Tuesday, December 19

Charleston Christmas

I am ready to go home. It starts with me flying down the highway with my car full of presents and laundry—stubbornly refusing to listen to Christmas carols because once I am in my mother’s house that is all that will be allowed. Every year it is the same. We will go to the grocery store at least three times because we never remember to put everything on the list and we always run out of brown sugar. We’ll go out to dinner on Saturday night and then around to all the bars where my friends work to say hello. Sunday morning we’ll go to Mass together and then I’ll go to brunch with my dad, sisters and brother. Then wrapping presents—my mother upstairs and me down- each of us casting nervous glances at the stairs and planning sneak attacks. We’ll clean her already pristine house and go to dinner with my brother and some of his friends. We always go to the Festival of Lights on Christmas Eve to go ice-skating and drink hot cocoa; on to the lobby of the Charleston Place for a little jazz and something stronger than cocoa; then on to my Aunt’s house for her late night party.
These are the steps I have danced as long as I can remember. Rounds of parties filled with family and friends and the mass at my mother’s church and the service at my father’s. Christmas Eve night ends with my siblings and I asleep on the floor in front of an old movie and Christmas day starts with chicory coffee and shrimp and grits (and bruises—my sister Linda kicks in her sleep). We spend the day eating and cooking and watching Monty Python’s Life of Brian and The Princess Bride. We quote every line and sing every song and generally drive my mother crazy. She loves it.
After dinner we all go downtown to my oldest sister’s house where the entire extended family and our various spouses, friends, children and pets meet to exchange gifts, have the wind hugged out of us by Aunt Gloria and generally throw the best party of the year. Furniture gets pushed back and carols turned up. A Temptations Christmas gets played …and replayed…and replayed… Stories are told and babies passed around and at some point I seep out onto the balcony and watch them through the windows because I just love these people so much.
My family is magical to me. We are sailors and soldiers, doctors and lawyers, teachers and real estate agents, fast food managers and PhD’s, secretaries and socialists, insurance agents and actors, writers and scientists. We are African and Scottish, Irish, Italian, Portuguese, Cuban and Puerto Rican. We are hetero and homosexual, married, single, divorced and remarried. We are unborn and we are 96 and we are everything in between. When we are together you can feel it—all of these people loving each other so fiercely in spite of our differences because of our history. Walking back inside I’ll get a charge. It is power and love and it sustains me until I can be with them again. My batteries are winding down and I am ready to go home.