This weekend we did DearWife's extended family's Christmas. BK (before we had kids), this event brought out the Scrooge in me. I like these people. I enjoy seeing them. But more than anything, this even represented what I liked the least about the Christmas season. There was a big to do about who got whom on the list. Was it random? Really? How so? What is the limit? Because last year so and so spent over the limit. Are we changing the limit?
Since we were dispersed, we'd fight traffic and crowds for two hours going to a chain restaurant. We'd make small talk (not my strength). There would be the perfunctory "my your kids have grown, and gee are they cute" discussions. Then there would be at least one person who didn't want to split the bill straight up because they drank water or because the salad was only $6.95, and the other guy had more potato skins anyway. Lots of noise, not as much of the spirit.
A lot of things have changed over the years. The patriarch of the family (Father In Law's Dad), passed away. FIL's mom now calls an assisted living facility home. So now everyone gathers at her place. For the most part, it works out great. They have a huge open hall that the kids can run in. They have pretty good facilities.
On the downside, there is no real privacy. Generally, this is not a problem, but there are a lot of elderly people around, and not all are coherent. It is more than a little sad seeing people reduced to a level where they don't know what's going on around them. Spending 90% of the time in the dark.
Early in the evening, I was hovering over LittleBrother as he was obsessively pushing a button on a train so he could hear the 'choo choo sound.' A gentlemen noticed us from about 20 yards away. He had to concentrate to move his wheelchair, taking 6 inch steps with each foot.
He had been given a Christmas card by a girls dance troupe that had been finishing up when we got there. When he got up close to us, he handed the card to LittleBrother, who didn't know what to think. I took the card with a smile, and said "thank you very much, Merry Christmas." A worker quickly came over and said "Jerry, you don't want to give your card away do you?" I gave her the card, and the old man cackled as if he had just pulled off a great practical joke.
The kids spent most of the evening running around the hall. From time to time they'd sit down with some of the residents who were watching "Jurassic Park." I kept one eye on them, to make sure they weren't annoying the poor residents with their constant running around.
I noticed one gentleman (Frank) who still had some dark hair. "I wonder which one is his dad?" Later on, we were talking, and he had been talking to everyone. I don't know how, but he knew who had married into the family and who had not. "Oh, you must be the youngest grand-daughter." "Who were you married to?"
There was some nervous laughter. Shortly afterward, I had to go gather LittleBrother who was now watching Sunset Boulevard. I guess he's a big Bill Holden fan. The man asked me "You married into the family?" "Oh, you must be married to the young woman who was over here earlier." I wanted to talk to him for a bit, it seemed like all he wanted was someone to talk to.
Finally, DW's cousin asked him the question (resident, employee or visitor). "I'm the healthiest patient." He said proudly. "I was living in my own house. But I was hoarding recyclables. I would collect tin cans and plastic bottles, but I would never do anything with them. They piled up. So I came to live here." As he walked away, he took an empty water bottle and put it into his pocket.
The rest of the evening was nice. One of the kids was pushing a temporarily perapalegic dog around on a dolly. The kids were really great with each other. DW's cousins' kids are all older than ours. So it was nice to see their 6 year old boy being incredibly patient with a too-tired BigBrother. "Can I play with your toy? Can I play with your toy now? Can I play with your toy now?"
FIL's mom has slowed down a lot, and she has trouble remembering things. But she's played piano for over 80 years, and she hasn't slowed down much in that area. Some of the kids sat around listening to her for a few minutes here and there. All in all, it was much more in the spirit of Christmas than it was just a few years ago.
And honestly that has everything to do with us having kids, and nothing to do with the company. Just watching BigBrother and LittleBrother having fun with their cousins and opening gifts and being around family really makes any event full of Christmas spirit.
As the evening wore down, the cousins left. We packed all of our stuff, and cleaned up. We said goodbyes, and I took some leftover food and the kids' presents to the car. Before I left, I looked over my shoulder. Frank was going through our trash bags picking out plastic bottles and tin cans.