When we first moved to Central Illinois, Dad’s family wanted to include us in their Christmas festivities. Each year we would draw names, shop carefully for the assigned relative, and wrap up the special gift. Then, on Christmas Day, we would drive down to Stonington, where our Aunt Josie lived, for Christmas dinner, lots of games, and, of course, the big gift exchange.
Lindy and I loved the games. We had lots of cousins, and we were all competitive. We would play Clue, Monopoly, and Chinese Checkers. Lindy and I had never before seen Chinese Checkers and we were fascinated. Aunt Josie had a laundry chute in her home and one of our favorite improvised games was throwing something down the chute while another person waited in the basement. Often times it was a teddy bear who got to make the rapid journey to the basement.
If it was warm enough out, we would go outside and play a game of Horse using Aunt Josie’s basketball hoop.
Obviously the description I have written above sounds like a very normal family, but remember, we had our Far From Normal Mother with us.
She complained loudly about the drawing of names for gift assignments.
She moaned about whatever food she was asked to bring.
And she griped – loudly, and in front of the giver – about whatever gifts she received.
On the subject of our mother’s food she brought to share, rather than attempting to bring anything remotely close to what was requested, she would throw together whatever she felt like. Sometimes, it would be a jello salad that she didn’t refrigerate. Other times, a cake with sloppy frosting applied to the outside. It might be a corn casserole for four when she was expected to bring for thirty.
Or she would randomly mix together ingredients that were at hand. Whatever it was, the relatives were as tired of trying to guess what awful concoction Mary would bring as she was of trying to dream something up.
Aunt Josie was a little bit far from normal herself. She had been married four times and each of the respective husbands had died. Today she would be considered a “Black Widow,” but in our day she was just known as someone who was extremely unlucky. Actually, since each of them left her his fortune (large or small), she was a very comfortable (and very lucky) woman.
Each year when Aunt Josie got a new car, she would allow us to take one short ride in it. One year, she had a car with electric windows, a feature my sister and I had never seen before. She allowed us to each press the button to unroll the window once, and then she took the controls away from us.
For a few years, we continued going to Aunt Josie’s for Christmas dinner, but ultimately Mother won out. Naturally, Mother blamed it on Lindy and I, saying that she knew we wanted to be at home to play with our own toys. The reality was that we preferred having the many cousins to play board games with, and we enjoyed the chaotic activity of the many relatives.