Friday, December 17, 2021

a cotton family christmas

We are not a traditional lot.

Sure, the Cotton family celebrates Christmas. But, during the past four decades, our small clan has had schedules that have prevented all of us from getting together for holidays. Christmas, in particular. Once my brother's children had reached adulthood, the holiday imperative was less an imperative than an if-we-can.

The result is that Christmas has ended up being celebrated by the Cottons on any convenient month or day of the year. And the best of those Christmases have been gift-free. Several years ago, we decked the halls and hung our stockings with care in the middle of July. This year, it was today.

We initially had aimed for gathering in Prineville at my brother's house on the-day-other-Oregonians-celebrate-Christmas. But flights from Manzanillo turned out to be problematic. Actually, the problem was not with flights from Manzanillo. It was the return flight from Prineville to Manzanillo that stuck a fire cracker in Santa's gift bag. Vacant seats were as rare as Christmas greetings from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Joe Manchin.

Christy, my sister-in-law, then upped the ante. She told me that my sainted niece Kaitlyn would be in Oregon for a job the week before Christmas. Could I arrange to fly up? The reservation fairy smiled on me.

So, today, the part of our family that was in one place at the same time (Kaitlyn, Christie, Darrel, Mom, and me), sat down to a Christmas dinner Christy and Kaitlyn had prepared.

Our clan was not always this small -- as you can see in the photograph at the top of this essay. I am not certain of the year, but it was in the mid-1950s. My mother's full extended family was assembled at my grandparents' house in Powers.

They were all there. Mom's siblings: Wayne, Naomi, and Berniece. The two married-into-the-family uncles. And the cousins. All seven of us.

My mother mistook us cousins as budding Trapp Family Singers. She would accompany us on her accordion while my grandmother played the piano.

The songs were the same songs we sang each Christmas. Even then, I had tired of singing the same piece of music over and over. So, Darrel and I improvised. "Away in the Manager" took on a certain sinister tone with revised lyrics: "Stan Wray was a stranger/Not right in the head." I will spare you the rest. But you can guess.

Or the more mundane lyric switch for "Emmanuel:" "I'm Manuel. I am a burro."

That glance I am shooting at my cousin Dennis was probably the result of a misplaced remonstrance.

As the years went by, our sibling pranks took a far more competitive streak. Jigsaw puzzles have long been a family diversion. We quickly learned there was cheap glory to be won by putting in the last piece. So, we resulted in that greatest of American virtues -- cheating.

Who knows who started it, but I suspect it was me. When no one was looking, I would slip one piece of puzzle into my lap. It would miraculously appear at just the right moment.

Darrel quickly caught on. Before long we were storing up hidden caches of wayward puzzle pieces until the puzzle was only three-quarters done when the last piece of the puzzle on the table was put in place. That must have made us early adopters of Mutual Assured Destruction. Herman Kahn would have been proud of us.

But there were no fractured Christmas carols or purloined puzzle pieces today. Just a delicious dinner and familial camaraderie where we could, as Dimitri Weissman said, "Lie about ourselves a little."

And that was Christmas enough for me -- no matter what lies the calendar may tell.

For you more traditional sorts, I offer up my wishes that you will be content and blessed on Christmas.

May you have a celebration every bit as memorable as the one we had today -- even if "Round John Virgin" is not really a character in "Silent Night."  

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