The Truth About My Family

>> Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The holiday season has passed by, but the memories remain, even long after you wish you could push them out of your head.

The Christmas season always makes me think of my grandmother. Most years we would all go to Christmas Eve candlelight services together with some of our friends and neighbors. That is, those that hadn't blacklisted us because they had been to church with us before.

A little while ago I shared a story with you explaining how I was not the ideal person to sit next to at a solemn occasion. Well, it is with great relief that I say, "It's not my fault. Blame my family." I come by my behavior honestly, and I am proud to say that I am by no means the worst in my family. I guess the random urge to giggle uncontrollably in church is genetic, because we all do it, and it predates my birth.

Of all the culprits, though, I swear my Grandmother was the worst. She could control herself under the most provoking of circumstances, and she took great pride in this. She also took great pleasure in attempting to prove to the rest of us that we were not as good.

To be blunt, she was a troublemaker in the pew. (Well, there were a lot of troublemakers, but she was one of the worst.)

For example, one Christmas Eve we would be carefully passing the flame of peace, candle by candle, person by person, row by row. So far I had not even so much as smiled, much less snickered, and I thought we were all doing rather well, all things considered. Then, as the flame of peace approached, people were murmuring, "Peace be with you," all around me, except for one. I distinctly heard my Grandmother stage whisper to my mother, "Don't worry heathen, God will save you."

My mother started to shake.

Candle wax started to drip.

She managed to pass the flame to me without burning anything important. A few seconds later, on my other side, I hear another murmur from my sister's friend to her, "Don't worry, Sister. I won't burn your hair."

More shaking.

More wax falling.

And here I am, trying desperately to behave, trapped in between these two shaking women and their instigators.

What's a girl supposed to do?

Well, it was one of the last times I ever let my mother near me with a candle, for one thing. I believe it was the last time we attended services at that church for another.

Flashback to another Christmas, another service, and a minister with an unusual approach to the sermon. He asked us to "put ourselves back in the time of Christ's birth." We were to close our eyes, and envision ourselves walking around old Bethlehem. He asked us to see the faces, to hear the sounds. Someone in my family whispered, "And smell that smell!"

Too bad we were sitting up front that year.

Given this background, even the most quiet and respectful, solemn and tearful ceremonies were not safe. At my Grandfather's funeral, the funeral home printed the programs like this: John NMN Smith. The "NMN" stood for "No Middle Name." Can you believe that? The funeral director was mortified and had the programs reprinted before the services began. My family, while mortified as well, was also dangerously amused. This misprint was not a good way to start out a funeral service.

The minister was a nice man, but he did not know my Grandfather well at all. Grandpa was a loving and lovable old man, but he was also very much an old crumudgeon in his way. The minister spoke about how much they (he and my Grandfather) had in common, including this, that, and "I know there is one more but I can't remember it right now."

Maybe some families would have been irritated at this disclosure during a sermon, but we were supposed to be sitting quietly and behaving, so irritation was way too proper an emotion for us to be feeling.

So, by the time the minister began asking us to pretend we were hearing a funeral prayer in our "loved one's voice," things were getting bad. We all diligently tried to hear the flowery words of farewell and visions of heaven in Grandpa's voice, but all I could think about was whether he was playing with his hearing aide while talking like he often did, and was I supposed to also be imagining the giant whistling sound emanating from his general direction like it usually did? By the time the farewell ode reached the words, "annointing my feet with flowery oil," things were beyond bad. Grandpa never would have tolerated any scented oil anywhere near him, much less rubbed on his feet, if he had any choice. Suddenly the idea of Grandpa speaking was beyond funny, and we were all shaking with restrained laughter. I think they were about to shut down the funeral and send us all away in disgrace.

Tragically, I could go on and on for pages with more examples of our rampant misbehavior. I'm sure I could make some sort of general excuse that some people deal with overwhelming emotion with tears, and we are processing it through laughter.

No one would buy it, though, even if it is true.

We just aren't right.

Not right at all.

Family gatherings are to be feared. The bigger the gathering, the bigger the risk. When they come from Ohio and Florida to be together, things are bad. When the ones in Texas come too, things are impossible.

Baptize your children quietly, or banish your blood relatives to the back of the church. That's our motto. Take No Chances.

On the whole, I am deeply proud that I only smiled inappropriately during the last baptism and did no worse.

Now you know what kind of effort that took.


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