Christmas in Green Bay (1060 words)

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by Paul Briggs

It wasn’t my plan, after the divorce, to make a habit of spending Thanksgiving with Mom and Christmas with Dad, but it sort of turned out that way.

On Thanksgiving, I met Mom’s new boyfriend, Mister Sylvester (I think that might actually have been his last name, not his first). I was very surprised that Mom had even wanted a boyfriend. She’d always given the impression — though I don’t think she ever actually spelled it out in words — that if you had sex with a man, no matter how willingly, he had in some way defeated you. This was probably the wrong message to send to a girl that most men already see as… more woman than they can handle.

Anyway, Mister Sylvester. He was tall (about six feet — that counts as tall, doesn’t it?) and impeccably groomed, with Distinguished Silver hair and perfect teeth. Also he had money, was an opera buff and knew a lot about fine wine. In other words, the polar opposite of my dad. I didn’t dislike him and I stayed polite, but I wasn’t ready to start thinking of him as family.

To be fair, Dad also had a new girlfriend, who was about two years older than me. But she was going to be spending the holidays with her family, and all his friends were spending Christmas with their families, which left him all alone. Except for me. So, come late December I packed up a few changes of clothes and my sewing equipment and headed for Green Bay, where he was living these days.

I took the train. It was a long trip, and got me from L.A. to Green Bay with changes of trains at Portland and St. Paul. When I got there, it was 11 p.m. Dad picked me up in a van, which I could get in the back of without contorting myself too much.

Unfortunately, he was living on the third floor, and there was no elevator. Stairwells are not my favorite places. The apartment itself wasn’t too small, but the ceiling… well, I could almost stand up straight in it. But I was too tired to complain. I just rearranged the furniture a little and fell asleep on the recliner and the couch.

Dad and I went out to a restaurant on Christmas Eve. I love places that have an all-you-can-eat buffet. They’re such good value.

Christmas morning. I used to wake up at six a.m. and charge into my parents’ bedroom going “YAY! IT’S CHRISTMAS!” I miss that enthusiasm. I’m guessing they don’t miss being woken up by over a hundred pounds of six-year-old leaping into bed with them.

One thing about growing up in a family like mine — you learn to ask for what you want for Christmas, instead of going “Surprise me” or “If you really love me, you ought to be able to guess what I want.” I got Dad a new microwave, a hand-knitted sweater in green, gold and white (Packers colors) and a VHS tape of A Knock at the Door, a horror movie by my friend Justin. Dad gave me his collection of old well-worn suits and slacks, a bolt of linen and a big bag of stuffing. Or to put it another way, he got me a brand-new me-size quilted jacket, some assembly required. (This is why I brought my sewing gear.)

Cutting and measuring and sewing gave us something to do for Christmas afternoon. Dad isn’t a natural at sewing, but he can follow directions. I had to stop doing this around four so I could start fixing dinner. Dad would have helped, but me and my elbows were kind of taking up the whole kitchenette.

Christmas dinner was cream of mushroom soup, mashed potatoes, yams with pineapple, ham and pasta casserole and two roast ducks with an orange-ginger-cinnamon glaze, which left us with a huge pan of rendered-out duck fat. It’s hard to know what to do with duck fat.

After dessert (vanilla eggnog with cherry brandy, which both of us feel works better as a dessert than as a beverage) we sat around drinking beer and watching horror movies, including A Knock at the Door. (Was it any good? I’ll put it this way — it scared me, and I was the monster in it.) About ten-thirty, Dad fell asleep curled up next to me. Just as I was getting out his pajamas, my cell phone rang.

It was my little sister. Things had gotten kind of contentious at Mister Sylvester’s place, and this was how it had happened. Mom, Jody and Mister Sylvester had spent Christmas afternoon watching movies — mostly romances. Then they’d had a lovely candlelight dinner. And then he’d put on some music — Jody wasn’t too clear on what kind, except it was from before her time and involved saxophones. Now my romantic experience is kind of limited, but does it sound to you there like was one too many people in the room?

Then he’d served up a round of dry martinis. And when I say dry, I mean I’m not sure there was even any vermouth in the house. Then he’d started telling Mom how she was still young and beautiful, and telling Jody she was surprisingly mature for her tender years… if you don’t see where this is going, don’t feel bad. I didn’t either, until Jody got to the punch line.

The punch line being, of course, that it turns out what Mister Sylvester really wanted was… both of them. At the same time. To be fair, Jody was of age in that state. I think Mister Sylvester was one of those guys who has all the state age-of-consent laws committed to memory.

Nonetheless, Mom and Jody stormed out and drove straight home. Yes, my mother dumped her boyfriend on Christmas Day. Only problem was, now Mom was blaming Jody for getting too friendly with him and giving him ideas.

So I got Mom on the phone and started trying to reason with her. I held the phone against my shoulder with my chin so I could use my hands to dress Dad in his pajamas, carry him into his bedroom and tuck him in. So, in a very strange sort of way, our family was together again… just for a moment.
In which Irene "Big Reenie" Harris spends Christmas with her father and learns something… interesting… about her mom's new boyfriend.
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