Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Family at Christmas: The ties that bind... and chafe -- Part II

Yesterday I mentioned that I'd tried my best to put the kibosh (I'd go with the long 'i' here, Dave) on Older Daughter's plan to come up from Indianapolis for Christmas Eve without her husband. She doesn't want to miss out on a special family holiday tradition -- but my question was why not? Of course, it might be helpful were I to try and explain why I hold these views....

The thing about special family holiday traditions is that they change. Looking back through a nostalgic gauze, we have a tendency to forget this, but the truth is that kids grow older, people move, relatives die or divorce, and the family celebration this year will probably little resemble the one of five or ten years ago. I don't think that's just true for our family; I think it's probably the same for yours, too.

Actually, I've been participating in the Nochebuena gathering at my mother-in-law's (Abuela's) for nearly 30 years now -- but, in the interim, my father-in-law has passed away, my children have all been born and two of them are themselves married. Things change.

My mother-in-law will keep this gathering going for as long as she is able. For years, she made paella for this dinner; last year, I think, was the first one where she acknowledged that, perhaps, this had become too much for her to do. It is my mother-in-law's wish to keep her family together and to forge ties that will persist even when she is no longer with us. I suppose this is every mother's wish.

But my wife's older sister has not been part of these gatherings now for many years -- certainly not since my father-in-law (Abuelo) died. He died 12 years ago; if he were alive today, he'd be 98 years old.

Long Suffering Spouse and her older sister quarreled over how best to take care of their father in his final days. There was no question that Abuelo was succumbing to congestive heart failure; he'd been failing for a long time and he'd finally lost consciousness. But my wife's older sister is a physician. Her specialty was psychiatry but, before her first child came along, she had begun training as a surgeon. Anyone whose loved one is dying wants to do something. Long Suffering Spouse wanted to make her father as comfortable as possible -- and to say a lot of bedside rosaries. My wife's older sister -- I've called her "Dr. Doom" for years, for reasons entirely unrelated to this -- wanted to cut. Draining the buildup of fluids would only buy the poor man a longer coma and would be extraordinarily painful. So the sisters fought. My mother-in-law sided with Long Suffering Spouse and Dr. Doom and her husband stormed from the house.

My wife and her older sister haven't spoken since. It's only in the last few years that Dr. Doom has begun speaking with her mother again. And they live outside of the country anyway.

Long Suffering Spouse has one other sibling, a younger sister. I introduced Josephine to this blog on the occasion of her then-pending wedding (which was either her second or third, depending on how you count, since she married her first husband twice). Josephine's marital status has been a source of tension at prior Nochebuenas, I assure you.

Now Josephine will be attending this year's gathering with her new husband, Ferdinand.

Josephine excepted, of course, nobody likes Ferdinand.

Ferdinand is in his early 60's -- he's at least 15 years older than Josephine, maybe 20. (And he doesn't look it -- which, on some level, probably bugs me as well.) My kids -- Older Daughter included -- have denounced him as weird and scary. It's not that they were particularly fond of Josephine's first husband, either. They just have some instinctive loathing of Ferdinand.

Dr. Doom and Long Suffering Spouse would not agree that the sky is blue, but we have heard (through Abuela) that Dr. Doom agrees with my wife that neither one of them likes Ferdinand. (I'm sure, though, that if they did talk they would find some basis for disagreement concerning why they each dislike him.)

As an in-law, my opinion is least important of all -- and only expressed in the safety of my home or the anonymity of this blog -- but Ferdinand also creeps me out. He's a hugger, first of all, and I am not. Hugging is all well and good for people who go in for that sort of thing, and I am friendly with more than my share, but these huggers respect my boundaries. Ferdinand, so far at least, has not. My first thought on seeing him is hide the children. And three of Josephine's four children are 14 or younger. (I tried checking him out on the Internet before the wedding -- he's from out of state -- but his real name was too common for me to come up with anything definitive. But my antenna are up.)

Of course, maybe I'm being unfair. Different does not mean dangerous. But Ferdinand is not just a hugger, he's a singer. Now my son-in-law, Hank, as I mentioned yesterday, is a singer, too. But Hank doesn't sing in my house or try and get everyone singing. And, admittedly, I've been known to sing, too, but usually after too many libations. When I start singing "Seven Old Ladies," Long Suffering Spouse knows it's time to pour me in the car and take me home.

Ferdinand is different. Ferdinand has busted out singing at Abuela's (she's told us) and he seems oblivious to the discomfort this causes. Ferdinand's tastes, from what we've heard, run mostly to religious songs. Although divorced and remarried, he considers himself more Catholic than the Pope. (Well, he allegedly did get his first marriage annulled.) Christmas, I'm afraid, may be too great a temptation for him. If he starts in singing, though, I'm going to start counter-singing from the Yogi Yorgesson catalog.

We are not looking forward to our visit with Ferdinand on Nochebuena -- but I will do my darndest to be civil and to keep my kids civil too. I will smile and make small talk and put on a festive face. This will be for Abuela's sake. I will also drink heavily. This will be for my own sake.

So why would Older Daughter want to come home for this? I think I'd much rather listen to a lengthy choral concert in a church, even sitting away from family, among near-total strangers. Even if it does go on for hours.

It occurs to me that Ferdinand might like a lengthy choral concert. Too bad Hank's church is in Indianapolis. If we could swap him in and take Older Daughter out, that might be the best possible thing.

But this too shall pass. Things change.


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

curmy i really think almost all families are dysfunctional, at least the ones i have known... yours just fits into the norm!

smiles, bee

Dave said...

Invite Rod and Rahm and go all out. If Ferdinand creeps them out....