Not the same

March 10, 2011
As a child, I loved Christmas very much. I always anticipated our visit my father’s side of the family. The drive over in our run-down, 1995 green Windstar van seemed like an eternity. In the van, I tried to keep still, holding whatever food we were expected to bring for dinner. I was already excited by the amount of cars packed tightly in the driveway and on the streets before we even entered.

As soon as the door opened I would race in and be enveloped in the joyous festive feeling of the house. In the kitchen, food was being prepared with precious care for all guests. The kitchen table was always full of food people had already brought tempting whoever walked passed to sneak a snack before dinner.

The lights that filled the house glowed with golden warmth. My grandfather and his brothers talked and laughed loudly while drinking their homemade wine. I greeted all my relatives in the house and after saying a polite “Buon Natale”, Italian for Merry Christmas, and kissing them each on the cheek. I then went on my adventure to find the cat; running all over the house searching high and low for Tiger, the orange stripped short haired tabby cat, who hid well trying to avoiding me.

Everyone was doing what they usually did in order to prepare for Christmas dinner. Rosa, my grandmother, was in the living room sitting comfortably in her wheelchair. My godfather, Domenic, with a smile on his face and a few drinks swishing around in his stomach, played the accordion surprisingly well, and sang, not as well, while many joined him. My mother, Mina, my uncle, Joe, my godmother, Nancy, and a few other ladies were in the kitchen tending to dinner while the men were in the living room never straying too far from the bar.

Dinner was immaculate. Flawless presentation of delicious food filled every person in the house with enough leftovers to feed at least an additional five people. It was familiar: appetizers to start followed by some form of pasta, then salad near the end and lively conversation throughout. After dinner my uncle Joe and the ladies cleared the tables. No one ventured to far; everyone was almost too full to move.

Cake and coffee proceeded some time after dinner, which was followed by present exchange by the fireplace in the living room. Dessert was always my favourite, I managed to get cake in my hair and on my clothes. If I was lucky, Domenic gave me a sip of coffee. At the end of the night everyone toasted to health and happiness. Someone always chimed in with some form of dirty joke that I never understood. Everyone chuckled and sipped their champagne. Sometimes, if I was on my best behaviour, Domenic let me taste some of his champagne.

I remember what it was like to enjoy the holidays. I now dread going to my grandfather’s house and on more than one occasion, I argued fiercely with my mother in a desperate attempt to not attend the long, dreadful evening.

Simple events would rob Christmas of its legendary magic. My grandmother passed away in 2003 due to heart problems caused by her diabetes which had claimed her legs and confined her to a wheel chair. She died at St. Joseph’s hospital at age sixty-five. Diabetes not only affects the body’s ability to produce insulin, but can also diminish eye sight, lead to amputation of limbs, kidney disease and cardiac disease. A couple years after my grandmother’s passing, her brother’s wife died. Two years after the death of his wife, he hung himself. They had no children. One February 20, 2006, while on their trip to Mexico for their daughter’s wedding, Nancy and Domenic were murdered. The bodies were found with their throats slashed. Domenic was fifty-nine, and Nancy, fifty-five years old. I was twelve and I had heard about it on the news

It is Christmas Eve and like every year I get ready to go to my grandfather’s house. During the car ride I brace myself; I listen to my iPod head phones so loud that when we pull up to the empty driveway it hurts when the music stops playing. The house that used to be filled with relatives is now so quiet I can hear the clock in the kitchen tick while sitting in the living room. My uncle Joe is in the garage and comes in after my dad tells him we’re here. We watch TV while we wait for him to finish up with dinner. It never takes too long since there are only six people to feed. My grandfather greets us kindly and he slowly gets up and makes his way to his usual seat in the living room. His voice is hoarse and his words are difficult to understand due to the years of constant alcohol abuse,

Slowly and tediously, dinner drags on. Some bearable conversation is shared and lovely food as every year, but the halls echo with memories of happier holiday. Not even Tiger, the cat, is alive to remind me of my childhood Christmas. There is coffee and cake like every year without the toast at the end of the evening.

There is nothing to toast to. My uncle Joe is not able to work due to his diabetes claiming most of his sight. My grandfather copes with being a widower. He also has diabetes and remembers happier times drinking his homemade wine. Like his parents and brother, my dad also copes with diabetes and the uncertainties the disease brings. Seeing them all together only makes me remember how last year my father went into Intensive Care when his blood sugar was sixty-five and he was in the hospital for six weeks. Doctors were unsure whether he was going to survive.

I struggle to be polite and wait till after dessert before I harass my parents to go home at around eight or nine. I would rather sleep then celebrate Christmas.

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