I went to work Christmas Eve with a slight hangover. I'd stayed up the night before, waiting for Keith to come home from work so we could wrap Delia's presents together. So we had a couple of beers and stayed up late, the Holiday Spirit alive and kicking in the warm glow of Plastic Santa. 4:45 am came way sooner that I wanted it to, and I ate a couple of aspirin and trudged out into the cold rain.
Work was a mixture of mad dashing filling orders and painful standing around waiting for bread to come out of the oven. Most of our bread was sold before it even came out of the oven, and my job was to make sure all the orders were filled before any other loaves went out for sale to the General Public. I only messed up once as far as I know, and one family didn't get their loaf of Whole Wheat. When we realized that mistake, everyone in the kitchen got real frantic for a minute, but Tyler (who is our Retail Facilitator) took care of it, and as far as I know that customer didn't swear at us or anything. Whew! Still, I felt bad because I hate messing up at work, but if that was the worst problem we had all day, we still had a pretty good day.
Keith and Delia came home from the Fraley Publishing Christmas Eve Get-the-Book-to-Press Party Extravaganza with cash and prizes! Hooray! They both took showers and we all scrambled to get ready to drive to Clarksburg for Christmas Eve.
The best part about Christmas Eve was playing with my niece Zoey. She really liked the doll I knitted for her, she smiled a lot and made cute babbling noises. If the only gift I got all year was the chance to hold that awesome baby in my arms and stare at her beautiful face, it would have been enough!
My Grandmother, who seemed to be fairly chipper and with-it, kept asking me who's baby it was. Nobody seemed to get too upset about it though, because Grandma knew who everyone else was, mostly. I guess recent things are harder to remember. We did have a nice time playing together though.
Dinner was harder. Mom, in a very positive and upbeat Christmas Spirit way, insisted that Dad was going to join us at the table, I was pretty sure he didn't want to do so. We got the table set and we're waiting to eat (my daughter hadn't eaten anything except candy since breakfast), but Mom is still in the back bedroom with Dad, who has refused to come out till his movie is over. I return to the kitchen and make my daughter eat some food, Trisha and Keith make sandwiches because they're starving, and I pour a glass of wine for myself which my sister said was rancid, but John opined "If you like it, it's good!" At that point I would have drunk Sterno if it would have transported my consciousness out of the dining room. All red wine tastes like gasoline to me anyway, but I'm developing a taste for it.
So by the time Mom gets Dad out of bed and into his wheelchair and then into the kitchen, all the food is cold and the boys have finished eating. My Dad doesn't like to eat in front of people because it is so hard for him, he has trouble turning his head, his hands tremble and spasm... and sometimes he just has moments where everything stops working and he's suspended motionless, unable to move, or speak. It was so hard. (I'm sure this is one of those things I'm not supposed to write about, but I can't pretend it isn't true. I love my Dad so much and his illness scares me so badly.) Trisha had to go nurse the baby, and Delia ran off to play in the living room, and I sat there, alone with my parents, silently eating cold (but still yummy) food trying not to burst out in tears at the unfathomable horror of my feelings. (Later that evening I talked to Keith's Grandma Virginia about it - she seems like the only one who can speak openly with me about these fears of death and the trials of the roads leading up to it. She says "It's so hard." and she knows what she's talking about. She offers no real strategy, except acceptance, and the fact that you're never ready, and it's never easy.)
After a glass of weird pre-brandied Egg Nog, we retired to the living room to open gifts, and Dad retired to his bedroom to Watch TV, the effort of sitting up in the wheelchair having tired him out completely. We waited for almost an hour for Mom to come back, but when she did Delia already had all the gifts sorted into piles and we tore into them, if not like little kids, then at least with all the Christmas Joy we could muster. And it was a gift exchange full of inside jokes, and funny presents and useful things, good things. My Mom gave me a box of thirteen gallon trash bags and a lidded garbage can! I gave her a box of expensive dryer sheets, and my Sister got a couple pounds of baking soda. When Grandma opened her gift from Aunt Barbara, I cried a little. It was a nightgown, cut up the back and hemmed with bias tape. People who live in hospital beds have special clothing needs, you know, and just because you're old and losing your mind slowly a little bit at a time doesn't mean you shouldn't have nice things. I think she likes it, but by that time she was getting sleepy again and wasn't talking much.
All Zoey wanted to do was eat the wrapping paper.
We didn't wrap up Snodgrass Christmas till almost 8PM, and then we headed over to 14th Street. We all stared agog at Constance's gift from her beau - A HAMSTER. Just can't get over that... The creature had bitten her right before we arrived, and the dramatic injury was the source of much levity. The gift exchange there was short, but everyone was delighted! One gift apiece, selected with care and attention to the recipient's likes. We had a cup of coffee and chatted for a while, not nearly long enough, but we still had one house to visit on Christmas Eve.
Keith's Dad waited patiently till after 9pm for us to arrive. We'd missed his girlfriend Maria, which was sad, because we all really like her. We ate Lil'Smokies in BBQ sauce and yummy shrimp in cocktail sauce and chatted away till Stephanie came back from a friend's house. Then we opened gifts. Carson gave us a toaster, which made me really happy. He said he'd read the blog I wrote about Delia burning the waffles and knew we needed one. Delia took home a bunch of art supplies (the real, grown up kind) and an easel. We had a devil of a time fitting it into the car! That Christmas Eve visit was pleasant and fun, as are most visits out that way, but I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open and we headed out around 10:30 pm.
Delia and I both fell asleep in the car on the way home. I woke up a bit disoriented, but got Sweet Daughter tucked into bed soon enough. When I came downstairs and walked toward the kitchen, I was arrested by a terrible smell. I stopped in my tracks and said to Keith "Something is terribly wrong here." He had no idea what I was talking about. I said "Can't you smell it?" He said "Of course not, do you want me to change the cat box?" I followed my nose with mounting horror as I worked out the smell in my head... hot smelling, like the furnace kicking on, but terrible too, in an animal sort of way. I dead mouse in the furnace? NO.
The Rat Dog had peed into the heater vent under my desk. When the heater kicked on it filled the house with a terrible dog pee smell. The realization shook loose all the tightly wound emotions I'd been carrying around all day. I stood in my dining room, and sobbed. I cried like it was the end of the world. I cried till I couldn't breathe. I cried till my face hurt. I sobbed my way up into the bathroom, and as I passed Delia's room I heard her little sleepy voice ask "What's wrong?" but I couldn't answer. I cried a little more, and then finally I stopped. By the time I emerged from the bathroom she had fallen back to sleep. My husband was up to his elbow in heating duct with a spray bottle of cleaner and paper towels when I came back downstairs. We went outside and smoked a cigarette, we came back in and made Christmas happen, at 12:30 am, I had been awake for almost 20 hours. I went to bed. My house still smells like dog pee, especially when the heater kicks on. But we had a lovely Christmas Morning anyway, because we are a resilient people, we Strothers.