fun–and nice. At least until the drinking started. But then–that’s what makes all the wonderful memories (and great stories) fifty plus years later.
Mom was a once a year drinker–the rest of the year as dry as an Arizona riverbed. And her drink of choice–sloe gin fizzes. Made her own way . . . which was, sloe gin and Squirt. Not even close to the way the libation is supposed to be constructed, but she didn’t much care. She loved them–but only that one single night of the year–Christmas eve. I was born back in 1949, just about nine months after Christmas eve. Mom was 43 years old.
Once a year drunkenness sometimes has it’s consequences. And brother, did she ever get plastered.
Dad fought his own Christmas-time alcohol demons. He loved fruitcakes. I swear to you he was normal in every other way, but he just loved the stupid fruitcakes. Or, rather more precisely, he loved them the way he made them–as in, soaked in rum.
He’d start about a month before Christmas and make about a half dozen of the things. Then he would wrap them in foil and put them in a separate refrigerator out back in the storeroom and start soaking them with the rum. He lovingly peeled back the foil tops and poured on the booze–and no small amount either–the fruitcakes soaking it up like giant sponges. He added rum daily, and by the time Christmas Eve came, they were hitting around a hundred and fifty proof or so.
But trust me–they were also darned good. They were the living embodiment of that age-old expression . . . a little bit goes a long way.
The gift opening and party were all on Christmas Eve. No one drove anywhere, so it was alright. There was plenty of food too. Nuts and popcorn, chips with spread, cheese-balls, pickles, olives, ham slices, tons and tons of various candy. And oh yeah, some fruit and veggie-sticks for the few that had some common sense, or whose stomach had given out.
Along with the rum and sloe gin were plenty of good old-fashioned Canadian whiskey and American sour-mash. Perhaps a splash or two of Vodka as well, for Dale’s much loved black russians.
The arguments and fights would start around midnight. Mostly between Geri and Vi, with someone else throwing in with one side or the other every once in awhile. Seemingly important at the time, they were laughed at the next day, or more likely completely forgotten. None of it ever came to anything and we were all too goofy a drunks to ever get really violent.
It was all part of the floorshow–and part of the Caplin family weird fun.
No one went hungry or thirsty. Looking back, it’s a wonder no one ever died either. We all packed off to bed around two in the morning, drunk as skunks. The next morning, mom and dad were up early, despite massive hangovers, to start the Christmas day feast. No (or very little) drinking on Christmas day. And a feast it was. As you might imagine, coffee was the very first menu item available. And in large quantities too. Mom had a thirty-five cup percolator. She liked it hot and strong. It would not only put hair on your chest, but part it down the middle as well.
She generally served a ham and a turkey–sometimes a roast as well. And all the trimmings. Something for every taste at the table. We had leftovers for a week.
Everyone left for home by late afternoon, surfeited. Mom allowed herself a week of so or rest and recuperation.
And then she started planning the next years party. It was wonderful, weird and amazingly fun, when our gloriously dysfunctional family got together in late December.
All in all, we were a pretty strange bunch, with our unusual Christmas traditions. I thought the traditions, and the family as well, would go on forever. Of course, neither did. To tell you the truth, these days the drinking I can (and do) completely do without.
The family? . . well, let’s just say I miss them all so much it goes beyond hurt. It’s the pain of an abscessed tooth–three hundred and sixty five days a year.
Love you guys. If the Universe has any order or sense, or purpose at all . . . I’ll see you all again.
In the meantime, Merry Christmas dear ones.
And to you all as well.
Next time . . . a classic. A Charlie Brown Christmas.