They say there is no place like home for the holidays, and I suppose that, technically, the saying is correct. All crazy families are different in their own ways, and who among us has an entirely sane set of relatives?
My brief jaunt home involved a mercifully quick trip up I-95 to Newark, Delaware, home of the Fightin' Blue Hens and, more importantly in this context, my father and stepmother. My sister, her two kids, and her boyfriend joined us, as did my uncle. Most years, the whole family thing devolves into anger at some point, with either my stepmother or politics lighting the fuse. Regarding the latter, it's tough being the only conservative in the group, but tougher when others refuse to let facts or logic get in the way. I'm also not a big fan of arguments at Christmas, so I've tried to avoid the whole subject of politics. Usually I'm not all that successful.
This year, the only time we really veered into the political arena was when my uncle - a staunch liberal from the Vietnam era - noted with some regret the downward spiral of the Washington Post and wondered out loud whether the paper would die a dignified death or go the way of Fox News. I have my own problems with the Post, but I asked what he meant. He said that the paper focused too much on political coverage - fair enough, though that seems like a hazard that comes from being the local paper in the cesspool that is the seat of government - and has become increasingly breathless and hysterical over time. He said that the paper's coverage of Obamacare, something he supports, mind you, told him almost nothing of use. Instead of, say, explaining what a health care exchange was, or even why financial penalties for not having insurance coverage were necessary, the paper spent column after column following the ping-pong of who was supporting the bill, who was mad about it, and what deals were being made. This year, he went on, the coverage of the fiscal cliff made it sound as though disaster would occur on January 2 should no fix be in place by then. A Christmas miracle! We found ourselves in agreement! He took a swipe at those politicians - generally conservative types - who opine that the defense cuts in the sequestration bill would be crippling. A second Christmas miracle, as I agreed with him twice in one discussion! (I had to go ruin it by suggesting he stop reading Paul Krugman, except for amusement.)
It's hard to avoid the stepmotherly craziness, though. One year, during the second President Bush's term in office, she objected to the man's opposition to federal funding of abortions by saying, "I hope someone rapes his daughters and they become pregnant." There was a hasty change of subject at that point by the first person to find her voice again, but ever since then I've wondered if that's the kind of thinking that goes on in the woman's brain on a regular basis. This year, her contribution was not quite as memorable, but still a good 8 or 9 on the offensiveness scale. My father mentioned to my sister that our grandfather had played varsity baseball for Penn State in the early 1930s, to which my stepmother said nastily, "Did he know Sandusky?" Another hasty subject change before I could ask whether she was implying that Penn State harbored a child molester for 80 years or that my grandfather was himself a child molester. I could only conclude that she has some form of Tourette's in which horrible things come out instead of a stream of curse words, but that in either case the words are involuntary.
My sister, bless her heart, once again seemed to have started in on the Christmas cheer before she arrived and didn't slow down once she got there. Fortunately, she's an amiable drunk. (Even more fortunately, she wasn't driving. Her boyfriend was the designated driver, as he, probably wisely, didn't trust the 16-year-old to drive an unfamiliar truck at night.)
Gifts were exchanged, though if I had a say in things I might have suggested keeping the 16- and 14-year-old boys around after they had opened their loot was a recipe for teenage hijinks. At my advanced age, I control boredom by yawning a lot; at that age, the boys just got silly.
Lest this become merely a lengthy whine, I'll note that the adults had a nice conversation, with topics ranging from the propriety of a school fund-raiser attending a funeral of a long-time donor to places not to miss in St. Petersburg, with a side trip to the unhealthy conditions in British Honduras during business trips in the 1960s. Perhaps not your cup of tea, but they're my family, not yours.