||[Dec. 16th, 2004|11:54 am]
Whole lotta labia.
A Very Melly Christmas.
As traditions go, the reverent part of my family's Christmas tradition is quite humble. It pales in comparison to our drunken-snowman-hiding nativity-set-lotto-playing holy-music-mocking irreverent ways. Nevertheless, it works for us.
Christmas eve is spent having a quiet dinner, playing games (often Cranium, but rarely Clue as my mother is a vicious Clue cheat), and watching White Christmas. My mother and her girlfriend then go to bed, Matt and I leave for midnight mass at the local Catholic church, and my brother adjourns to the sofa bed to keep watching movies. Most likely he's watching "The Bells of St. Mary's" and "The Bishop's Wife" but you'd never get that out of him, he's far too tough.
After Matt and I leave Greg will put his stocking stuffers out, Matt and I will do ours after we get back (careful not to look at what others have left for us) and my mother will do hers in the morning before the rest of us get up.
She always rises first. She makes coffee, puts water on for tea, tidies up the dishes from the night before, and makes up the "breakfast" tray. It's "breakfast" because what's on the tray is fudge, cookies, cheese dip, and slices of break whose recipe begins "take four cups of sugar" and therefore cannot claim to be healthy by any stretch of the imagination. Eventually the rest of us get up, brush our teeth, and amble down into the living room where the vile commercialism comes to it's cheery conclusion.
It happens like this every year and for me it would not be Christmas if I didn't wake up at my mother's house and get to have fudge and zucchini bread for breakfast while my brother built a fire capable of driving us to the very edge of the living room and softening the corners on some of the plastic ornaments.
But what concerns us in this story is a time three years ago in the interval between my mother's going to bed and her rising to play Santa with the stockings.
Matt and I got back from Mass to find my brother in the midst of several things. He was simultaneously putting together a wheelbarrow (part of Mom's present), building a roaring fire in the basement fireplace, and smoking a heroic amount of pot. Potentially a bad idea, but we wished him well and went off to bed.
In the spare bedroom there are two twin beds. She'd never admit to this but my mother always removes two of the support slats at the bottom before Christmas so that if Matt and I decide to get in the SAME bed it will suffer a structural collapse and she'll be able to rush in and catch us in a jumbled heap on the floor. She'll tell you that it's to protect the sanctity of her house. I think the reality is that she would laugh her ass off if it ever worked and she got to see me laying ass over teakettle on the floor.
What really happens is that Matt and I do what all civilized people would do. We have sex on the floor and then adjourn to our beds and mock my mother until we fall asleep. Except not on this night. On this night we were just drifting off when there was a tentative knock on the door and a panicked voice whispering "Melissa.... Melissa...." Were it my mother she'd have thrown the door open in hopes of catching something untoward so I knew it was my brother but I had no idea what was wrong. By now he should have been two bowls, one wheelbarrow, and half a Bing Crosby movie into the evening.
I waved Matt back to bed and came out into the hallway to find my brother wide-eyed with terror and wringing his hands. Really. Actually wringing them. Who does that?! He said to me, in this wee little whisper "I need your help downstairs."
"With what? I'm halfway asleep?"
"I *need* your help *down* *stairs*."
He's a pain in the ass, but he's my pain in the ass, so off we went to the basement.
Where the problem became immediately obvious. We stood there staring at something that looked like the parking lot at a Dead show and a little voice from somewhere beside me spoke up.
"I may have forgotten to open the flue."
"Is it open now?"
"That's hardly helping, though. Is it?"
"We need to fix this before the alarm goes off and wakes Mom up."
"That's why I came to get you."
I may not seem like it, because given the slightest opportunity I'll pass the "competent" role off to someone else, but if I'm the best there is, I'm pretty good in a crisis. Greg got orders to go open both basement doors and the side windows to get some kind of cross breeze going. I opened the front door and the kitchen windows and turned on the ceiling fan in the hallway. It became obvious though that we were going to need help.
I found Matt laying in bed awake waiting to hear what the problem was. As soon as he finished laughing (and it took a while) he came downstairs and offered to do whatever we needed.
"What I need, actually... sweetie.. is for you to stand on the stool in the hallway and try to keep the smoke away from the smoke detector until we get it cleared out." Matt gave me his best dubious eyebrow arch but did as I asked. With the smoke alarm directly outside her bedroom we had little chance of her sleeping through this but we held out hope.
It was not, shockingly, the alarm which woke my mother. It was actually the giggling. I try, sometimes, to think of what it must have been like to be her. To be laying in bed hearing the snickering and think "Yes! I have them now! Clearly something carnal is happening across the hall!" And then to spring from bed and go nearly running to the scene.
She came out of her door so fast that she ran into me where I'd been standing supporting Matt's legs as he waved one of those huge desktop calendars under the alarm. I lost my balance and went straight into him, my arms going around his waist and my face going somewhere my mother probably never wanted to see. Matt, of course, lost his own balance and grabbed out for the wall, dropping the desk calendar and gripping the doorjambs with everything he had.
The shriek and thumping of feet brought my brother upstairs and just as he arrived the smoke, having rid itself of Matt's fanning resistance, finally set off the alarm. The alarm woke my mother's girlfriend.
She came out in the hallway to find my mother staring in horror as I tried to remove my face from Matt's crotch, Matt nearly ripped the molding off the wall, and Greg stood behind Matt with his hands braced against Matt's butt and tears of laughter rolling down his face. My mother eventually regained her power of speech with the phrase I remember most clearly from my childhood:
"What in the hell is going on in here?"
Matt and I turned to stare at Greg. Greg slumped against the wall still laughing. Ellen began to chuckle behind her hand. And in the spirit of Christmas giving I gave my brother a break and said "We had some trouble with the basement fireplace."
When the smoke alarm in the living room started going off a few seconds later even my mother laughed.
It was Mom who turned off the alarms, Mom who put fans in the corners of the basement and got the bulk of the smoke out the back door, and Mom who got the flue open the last inch and coaxed it into drawing smoke. By one-thirty it was all over and we'd all gone to bed. Except Greg, of course. He still had to get through some Bing and a little bong.
When I emptied my stocking the next morning I found some great gifts. There were hugs all around and the joy of family. And when Matt and I left to drive home I found a thank-you note and a little foil-package on the seat of my car. Never let it be said that my brother doesn't appreciate a helping hand. We keep it in the guest room, for whenever he comes to visit. We do not ever, ever, let him touch the propane heater.
That being said, I'm off to lunch. Y'all be good.