I'm not a big fan of Christmas, especially the ol' traditional family gathering. Oh, it's fun to buy gifts for my younger relations and it's a great excuse to slip some cash to the family's underemployed adults, but the event is something of a nightmare. My siblings are nobody you'd want to know, for "an indictment is not a conviction" values of not wanting to know, and there is a lot of mutual mistrust bordering on ill-will between us.
Fine by me; I avoid 'em at least 363 days a year. For my Mom's sake, I'll sit down with them on a couple of holidays.
...All contact with my Big Sister leads to trouble: The plan was to take both Rannie Wu and Mr. Meow to the vet. The latter is my Mom's found cat, a skinny, tired, one-eyed tomcat that showed up a couple months ago and gradually moved in to the sun porch, now outfitted as a deluxe cat-bachelor pad. So, much running around and losing/finding ('cos I am nervous about later, nervous about cat-hauling, etc. etc.), arranging to make last-minute dashes to the bank and store (with Tam's Z3 down for the count and the weather turning mean, grocery logistics are tricky), loading the present for my nephew's son in the car, stress, stress.... We get our errands done and arrive at Mom's.
"Oh," Mother says, "The cat is missing. Your big sister showed up to take me to church and he got out and ran off. I don't know why, he never does that. He's probably down at the neighbors, they have at least ten cats."
There's a strange dog bouncing around in Mom's yard. He's friendly enough and wearing a collar, but he's a good-sized dog and there's not a cat in sight. No sidewalks in Mom's suburb and the streets are like glass, so I trudge microsteppingly around her home and two doors down to the cat-sheltering neighbors. Lots of dog prints and not a cat in sight. I called: no cats. Microstepped back and admitted failure. Big sis shows up at the door, all butter-wouldn't-melt innocence:
"I guess I should have tried to grab him. He just got out!"
"Fine, sis, we still have to take Tam's cat to the vet. Mom's cat is not here, I'll just reschedule."
Meanwhile, Tam's been moving groceries in the hatch/trunk of my car so I can get to the Big Present for my nephew-once-removed: a mini-hiwheel bike similar to mine, with a vintage-style leather seat, heavy-duty pedals and big, loud bell. This was the subject of a lot of texting back and forth with his father, checking that it was parentally approved and something he'd actually like. Sis keeps talking while I lug it into the living room, head down the hall to get an old sheet from the linen closet, and drape the bike so it's "wrapped." I head for the back door, making one last check of the sun porch for the missing Mr. Meow.
"Mom, Sis? Gotta go, I'll be back later."
Mom asks if Tam will be with me, I say it depends and climb into the Hyundai where Tam is waiting and we're off.
(Called the vet on the way home and cancelled one cat. Sorry, he's a no-show.)
As we're turning into the alleyway behind Roseholme Cottage, my phone rings, Big Sis: "The cat's come back! Can you come get him?"
""Sorry, we're on a schedule. But the vet said they're open 'til one, so if you want to put him in a carrier and meet us at their office?"
"Sure! I can do that!"
I give her the address and call the vet to uncancel.
...Unhappy cat is unhappy: the plan was, I'd bring in groceries while Tam got the carrier and enticed Rannie into it.
By the time I had the groceries in (dazed a little by stress and sunlight and insane drivers on the fifteen-minute drive from Mom's to home, several blocks of it on glaze ice at each end), Tam does have the carrier. She's trying to lure Rannie into it with a cat treat. It's not working. (Has this ever worked, in the entire history of cats?)
Tam: "Can you give me a hand?"
"Sure." --Okay, look, I grew up with adopted farm cats; my parents grew up in times and places when house cats were all but unheard of: cats were a self-replenishing natural resource. Much as I love cats -- and I do -- much as I respect Rannie and Huck -- and I do -- I won't brook nonsense when things are serious. This means I grab Rannie, aim her in the cat carrier, and apply force.
"Be careful, it's easy to break her little feet when she hangs on like that."
"Yes," yes, it would be, but even a panicky cat is careful of injury and will let go when there's no other choice; I'm untangling toes and unhooking claws as I keep her moving into the carrier. The last hind foot in, I get her tightly-curled tail over the lip of the opening and close and latch the door.
"Uuulp! Ooooooooooooh!" Rannie Does Not Like The Carrier.
Tam gets that remorseful motherly look as we exit the house, cat still complaining quietly. "Oh, she hates this!"
Utter truth. I take the carrier and load it into the back seat while Tam icewalks around to the passenger side. Rannie wails at being handed over and placed on the back seat: "Ooooo! Ouulllp! Nooooooooooo!"
"Just a few blocks, Rannie, hang on!"
It's like four blocks total to the vet but that's far too long for Rannie, who sounds like she's either hiccoughing tears or about to be ill. I keep talking to her in a meant-to-be reassuring tone, whatever words come to me. "Go ahead and hork, Rannie, if that will help," elicits a horrified response from within the carrier:
On the way, my phone buzzes, text from Big Sis: CAT WON'T GO IN CARRIER. BUSY COOKING. I'LL TAKE HIM NEXT WEEKEND.
Yeah, thanks. Good luck with that. All contact with Big Sis makes for complications.
At the vet, Rannie is terrified, somehow smaller than normal; Tam and I take turns standing at the exam table where it abuts the wall, making a corner that Rannie can face into. She hardly notices having her temperature taken or her shots, and clings in scared gratitude to the tech who takes her back to have blood drawn. She's eager to get back into the carrier for the ride home and only complains a little on the drive.
Back home, we set the carrier on the couch in the living room and open the door, but Rannie is little inclined to exit 'til I start taking the top off the carrier; then she cautiously eels out glassy-eyed, flows over the couch, and off into a secluded corner of the living room. Huck sniffs after her a little but even he is a bit put off by her zombie-like demeanor.
Tam and I agree that it could have been worse and she wonders, "Did you break my cat again?"
Geesh, I hope not. Rannie hid out for a couple of weeks after the long drive up from Knoxville and Tam says her personality has never been the same since.
...Demos and Phobos are not merely moons of Mars. Their names mean Dread and Fear; it's a good thing there is not a third moon named "Panic," otherwise I'd be there right now. Instead, I am frantically looking for my purse. Did I leave it in the car, unlocked and on the far side -- the OUT side -- of the closed garage door? Did I? Did I? When I go to look, the answer is no, which only makes me more worried, and it's not in the garage, either. "Bobbi!" I put my gloves down looking "Bobbi!" and now they're missing, too and-- "Bobbi!"
The sound of my bedroom window opening breaks my rosary of panic, scattering beads of thought. "Bobbi!" It's Tam. "I found your purse. It's sitting here on your bed."
"Oh." Geesh, when did I put it down there? I can't even remember. "Oh, wow, thanks!"
I gather up the rest of the presents, small items, gift cards, an old children's book Big Sister has been pawing through used-book stores for years to find (it's called The Internet. It can be Your Friend), clomp off to my car and depart.
Tam's staying home: her cat may be broke. Anyway, Rannie has been zombieing around, stiff-legged and staring, sidling from from one hiding place to another, pointedly refusing to interact. Everything about her is radiating the message, the rest of you don't exist. I am trapped in a horrible, horrible dream and I can't wake up. It's worrying.
...There are always four entrees. When you eat a holiday meal at Mom's, there are four different kinds of meat-and/or-whatever main dishes. This is in part due to her efforts to ensure the family vegans and other picky eaters get something to eat. My oldest nephew pointed it out, while musing over home-made chicken pot pie, something Italian with pasta and meat sauce, baked eggs and something potato-and-eggplant looking. But that was later.
When I arrived, heart rate slowed almost to normal from the earlier panic, my Mom, Big Sis and baby Brother were the only ones there. I asked after the next generation -- all of Baby bro's kids were in another state, at his son's new house, but most of Sis's would be there (not her oldest daughter, about and inadvertently to whom she made some particularly poisonous remarks over a year ago. Said daughter was giving birth to her first child at the time).
I had a nickname as a child. I didn't like it. I don't use it. My family is very aware of that. Guess who started using it again and ignores requests to stop?
No, don't guess.
Soon enough, the rest of the family arrived: my oldest nephew, his wife, their two nice kids (teen-aged daughter, tall, skinny, an avid reader: big Amazon gift card for her; her younger brother, Cub Scout, into everything: yep, he gets the high-wheel bike); next-youngest nephew, his son (18 months, going on three years: talks a little, though devastatingly: told a saleslady gushing over his cuteness "Shuddup!"), walks (disconcertingly), small and chunky and indeed cute as can be (he gets a handmade wooden car, plus some large-denomination greenbacks for Papa), then their other sister and her boyfriend, a nice couple who ferried up nephew-and-baby, sparing him driving-while-parenting (which can be as bad a risk factor as texting or excessive drinking). Meet, greet, stow coats and eat! (Grace first, for which having a baby brother who's an ex-preacher eliminates the usual awkwardness over who'll lead and what might they say.)
Despite my best efforts, I end up sitting next to Big Sis, who uses [despised nickname] yet again. And again. And again. After asking her to quit it twice without effect, I stop talking to her and ignore whatever she says, resolving to leave as soon as possible; just then, it'd be as soon as I can leave the table without a fuss. But ignoring her mellows my mood and I end up drifting into the living room to watch the young ones tear into their gifts.
The baby's the most. He's doubtful that it's okay to rip open packages and has to be persuaded, but once they're open, he crows with delight as the bright-colored fun stuff inside, and is soon happily gnawing on the cardboard backing of a playtime video-game disc. The Cub Scout, when he works his way to the bike, exclaims in delight and wants to go ride it. His dad and I exchange looks across the room and he's told, "Maybe later." Turns out there's still a microscope (!!), binoculars (!!) and see-through V8 engine model kit (!!!) for him to discover, which he does, all but overwhelmed at the coolness of his loot. Meanwhile, the distaff youngers and elders have been quietly opening gifts and murmuring appreciation; I count myself among their number, receiving a splendid flowed teapot, a nice collection of teas, a warm robe and a goofily-delightful windup device that "walks"crazily on four sets of cartoonish feet while spitting sparks.
I'm keeping an eye out for the plain-wrapped* book for Big Sis (marked "from Santa" but my handwriting's distinctive) and watch her unwrap it.
"Oo! Oooooo! It's Honey Bunch: Just a Little Girl! Oh, thank you, Bobbi!"
Perhaps it's coincidence and certainly I was in full Sister: Avoid mode by then, but she didn't call me [despised nickname] again that evening.
Eventually I escaped, largely unscathed, but that's later.
...We look like crazy people, clearing snow from the paved drive with a rake and a hoe. My baby brother shoveled the walks earlier, and put the old grain shovel... "What difference does it make? Somewhere in the garage."
Or so he claimed. Oldest nephew and I suspect he may've shoved it into some other dimension. Whatever, it's unfindable and we're using what we can find to make good on our promise. Works pretty well: the rake brakes the icy crust and hoe pushes it aside.
First efforts show the seat is too high for our intrepid young rider; after adjustment, our rider is too intrepid. His dad is wise, though, and after two unsuccessful attempts, the Cub Scout is ready to ask, "Tell me again how ride this?"
I explain about scooting along with one foot on the step (rear fork, for this bike) until it's up to speed, then mounting the saddle.
"Okay, it's like a skateboard to start!" He scoots the thing around several times and announces he's ready to try riding.
He succeeds, too, with me on one side and dad on the other. He makes several single circuits on the drive. He has trouble with turns and we have to catch him, and then suddenly it clicks, and he's leaning and turning, around and around the drive, easy as can be.
"Go get Mom! Mom's gotta see this!"
She not only sees it, she records it, and is asking if they still have a bike helmet at home? "Oh, and don't let your [maternal] grandfather see this bike or he'll want one, too!" That's their next stop.
...The sun's headed down and next time I look outside, outside is pitch black -- the only streetlights in Mom's suburb are the blazing-bright set at the roundabout, too far away to be useful, yet annoyingly bright through the kitchen window if you're washing dishes or making coffee. Younger niece+BF and nephew are departing, Oldest Nephew is loading up his truck (3-D Tetris for the working dad!) and I take my haul out to my car. It takes three trips and with the last out there, there's no reason to stay; I just start the car and head home, alone in the dark.
Back at Roseholme, it looks like Tam's catching a quiet smoke on the porch -- yes, the The Porch.
Rannie is curled up in a tight ball on the couch, holding her back feet with her front ones like a child hugging a doll. When I sit down to change shoes, she raises her head and looks at me, asking, "Brrraow?" Then she snuggles herself into an impossibly tighter curl and sighs.
I'm back too -- and I'm asleep under the electric blanket as soon as I can get into my nightgown, as comfy as the cat.
The story is true. The names have mostly been omitted, for whatever good that'll do me.
* I wrap presents in either plain paper or the color funny pages from the newspaper. I have done so all my adult life. Look, it gets torn off anyway, why pay for fancy paper? If I want nicely patterned paper, I make it, there's any number of ways, from rubber stamps to ink washes to a suspension of paint in water. Or just draw or paint something on it, it's not like it's that difficult.