They’re sitting on my shelf now, in a plastic bag. There are two of them. I’ll get to that.
So, Christmas happened. It was very nice. That’s how I like Christmas, I think, very nice. For years it involved traveling to southern Wisconsin and then scurrying back and forth there to visit all sorts of extended family members that I almost never saw. This was fine when I was growing up and living with my parents in Superior. It was fine when I was at SCSU and would have winter breaks that lasted a few weeks. It became more difficult when I graduated and moved to the Twin Cities and began working, first in retail and then at a restaurant and a theatre. It was fine though, my grandparents were getting older and I was hardly ever able to see them, so every opportunity was nice. They started dying though and then those tenuous bounds between my extended family started to break as cousins began to fight amongst themselves over small, petty things. Every year it felt more and more like I was sitting in on another family, one that I recognized, but who could barely put up the veneer of civility and pretend to care about anything past themselves. This wasn’t everybody, but it was enough of them that these visits became less and less fine. Then my grandparents began dying. My mother’s father died in 2003. My dad’s mother died in 2004. My mother’s mom died a year ago, right before Thanksgiving. My dad’s dad died in March.
We stopped traveling for Christmas a few years ago. Right before my parents retired we had a smaller family Christmas in Superior. Then they did retire and we had Christmas at their new house, in the woods near McGregor. They would travel the week before Christmas and see the extended family then and then over the holiday we saw each other. It had to happen this way, sooner or later. My brother has to fly in from New Jersey. I live in the Twin Cities. We both work (and my job requires hours right before and after Christmas, so I’m lucky if I get more than the two days for the holiday anyway). And we don’t get to spend time with each other, so why dilute that with the group? It seems a little callous, saying it this way, but I’ve never been that close with most of my family and that distance has just grown as they’ve begun fighting amongst themselves.
The last time I saw my grandpa was a year ago November when I was in southern Wisconsin for my grandmother’s funeral. It was a good visit and I was lucky that he remembered me that day. He remembered us. He died quickly last March, which while it was sudden and shocking, I’m glad that it was painless and not prolonged.
This year, I went north with my brother after working a very long day at the theatre. We got in around 9 and sat with my parents for a little while. Then it was off to bed, because we all had to get up early the next morning, the 23rd. I had a dentist appointment in town and we all went in because they had some errands to do in Superior and because we had plans to go see True Grit in the theater. This might not seem like a big deal, but I cannot remember the last time that we went to see a movie as a family. I know my mom wasn’t crazy about seeing this flick and I can’t really speak for my brother’s thoughts on it, but I knew that I really wanted to see it and that my dad wanted to see it and that I really wanted to see it with my dad. I spent three hours in the dentist’s chair, getting my teeth cleaned and then getting the rest of the decay taken care of from the years that I didn’t go to the dentist (it was foolish, and these last 8 fillings mark the almost conclusion of that time), and then we had lunch before we got to the theater, and bearing all the discomfort and the swollen mouth was worth it: the movie was great and my dad and I loved it. And we saw it together.
Christmas Eve was a simple day, I can’t think of much that actually happened that day. We went to church in the evening because that is tradition and that is what may parents want to do. Their friends and their friends’ family came over for food and drinks after church. Then we went to bed. It was a good day over all. Christmas Day was also simple. We opened gifts and checked the stockings in the morning. We watched movies and napped in the afternoon and evening. We enjoyed spending time together.
Sunday I folded all the laundry that I’d done. We had a nice breakfast and later on we had a nice lunch. I packed up my truck and I headed home. It was a good visit, blissfully void of major drama and stress. There are parts of the former traditions that I miss, but the important parts are still there. Right before I left, my dad went into the closet and gave me the last two fedoras that were my grandfather’s. I’d gotten two from my grandpa previously, and while I couldn’t wear them (his head was smaller than mine) I cherished them. The two that my dad gave me were the ones that my grandpa wore all the time. They mean a lot. One of them almost fits me even.
When I returned, the world pressed down again. I took my truck to Firestone on Monday for an oil change and a vehicle inspection. I was lucky I did it then. After I left the truck in their lot it wouldn’t start again. We ended up pushing it into the garage so that they could work on it. We thought it was the started, it had been starting a bit rough. It turned out to be the battery, which was a much cheaper fix. My plans for Monday shifted then, as they end up doing when something unexpected happens. I still managed to spend a little time at B&N, but it was shortened and not as relaxing since I discovered that the truck wasn’t starting while I was there. I got to the theatre later that night than I wanted to in order to complete payroll, so the movie I had wanted to see got pushed until late Tuesday night (Black Swan, fantastic movie). But that’s okay. Things happen and over the years I’ve learned to not expect things to happen in a preordained way. Plans are nice to make, but they can never be more than guidelines if you don’t want to drive yourself crazy. Work the rest of the week was crazy. Sold out shows (always a good problem to have) and the minor little stresses that go along with it. Everything that popped up I tried really hard to just push off my back, like a duck with water. Last night it got extra stressful. It was a difficult night. But I made it. We closed the show today and just a few hours ago, from the comfort of my chair, I closed out 2010 as well.
I won’t write the year off. It was difficult. There were ups and downs. Things happened suddenly. Good things happened, things that made me happy. Other things happened that hurt. Things that I still feel in my heart. Things came to a conclusion, as things do. I would say, not in a way that I would have preferred, but when things end, do they ever really end in a preferred way. There was a line from Cocktail that I always remember: She says, “I don’t want things to end badly.” He says, “If things didn’t end badly, they wouldn’t end.” There is some truth to that. Things end, another chapter closes and regardless of the language you use to end things and the sentiment you try and put there, it still ends. So it goes. This is why I’ve always been fond of the bittersweet endings, they seem the most honest, because it’s always a mix. The line I go out on is, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
So, 2010 has ended. Some people partied. Some people didn’t. This year, when I finished work, I drove carefully home over the skating rink that the roads became with the ice storm. I stopped at Target and got a platter of shrimp cocktail (my brother and I would eat shrimp cocktail and watch movies on New Year’s Eve when we were younger). I ate it, drank beer and watched Tango and Cash on Netflix. When east coast New Year’s came around I began chatting on Google-chat with Megan, by the time the new year came to me and then had passed and it was 12:30 we had said what needed to be said, more or less. And now, it’s 2011. Calvin said to Hobbes in the last comic strip in 1995: “It’s a bright new world out there Hobbes old buddy. Let’s go exploring!”
Isn’t it pretty to think so.
Happy New Year everyone. More later …