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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Story #6: Welcome to the Family Part 1

Good morning!

It is finally time for me to tell the story of my engagement Christmas.  It's a two part story, one involving my side of the family and the other involving Hubby's.  I was torn as to which half to tell first, but in the end, I decided to tell it as it happened, chronologically.  So today, my family welcomes Hubby.

In the fantastic TV show "Designing Women" the great actress Dixie Carter had a quote that sticks with me decades later regarding family:

I'm saying this is the South. And we're proud of our crazy people. We don't hide them up in the attic. We bring 'em right down to the living room and show 'em off. See, Phyllis, no one in the South ever asks if you have crazy people in your family. They just ask what side they're on.

In my case, I think history will reflect that crazy was on both sides, though not always the same people and not all the time.  My extended family embraces moments of eccentricity tightly like a cherished family tradition.  Keep that in mind, my friends, as you read this.  I tell this story not to mock, but to amuse and comfort.  It's completely normal for family members to lose their mind, especially during the holidays. 

So, with that in mind...sit back and enjoy "Welcome to the family...Part 1"

We got engaged at Christmas, Hubby and I.  I was the only one in the family who didn't know it was happening apparently.  He and I had been dating for more than four years, but I lived in Detroit and he lived in the Milwaukee area during 1989, so he was able to make engagement plans without any attempt at secrecy.

We got engaged on Christmas Eve and then made the rounds of family gatherings.  (More on that tomorrow.)  The day after Christmas was the family gathering for my mom's side of the family.  (This was the group of the Flashlight Christmas fame.)  The gathering that year was held at my uncle's home up in the Northern part of Wisconsin.  I always liked going up there.  First of all, my uncle, the pastor of a small country congregation, had keys for the church and the school which meant we had access to a lot of space away from the adults.  Second, the parsonage where he lived was a big, sprawling home on a huge lot.  Plenty of snow and climbing trees all around.

There were a few quirky rules, however, about water usage.  I know there was a technical reason for the rules, but over the years I've forgotten what those reasons were.  Something about a filling a holding tank too quickly or something.

I'm sure if you lived in the house, rules such as "All dishwater must be thrown out the window and not drained down the sink" made sense.  And, if you're just a small family doing your daily business, the "NO FLUSH" rule wasn't a problem.  However, when you have a group of nearly 45 people roaming around, many of whom were teens, the concept of not flushing was inconceivable!

To be fair, and to quote the Fockers of "Meet the Fockers" fame, the real rule was, "If it's yellow, let it mellow, if it's brown, flush it down.

It wasn't like Hubby hadn't met these people, by the way.  A couple of my cousins attended the same college I did, and, being in the family for more than four years, he had a working knowledge of the family.  What he didn't know, though, was there's a way the family behaved around a "boyfriend" and a way they behaved around a member of the family. 

The flushing thing was a start.  DO NOT FLUSH.  I'm not saying my aunt and uncle were obsessive, but I will say this:  I walked out of the bathroom once, and my aunt was standing there, a stern look on her face.  "Did you flush?"

"Uh, yes..."

"You're really not supposed to."

"Uh...that's sort of gross."

"Yes, but it saves money to not flush."

"Oh...okay.  Sorry."

(For the record, it's the only time I've ever apologized for flushing after using a toilet.)

The bigger issue, for Hubby at least, was the dishes.  See, he's a good guy, my hubby.  He was raised by women  (more on that some other day) and he knows how to help out in the kitchen.  So after dinner that night, he offered to wash the dishes.  No small feat, given, again, the number of people and the fact that while they had a dishwasher, aunt and uncle didn't like to use it.

So Hubby spent a solid hour washing dishes while the rest of us dried and put away everything.  He was very good about using the little pink plastic bin that aunt had in the sink, instead of just using the sink.  He got all the dishes, the pots, the pans, the silverware, all clean.  And then...when he was done...he dumped the water from the bin...down the drain.

I'm not saying my aunt over reacted.  I will say this:  There would have been less yelling had a nuclear missile landed in the front yard.

"HOW COULD YOU DUMP THAT WATER DOWN THE DRAIN?  YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO DUMP IT OUT THE WINDOW!"

This in front of all the cousins and the other adults.

"I'm sorry...I forgot."  Says hubby.

"Well, you're not doing the dishes anymore!"

(For the record...well, you know.)

Hoping to escape more punishment for his crime of dumping water down a sink drain, Hubby wanted to go to bed.  The good news was, everyone under the age of 25 was not sleeping in the house, we were sleeping in the church basement.  The bad news?  Aunt and Uncle had separated the church basement with a curtain, boys on one side, girls on the other. 

Before I go one word further, I will say that I was raised in a very conservative, very religious home.  I hold to many of those beliefs even today, and when I was 22 I was certainly NOT going to break any of those rules in front of my extended family, CERTAINLY NOT the "no premarital anything!" rule.  And let me also say, I was the GOOD cousin.  I was never in trouble, and was always very polite.  Okay, so I flushed!  But other than that, I was a very well behaved child.  Mostly because my mother took great pains to make sure I didn't step out of line in front of the family...ever.  What I'm saying here is that no one involved in this story had any reason what so ever to think that Hubby and I were going to do anything remotely improper.

So there we are, my cousins, my new fiance, and I.  Settled into sleeping bags on either side of the curtain.  And then....

"Sarah, you can't sleep anywhere near the curtain."  This from one of my female cousins.

"Why not?"  asks I.

"Because you and Hubby are going to try and have sex, and we're supposed to make sure you don't."

Across the church basement, from the other side of the curtain, I could hear Hubby laughing.  As if there was anything remotely erotic about sleeping bags, a church basement, and a multitude of cousins all around.

Later that night I had to get up and use the bathroom...a bathroom in which I could flush!  Of course, this meant crossing past the curtain to the girls bathroom.  I stood up and took a step and a chorus of "Sarah's trying to have sex!" rose from the row of sleeping bags.

It was purely coincidence that the next morning we made our escape...I mean we to to leave early. (We had to drive several hours to see his mom...the story I'm saving for tomorrow.)  Hubby and I packed up after breakfast.  We did not flush, and we did not help with the dishes and, most importantly, we did not have sex!

Welcome to the family!

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