Friday, December 24, 2010

It Really is a Wonderful Life

I think it is the O'Dell Christmas tradition to not have too many Christmas traditions.  I recall very few things that we repeat every single year, things that are "ours".  Some people might hear that and shake their heads and say how sad it is.  How terrible our lives must be without having spent that past 30 years doing the same things or how the lack of tradition makes our family less special.  I say it makes us interesting.  

I know other kinds of people exist.  The ones who set a complete table with Christmasy centerpieces, tablecloths, candles, holiday stemware, and Tony Bennett playing in the background.  Maybe even little Christmas Villages, surround by cottony snow and twinkling lights.  The children in these families wake up with perfect Christmas hair and they wait patiently beside the tree and open their presents one at a time, thanking each and every giver for the new pajamas and toys.  They never complain.  They always share.  They pose perfectly for pictures with each gift.  The family sits around the tree every year and read the Christmas story, and even the babies are respectful enough to stay quiet.  The Christmas turkey is cooked to a golden brown.  It is never dry.  The dressing is perfectly seasoned and the pies are perfectly sweet.  All gifts are perfectly suited and sized.  I don't know how these families do it.  They probably have an incredibly controlling, stressed-out perfectionist mother.  That's all I can figure.

If you could follow me through my Christmases Past, you would not find this picture.

Christmas 1983.  My Mom came home from the hospital with Ashlae Paige, the newest O'Dell, born two days before.  Freezing temperatures meant no water in our house.  So for three days, no dishes or laundry had been done.  Also on Christmas morning, unexpected company dropped in for a visit.  New baby, messy house, visitors, and definitely no Tony Bennett.  My mother was not happy.  It was a Christmas to remember.

Christmas 1985. While on deputation, we rented a chalet at Cheaha State Park in Alabama.  Spent Christmas with our favorite North Carolina friends, the Hensley family.  We cut down our own Christmas tree, and we strung popcorn to use for decoration. If I recall correctly, the albums of choice were Lee Greenwood and Amy Grant.  I loved this weird Christmas.  

Christmas 1987. Christmas in New Zealand.  Summertime weather at Christmas just feels wrong.  The Hensley family joined us in New Zealand several months before Christmas.  Kids from both families secretly practiced for weeks (probably only days, really) for our very own nativity play.  I believe I was an angel.  The parents were surprised and delighted by our performance.

Christmas 1990.  We had just arrive back from New Zealand.  We were living in a tiny house that was way too small for a family with six kids, and we had borrowed furniture.  I was in the 8th grade, and I clearly remember receiving a pink gumball machine and a cassette single of the song "Crazy" by the Boyz.  I am sure I got other things, but those were the most memorable.  I made up a dance routine to that song, and I kept the gumball machine until I graduated from high school.

Christmas 1998.  I was in New Zealand, again.  This time I was without family.  I was living with missionaries Clint and Beverly Braly, and their son Gabe and his grandfather arrived on Christmas morning.  It was an interesting Christmas day that was spent missing my family but thankful was I wasn't completely alone. I think we followed it up the next day with a trip to Piha Beach and a hike.  Within three weeks, I was engaged to Gabe.  And then three months later, I was unengaged.  Easy come, easy go.  

Christmas 2001.  For whatever reason, my parents decided to move on Christmas Day.  So, after the Christmas festivities (that were only mildly festive), we helped pack up boxes and we hauled stuff from one side of Granbury, Texas to the other.  The most annoying part of this day is that I had a brand new pair of black, fuzzy slippers that I had received as a gift from my best bud Elisa.  They were one size too small, so I kept the tags on them and planned to take them back to exchange them for the correct size.  At some point in the day, I looked on my sister's feet to see my brand new slippers being worn in and out of the house.  Never mind that they didn't belong to her.  Or that there were tags still attached (before they were ripped off by the sister)  There is a tiny part of me that still gets mad about this.  This might go down in the books as the worst Christmas ever.  

Christmas 2002.  Christmas in Branson, Missouri.  My family rented two houses on the lake, and we planned to make up for the lameness of the previous year.  Craig, Adam, and I were driving from Tennessee.  As we drove into Missouri, a snowstorm developed and a 8 hour trip from Nashville to Branson turned into two days.  We stopped somewhere in Missouri and stayed the night, and set out the next morning (Christmas Eve) to try to make it.  The ground was white, the sky was white, and everything in front of us was white.  It took about 30 minutes to go four miles.  My brother Craig was driving and could not see.  So we exited the highway, ended up at Wal-Mart and were stranded  for about 5 hours.  The up side is that I had a little bit of shopping left to do, and I was able to get it done with no Christmas crowd.  In addition to the snowstorm and horribly long drive, this was the Christmas of rooming with the nieces and nephews.  If you like to sleep, it is never a good idea to room with the nieces and nephews.  Lesson learned.

Tonight I got together with my family.  Five of the six siblings attended, each bringing their significant other and/children.  There was no ceremony or order to the way the gifts were opened.  The children flung wrapping paper all over the living room, and they went home with little idea of which gifts were given by whom.  The adults did a little better and patiently waited and open presents in an adult-like fashion, acknowledging and thanking the giver after each one.  There was no Christmas music played as we ate our dinner.  Our Christmas Eve dinner definitely included pigs in a blanket and a snack mix called "puppy chow", which I am pretty sure means we are unrefined.  We didn't sing any Christmas carols, which is actually a change from the last few years where we have gone caroling, a tradition I don't mind skipping every now and then.  Several children cried, a few fits were thrown, wedgies were given.  But you know what?  I love my family.  I am so very blessed with such a beautiful, witty, talented, and fun family.  They are loud and opinionated and kind of sarcastic.  And we fight and argue on occasion.  But when it comes down to it, they are loving and forgiving and generous and fiercely protective.  They are not perfect, but they are mine.  And I think I will keep them.  Merry Christmas from my slightly unrefined family to yours.

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