A few weekends ago, I spent Saturday night hanging out with my aunts M & K and my cousins A & E. E was in town checking out grad schools, and since I usually see her once a year or less, I ran up to Baltimore for dinner. I'm glad I did, because the evening led me to a couple of conclusions.
First, A has got be the most laid back person I've ever met. He left to go hang out with some friends, and M (his mom) wanted to show us some old family movies. We couldn't get the DVD player to work, so we called A, who tried (unsuccessfully) to talk me through it over the phone. Highlight:
A: Look, is the DVD player turned on?
That was not, thankfully, the only problem. So the following sequence of events occurred.
1. A left his friends to come back and fix the problem.
2. He fiddled (unsuccessfully) with the DVD player.
3. He brought his Playstation up from his bedroom and hooked that up to the TV. No luck.
4. He brought his TV upstairs (not a small TV, and not a flat panel) and hooked the Playstation up to it.
5. Sat with us while we watched home movies of the variety that are adorable if they're not of you and embarrassing if they ARE of you (they were of him) and only protested once.
6. Did not kill anyone when M said "Maybe it was on VHS?"
7. Brought in a THIRD TV so that we could watch VHS tapes.
When I was 19, I would have gotten no further than step 2 before I shrugged, said "Fix it yourself" and slammed the door on the way out. More likely, I wouldn't have even gotten to step 2, because I would have hung up the phone in frustration. (When I talked to my Mom about this, she said "Yeah, no kidding.")
My second conclusion was not a new one: My family is completely nuts, in a completely endearing way. As proof, I offer the following anecdotes:
For a large portion of my young life, I thought it was totally normal to hunt for liquor on Easter. Each Easter, the kids would do the traditional Easter egg hunt, searching for plastic eggs containing chocolate, $1 bills and the like. Then the kids would hide miniature liquor bottles for the adults. Seriously, I thought that all families did this.
Rope the Dogie
This involved us kids, my uncle P and a lasso. Enough said. For what it's worth, I think that we'd all vote P the most normal member of the family by a fairly wide margin.
Christmas Eve is always spent with my Dad's side of the family. This tradition goes back to when they were kids, and opened all of their presents on Christmas Eve so they could go to early Mass on Christmas morning. It made scheduling easy, because we'd always spend Christmas Eve at my Dad's parents' house, go home to our house for Christmas morning, then go to my Mom's parents' house for breakfast.
I have a lot of great memories of Christmas Eve, but two stand out in particular. Grandma had a tradition of always buying the seven girl cousins matching nightgowns. It made for a lot of really cute pictures when we were little, but the tradition kind of went off the rails by the time I was sixteen and K was six. I had a collection of absolutely hideous nightgowns that Grandma picked (I assume) based on her ability to find such a wide selection of sizes.
And then there was Santa Claus. I stopped believing in Santa at a pretty early age, which was probably for the best because every year, my uncle D would tell us that he had a trap on his roof to catch Santa, and we could all come over the next morning to play with his new toys. Somewhere in there was (I think) the implication that Santa wouldn't live through the experience. He did the same thing with the Easter Bunny.
My cousin J was going to see Santa at the mall, and at this particular mall they had an animatronic reindeer. Kids could talk to the reindeer, and some teenager hidden out of sight would talk back. I wasn't there, but I'm told that J went rushing up to the reindeer and spilled the whole plot. I guarantee you that wherever that kid on the other end of the mic is today, he's still telling that story.
The S. Sisters
Remember this dress?
Now picture your grandmother's head up there instead of J.Lo. I don't have to picture it. Thanks to some really evil Photoshopping, I can picture not only my grandmother but also my aunts M, S and K. About the time that she wore that dress down the red carpet, my cousin M got married. The joke was that he could save money on the entertainment and hire my aunts (The S. Sisters) to sing at the wedding. The reason it's such a joke is that we can't sing. None of us. I have one cousin who's a musician, and he clearly got every ounce of musical talent from our family. Happy Birthday is painful. So, before cousin M's wedding, aunt M mocked up a concert poster using the infamous green dress. This joke, by the way? Will. Not. Die.
Before M had A, she would have the oldest girls over once a year for a cousin's sleepover. We did stereotypical sleepover activities: we watched the Miss America pageant, we gorged ourselves on pizza, M made us all look like we should have been working the corner on Baltimore Street... Somewhere around here, I have pictures of our "makeovers" and I briefly considered looking for them, but between the five of us we have three teachers, a lawyer and a dietician and I don't think any of us want those pictures coming up the next time a boss Googles us.
Seriously, though, M put a ton of work into making sure that we all had a blast. And that's what I love about my family. We're odd, there's no doubt, but put all of us into a room together and we have a lot of fun. I have this huge network of people who I know I could call out of the blue and could depend on. We talk, periodically, about trying to write down all of these crazy family stories, but inevitably whoever tries realizes that it's not that simple. The beauty in these stories comes from all of us sitting around a table, and someone starts the story, and someone else jumps in and adds details, and a third person says, no, what really happened was this... Putting it down on paper makes it flat.
We're nuts, but we're not flat.