I've mentioned it before: I don't like change. I'm a big fan of tradition, of doing the same things every year at the same time, and the holidays are no different. In fact, I could argue that tradition is most important during the holidays. For almost my entire life, my family has spent Christmas Day opening presents at home and the day after Christmas with extended family at my Gram's house.
The only year that I can recall us deviating from that plan was the year we visited my brother in Germany on Christmas, and I ended up trapped, alone, in a hotel room without a bathroom for almost the entire day (long story). So you can see why I don't like to mess with tradition.
But even I know that it's tough to stick with the same schedule year after year after year. I've been with my current boyfriend for almost six years now, and we finally decided that, despite the fact that we're not married, it's about time that we start spending the holidays together. It all sounds nice in theory: spend Christmas Eve at my parents' house, spend Christmas Day at his parents' house, go to my Gram's party as per usual. We get to see everyone, and we get to spend Christmas together for once.
The only problem is that my family lives in Philadelphia, my extended family lives in upstate Pennsylvania, and my boyfriend's family lives just below the Mason-Dixon Line in Maryland. If you look at a map, you'll see that while it's not exactly a hardship to get to each place within a few days, it's not a small feat, either.
Add to that the fact that we'll be driving to upstate New York a few times in the coming weeks in order to buy a new puppy (Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers are apparently difficult to come by around here), and we've got quite a lot of driving ahead of us… over 30 hours in less than three weeks, to be precise.
So now I ask you: is it so wrong that a small part of me wishes that my boyfriend and I could just go our separate ways for the holidays yet again?
Ah, families… we can't live with them and we can't live without them… especially during the holidays.
The cosmic rule is that, among a couple's four parents, one will be especially difficult. In my case, my own mother was the tough one. Mom was half German and half Scotch-Irish. Stone me for stereotyping, but I once accused her of being mean and cheap. She agreed.
Mom was a scorekeeper. When Joanne and I drove home from Cleveland for Christmas week, Mom kept track of how many days we spent at her house versus how many we stayed with my wife's parents. Since the latter lived in Tamaqua, while Mom and Dad were Jim Thorpers, Joanne and I wore a rut in the roads between the two towns, day after day, keeping Mom's tally in balance.
You might wonder why we didn't just spend three nights at one house, then three at the other and call it even. That's a fair question. Here's the answer:
Mom and Dad lived in a duplex, renting out the other half. Their half had only two bedrooms. The wall in between was thin. At night the master bedroom became a symphonic hall. Dad played an oboe, Mom a trumpet. Never before or since have I encountered snoring to match or surpass their nightly duets. Following a sleepless night filled with this nasal serenade, Joanne and I had no choice but to retreat to the relative quiet of her family home. Thus our daily decamping, back and forth, to and fro, between Tamaqua and "Chunk."
Though the two towns are only 14 miles apart, our Christmas sojourns came close to matching what Claire and her boyfriend will log this season, running up and down I-95 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Mom and Dad have been sleeping in their graves for decades now. I used to put my ear to the ground, when I visited those graves, just to see if by any chance I could hear them snoring down below. Not a rumble that I could detect. Anyway, when they were still alive, their cacophony never seemed to disturb either one of them. They are sleeping peacefully now, side-by-side, as always… snoring or no snoring. As for me, I inherited their musical talent. On long winter nights, their concerts are one tradition that hasn't fallen by the wayside, though mine is always a solo performance.
As for that finer tradition of being home (each and every home) for the holidays - celebrated in songs and movies down the generations - all I can say to Claire is, "Drive carefully."