The Eccentric Aunt

It’s Christmas Day 2022, and I am stuffed from Christmas breakfast. I think most of us survived the bitter cold winds of the past few days.

Yesterday, I went to my daughter’s house for Christmas Eve. Later today, I’ll be going to my dad’s house for Christmas dinner with the extended family. Christmas has become very lazy for me. All I have to do is show up and eat. Not so bad! The family has grown from a family of 5, when I was a kid, to a family of over 20. My parents have seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. The only bitter part is that my mom didn’t get to meet her youngest grandchild or any of her great-grandchildren. That will always sting.

I’ll soon have three grandchildren. My first grand-daughter is due any day. We all pray for a healthy delivery and healthy baby. In some ways, I feel too young to have three grandchildren. In other ways, I feel as old as time. It goes so fast.

Family Christmas traditions that seem like they’ll stand for as long as time, change quickly. It wasn’t long ago when my ex-husband and I hosted Christmas breakfast for the entire family. We did that for years. We were the young couple in the family bringing in new energy. Now, I’m the divorced eccentric aunt and great-aunt. I’m slowly learning to play the role. I had plenty of examples growing up.

What I remember most of Christmas when I was very young were my great-aunts and uncles. Christmas Day was spent at my great-grandmother’s house in Taylorville. She was born in 1896 and was widowed by the time I came along. My great-aunts and uncles were born in the 1920s. I never really knew what to think of them. We would look at each other with side glances and feel a bit strange, I think. Maybe we saw ourselves in each other, and that scared us.

It’s usually awkward to be around extended family. Some family members we’re proud to be related to, others make us wonder how we could possibly share any DNA. But family is family. Then, of course, there are in-laws.

I don’t remember exactly how the question was posed, but a question someone posted at work about holiday stress, and the question was lost on me, until I remembered in-laws. So many people seemed so stressed about spending time with family at Christmas. I wondered why. Then I remembered in-laws. I don’t have in-laws anymore, so there’s very little stress.

If you have ever watched “Everybody Loves Raymond” you know the mother, Marie. That was my mother-in-law. Even she recognized herself in the character. I can’t stress enough that my ex-mother-in-law was exactly like her. They read from the same script. Her son could do no wrong. I could do no right. I remember one Christmas when my mother-in-law said my scrambled eggs were too steamy and moist. I guess she preferred the rubberized, dried out, curds that were her scrambled eggs.

No matter how well I cleaned the house from top to bottom, she would find something to complain about. The running joke became the ceiling fans. I usually forgot to dust them, and then I purposely didn’t dust them, purely out of defiance. As soon as she would walk into the house, she would look at the fans. I just learned to always have them turned on when she was there, so the blades were too blurry for her to see the dust.

Over time, I learned to joke about it, and when I visited her house I would inspect everything for dust, too. After about 10–15 years, both of us cared less about dust and just embraced it. It made life so much easier to not have to try to clean our houses like an army of Merry Maids, just to outdo each other. We both now have dusty houses.

The Christmases I miss the most are those with my parents and brothers. Nothing could ever compare to the magic a child feels at Christmas. And to be with your parents, feeling safe and protected, is something I don’t think we ever feel as adults. Maybe if you have a really good marriage. I don’t know. Life peaks too soon for some of us, and then we’re just left hobbling through the rest of our years hoping the roof doesn’t cave in, or we break a hip.

It’s not so bad. I’m beginning to like being the eccentric aunt. I can show up on a motorcycle, fresh with stories from my crazy adventures, and leave younger family members wondering what I’m all about. I’m kind of like Jan Brady’s cool great-aunt that she loves but hopes she doesn’t look like when she grows up. A lot of us wind up looking like Jan Brady’s great-aunt!

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and if this year feels off, know that it feels off to a lot of us. It’s all part of life. We have so much to learn while we’re here.

I came across this song a few days ago, and it reminds me so much of my grandparents and family members that have passed. Be good to yourself.

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