From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, To the Blue Ridge

How Did You Know? Just What I Wanted!

By Julie Reardon

This is the time of year where it’s easy to get numbed by the social media photos, memes and praise of the tight knit, perfect family so full of love for each other and clearly enjoying togetherness during the holidays. There they are, smiling at you from their air brushed faces in their elegant duds in front of the perfect Christmas tree, decorated in the latest fashion and surrounded by an embarrassment of gifts that are all, no doubt, selected with love. You’d think no one in the country has ever had a Christmas or any holiday ruined by that epic melt down or that family member who manages to steal the joy from any family occasion with regularity. You’d be wrong—and you’d be missing some of the funniest Christmas stories ever.

Most horrible and inappropriate holiday behavior is usually over a breach of a long held and sacred family tradition and/or fueled by alcohol, or even lack of it. Some tales are hushed up and never spoken of again, but the best ones become laughable and brought up regularly for years until achieving legend status. One friend relates the story of how certain members of her family got around her devout grandparents’ objection to alcohol being served during holidays at their farm. A daughter’s new husband announced he thought he’d seen a snake out by where the cars were parked, so he thought he (and his flask) had better go check it out. He was followed by his brother-in-law and thereafter, checking for snakes became code for “let’s go out and share a flask”.

My own sisters and I started a mean little tradition of our own while still children. Our mother, bless her heart, had very strict protocols for gift opening. We were never allowed, even when quite young, to rip and tear into our packages to get to the good stuff. We were to open our gifts “carefully” one at a time as she saved the wrapping paper. And we were expected to thank the gift giver and gush over why we were so grateful to receive the item, even if we hated it. So we began a tradition of searching for and buying things that we knew the recipient would hate. Cheap, inappropriate things, tacky trinkets, sometimes even embarrassing items because it was great entertainment to watch the recipient open and then pretend to like the gift, exclaim how they’d always wanted one and offer up phony thank yous for something you secretly knew they hated. One sister and I have continued this tradition into adulthood, using even more inappropriate and sometimes embarrassing items meant to make the recipient cringe and immediately hide it upon opening.

We learned from the best. My paternal grandmother, who lived until she was 99, became quite strident and tactless as she got older. Even before then, she wasn’t shy about offering her opinions. When we were children, her words could be hurtful. She loved flowers and always had a pretty garden, so one year after painstakingly searching for the perfect gift, I gave her a bud vase. Upon opening it, she looked it over and stated, “I hate a bud vase. Here, take it back and give it to someone who wants it.” I was crestfallen because I was so sure she’d love it, even though Grammo had Tiffany taste and my gift was probably a tacky five and dime version. But her response became legend and spawned a phrase we still use 30 years after her death: “I hate a bud vase!”

Tacky and gag gifts of course, can’t hold a candle to certain tales of inappropriate liquor-fueled behavior. Such as the friend’s mother who found her daughter’s new boyfriend urinating in the coat closet. Or the son who spent Christmas Eve in jail for being caught driving drunk. One friend reveals that she was assaulted with a sausage biscuit by a former daughter in law when she tried to talk to her son.

Count your blessings if you don’t have that one family member that either intentionally or unintentionally puts a damper on every family gathering. These toxic people are joy stealers, to borrow a phrase from an acquaintance who’s a top amateur sportswoman. She used it to describe those passive aggressive “friends” who instead of offering congratulations on a win or major achievement, whisper behind your back or sometimes even announce in your presence that you only won because you were friends with the judge, they had a bad day, or any of a number of churlish remarks designed to denigrate and belittle your winning moment. Family joy stealers do the same on holidays and at weddings and funerals. They make their presence known by announcing in full earshot of family and friends at a younger sister’s wedding “I give it three months before they divorce.” Or they demand that one family member be cut out of the will because of some childhood regression five or six decades ago.

These toxic joy stealer relatives act like they’re doing you a favor to attend a Thanksgiving meal, broadcasting their dislike of turkey and traditional dishes at a painstakingly prepared meal. At Christmas, the joy stealer pronounces in full earshot of all guests that certain other guests present, are boring and lower class, the food is horrible and the entire event tedious. Funerals are times for pitched scenes and trotting out old grudges even if they’re 40 or 50 years old; birthdays and other celebrations are just the warm up. “Why are you making a cake?” said our family churl. “No one likes cake and no one will eat it.” While my feelings were hurt those many years ago as I prepared to host a dysfunctional gathering of my own, I got the last laugh. That cake the joy stealer was so scathing about was the hit of the meal; every crumb was eaten and it’s now a favorite of any gathering and the most requested thing I make. On that note….Merry Christmas!

Publishers Note: Julie always has a good holiday story to share in her December column and we are happy to print them. Watch this space for happenings and pieces about all there is to love about Hunt Country in the New Year.

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