Heavily Suburban Interfaith Christmas Experience, Days 2 & 3

Christmas passed rather smoothly. Though all my blood relatives are Jewish, some of my relatives by marriage are not, and so we celebrate Christmas. Besides Christmas, another thing non-Jewish people have thankfully brought into my family is drinking. Christmas begins with a champagne toast and shrimp cocktail hors d’ouvres and continues through a lovely lasagna course, accompanied by wine that flows freely through the three-pie and cheesecake dessert.

Being around a large group of extended family, not all of whom get along, most of whom have been to therapy and now know exactly why they don’t get along, thus making them even less interested getting along–it used to make me nervous. But by drinking even more than I eat at Christmas I can now happily ignore whatever tense moments occur.

This year, I am proud to say there were none. Everyone is maturing. The adults are all passing 50, if not pushing 60, the elder generation is well into their 80s, and the pre-teens are developing the healthy levels of cynicism necessary to survive large extended family events.

The realtive-by-marriage and Republican Party donor who usually seeks me out and picks nasty fights with me thankfully abstained this year. He usually begins by telling some convoluted parable that is supposed to illustrate to me why communism failed in Russia, and why opportunity is available to everyone in America. I then find myself trying to defend the ideals of communism while still within the context in which Soviet Russia equals the actual practice of communism. Then I am interrupted repeatedly or goaded into raising my voice until I find myself hyperventilating in the bathroom while digging my fingernails into my palms.

Not this year, though. This year was uneventful. Well, except for this minor incident.

My grandmother, well past her normal alcohol intake, requested loudly that my brother and I “bring some marijuana” next time we visited. Apparently when my grandfather ate the hash meatballs at Shirley Kaufman’s New Year’s Eve Party in 1973, my grandmother didn’t get any. “I want to try some before I die,” she said.

My mother overheard this and said, “Ma, you had open heart surgery last year. How do you know how marijuana is going to interact with all your medications? Kids, if you give Grandma dope you could kill her. You could kill them both. Don’t do it!”

“I think we should do it,” said my brother. “We can go to Central Park.”

I have had some weird-ass drug experiences, and some plain old weird-ass experiences, but the idea of getting my 84- and 86-year-old grandparents high and taking them to Central Park was so weird, I truly could not imagine it.

“I’m telling you,” said my mother. “If you give Grandma and Grandpa dope you’ll be very sorry. If they don’t die, one of them could have a psychotic break.”

My grandmother was off the topic and reminiscing about how much she loved going to the Metropolitan Art Museum with me when I was a kid. “You had such insight into the paintings!” she said. “I must have told fifty people what you said about them.” I don’t doubt it. I’m the first grandchild, therefore everything I say is quotable. Suddenly, I could almost picture it. Everyone likes to get high and go to the art museum! If pot makes you insightful, and your Jewish grandparents already think you’re eminently insightful, then pot + your Jewish grandparents + the art museum would at least give the illusion that everyone invovled was very, very insightful.

I suddenly pictured my grandmother, already crazed with the slightly threatening love of a Jewish grandma, in the state of increased awe and appreciation marijuana can induce. What new superlatives would she use to describe her grandchildren? What new voracious metaphors would arise? She already used to tell us she could eat us up. Would Stoned Jewish Grandma profess to love us so much, “I could skin and boil you alive before feasting on your delcious flayed flesh?”

Would Stoned Jewish Grandma get the giggles? What about Stoned Jewish Grandpa? We’ve got a little more data on him. The story goes that at Shirley Kaufman’s fateful New Year’s Eve party, after he consumed the hash meatballs, Grandpa Sam began dancing blissfully with another man’s wife and became mellow enough to wave off the imperative to drive home ahead of the approaching snowstorm, which for him suggests a level of excitement just short of reckless abandon.

I’ve always thought that old people should do a lot of recreational drugs. My grandmother runs a writing program at the local senior center. When you teach writing to kids, as I sometimes do, you have to consider kids a different phases of development. When you teach writing to senior citizens, as my grandmother does, you have to consider people at different stages of dementia. My brother and I hit upon a brilliant idea. “We could run a recreational drug program at the senior center!” we chortled.

When the dinner hour was over, I incited all the kids to put down the new cell phones and video game systems they had received for Christmas and come outside to play on the swingset. “I really dig your swingset,” I told my cousins. “It’s so great.”

I was feeling quite youthful because after a whole bottle of wine and a large plate of lasagna, I was happily trying to beat a nine-year-old in a high-swinging contest. “You can swing really high,” she said. “Years of practice,” I said humbly. “I can hang upside down from my knees,” she said, inverting herself over the swingset’s trapeze element. “I went to circus camp.” I couldn’t compete with that and told her so.

My brother and I started playing a complex game of tag with the kids, the kind that devolves into everyone running around the other side of the house. We played until we were called in for dessert. Or I thought we were called in for dessert. It was actually the woman from the house next door calling her family in for dessert, but luckily our family was having dessert at the same time.

The rest of Heavily Suburban Interfaith Christmas Experience was a pleasant stream of immediate-family bonding through various exercises in overeating, experiencing nature and watching movies. There were bagels, there was lox, there was risotto. We were informed that the family cat is dying and our parents would like us to sell their art collection on eBay. When everyone else went to bed, I went outside and watched the lights move around the house and finally extinguish. I sat in the swing watching the house and the stars from inside my new, extremely warm spacesuit of a parka (it’s military spec), until my toes went numb. I have this weird disorder where my toes drain of blood completely when it’s cold. It runs in the family.

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