I posed a challenge to my writing group to write a story called The Holiday Party. This is my attempt. Enjoy, and may you find love and laughter this weekend.
The Holiday Party
by Tanya Eby
Turducken roasting. Check.
Holiday songs on Pandora playing. Check.
Bar set up in corner of kitchen. Check.
We were ready to go. Our first holiday party as a family, and soon my parents, Matthew’s parents, his uptight sister and equally uptight husband, their kids, and my younger brother would be showing up on our doorstep. “You ready for this, Jayne?” Matthew asked me in the kitchen. He pulled me close to him and I nestled in, careful not to stick my nose in his armpit. (He’s taller than I am by about a foot.)
“I’m totally ready,” I said. “Merry Christmas, husband.”
“Merry Christmas, wife.” He said. We laughed a bit at how the titles still felt a bit like oversized sweaters. We’d grow into them.
Matthew and I had been married for a little over a month, and already it was clearly different from our first marriages. We were both really young when we married the first time: me, to a man who became a vegan and gluten free control freak; Matthew to a woman who was very active online. Online dating that is. Together, Matthew and I had three kids: two of them mine, one of them his, but they really felt like ours. I even envisioned adding one more to our new family. I wasn’t quite 40, so I’d be an old mom, but still. I didn’t care so much.
“Mom! Mom! They’re here!” screamed TJ. He was eight and beyond excited. The kids were excited to see their new cousins, and eagerly waiting for presents to open.
“Let the chaos begin,” Matthew said and walked to the door.
I thought he was joking. I never knew he could actually see into the future. Chaos was coming, stomping up the sidewalk, and it was carrying a Velveeta Dip and wearing the worst holiday sweater I’ve ever seen.
“Holy sh….” Matthew breathed. “That’s Grandma Hollis.” It became clear it wasn’t just Grandma Hollis, but pretty much Matthew’s entire extended family. Our intimate little Christmas Eve get together just turned into a full-fledged party. Or nightmare. Depending on your perspective.
Matthew opened the door. “Grandma Hollis!” he exclaimed. “I thought you were still in Germany. You weren’t able to come to the wedding.”
She shoved a yellow casserole dish into his arms. “I didn’t come to the wedding because I don’t like parties. I don’t even want to be here, frankly, but I’m probably going to die soon and I want to see who here is worthy enough to inherit my Collection.”
I looked at Matthew and he whispered in my ear: “She has a collection of decorative plates. She thinks they’re worth a fortune.” “What’s that?” she asked, then turned up her hearing aid so it caused a huge shriek.
“I said you have a great collection! Of plates!”
“That’s right. I have an entire set of M.A.S.H, complete with Klinger in a mumu. Worth a FORTUNE.”
She barreled her way in the door.
We shut the door.
Minutes later, the doorbell rang again. In spilled my mom and dad (wearing matching green v-neck sweaters), and Matthew’s parents (looking very dignified and overly dressed), and then his Christian sister and brother-in-law showed up with their two asthmatic looking girls.
Matthew’s five-year-old daughter Molly asked the two girls, “You wanna come up to my room and play?”
The girls shook their heads in unison. “Jesus doesn’t play. He’s the Son of God and this is His day.”
I bent down to talk to the twins. (At least I think they were twins.) “Technically, Jesus’s Day is tomorrow. Tomorrow is Christmas; today is just the night when the wise men saw the star. I’m pretty sure they thought it was a sign of a party!” I laughed nervously. The girls just blinked. Okay then. “Molly, why don’t you take the girls up to your room anyway. You can play and they can draw pictures of Jesus on the cross. In slight pain.”
The twins smiled. Apparently, this sounded like a great idea.
There were about twenty people in the house at this point. Matthew was starting to sweat. “Turn off the heat,” I said. “It’s like a sauna in here.”
“I think I’m having a hot flash!” my mom exclaimed and then, to my horror, she pulled off her v-neck sweater revealing a very thin, and entirely see through white t-shirt. And under that shirt it was very clear that my mom was wearing some kind of red flimsy bra with little bits of holly over the nipples.
“Cover your eyes!” I said to TJ, but he was already crying.
The doorbell thankfully interrupted my mother’s striptease. (She was now fanning herself and complaining of ‘vaginal discomfort’.)
“Who could that be?” Matthew asked. “It’s like all of Bethlehem is here already.”
I surveyed our living room where our family was all smooshed in eating Velveeta dip and drinking egg nog that my Uncle Rich had liberally doused with rum. I looked for the telltale head of red hair and knew immediately who was missing. My brother. Jack. Or as he liked to go by now that he was a published poet: Fido.
I knew he was bringing his current girlfriend; I just didn’t know that girlfriend would be a four-foot tall Asian woman who was about ten months pregnant. “Jack!” I said and then promptly “I mean, Fido!”
“I’m going by Philip now. It’s more distinguished. Philip Jackson the Third.” It was Matthew’s turn to look confused. I shook my head, sending him telepathic messages to just go along with it.
“And you must by Megan!” I said to the pregnant woman.
“I’m Julie. Who’s Megan? Who is this MEGAN?” She put her hands on her hips and for some reason I imagined an Oompah Loompah. Maybe she was going to give me some chocolate.
“That’s right,” I said. “I’m sorry. I was thinking of a friend of mine. Julie. So glad you could come. You must be tired, what with driving from Chicago and being, what, seven? Eight months pregnant?”
She looked at me, then at Jack/Fido/Phillip. “Who’s pregnant?” She asked him. “What is she talking about?”
“I have no idea,” he said. “That’s a little rude, sis.” I smiled and offered a short “Ha!” and then realized they weren’t kidding. She looked like she was about to pop out four or five enormous children and she was saying she wasn’t pregnant.
“Come on in,” I said and ushered them inside.
I’m not sure what I thought would happen on our first family Christmas together. I’d envisioned windows rimmed with ice and Frank Sinatra singing about walking in a winter wonderland. I imagined me and Matthew and the kids, and our parents and siblings, sitting around our expanded table and eating our new tradition of turducken. I imagined laughing when my family reminisced about past Christmases and how charming both Matthew and I were.
I did not imagine the reality: a house filled with too many people, the toilet backing up after Grandma Hollis spent forty-five minutes in there. I did not imagine my mom and Matthew’s mom bonding over stories of getting their stomachs stapled or the length of errant hairs they’d found sprouting from the nose/chin/vaginal-area. I did not imagine Matthew’s dad choking on a piece of tater tot casserole that one of the cousins had brought with them. Some of the tater tots were still partially frozen and lodged in his throat until Matthew’s sister prayed to Jesus and then gave her dad the Heimlich maneuver with such force that the tater tot threw across the room and stuck to the window.
And I did not imagine my brother’s non-pregnant girlfriend’s water breaking and then her insisting that she wasn’t in labor, but was just a little gassy.
Total chaos. I mean, the kind of chaos you see in disaster films where people run screaming and waving their hands in the air and then getting sucked in by a blob or stepped on by a giant lizard, or swallowed whole by the earth itself.
We laid Julie in the middle of the living room where she panted and insisted that she was not sprouting a child at all. “Push!” Matthew cried. “Push!” I echoed. And then we caught that slippery little child with a towel while my mom called 911.
And then Julie looked into her child’s eyes and said “Weird” and I nearly wept with the pure beauty of it.
Molly came down with the twins and the girls held up their hand-drawn pictures of Jesus suffering. “And the baby was born unto them and would later rise up to be the King of Kings,” they said.
“King of Kings,” my brother breathed, and kissed the baby’s head. “Exactly. We’ll call him Elvis.”
After the ambulance came and took the new mom and dad to the hospital, and after we’d cleared everyone out (no one was really all that hungry after watching Julie give birth), tucked the kids in for sleep and promised them that Santa would come when they were asleep and dreaming.
Matthew and I returned to the kitchen. He pulled me close to him again and I just stood there and breathed. “Tell me it’s not always going to be like this, husband.”
“I’m pretty certain that this Christmas will go down in the history books.”
I laughed a little then and then I heard…I couldn’t believe it…a soft tinkling of a bell ringing. “Every time a bell rings,” I began and Matthew said “An angel gets its wings!” It was a sort of miracle, really. Our own Christmas mir…Wait a minute, I thought. That’s a whole lot of angels getting wings.
The bell kept ringing and ringing getting louder and louder until we found the source of the sound: Grandma Hollis was in the bathroom again and had slipped and fallen when the toilet started overflowing. She wore a bell around her neck for just such an occasion.
We helped her up and I gave her some dry clothes to wear home.
Matthew dropped her off at the retirement community.
In the morning, against all odds, Christmas came, the kids loved their presents and then passed out in post-presents-coma. Matthew handed me a present stuffed into a plastic bag. It was a special commemorative plate of Archie Bunker. Apparently, we weren’t worthy enough for Klinger, but we had earned at least one of the plates.
It was my favorite present that year because I think it sort of captured how the rest of life for Matthew, me, and our kids together would be: a life of chaos, laughter, and a family crazy enough for bad television.
Somehow, I’d gotten everything I’d ever wished for. I didn’t know who to thank really. Santa, Jesus, or maybe the King of Kings—Elvis. You don’t have to know where blessings come from, you just accept them into your life. And then you hang those blessings on the wall, surround yourself with them. Which is exactly what we did with Archie Bunker. He’s right in the middle of the wall, surrounded by pictures of our crazy, lovely family. Matthew and I still look at him and laugh, even now, all these years later.
Merry Christmas, everyone.