My family’s loud. We talk into our phones like we’re hard of hearing, and when we get together, especially around Christmas, we subconsciously test the acoustics of an enclosed space.
The various families and individuals trek from the Triad and the Queen City to my grandparents’ house in Statesville. Year after year, they tell us to arrive by 4 p.m., but with the increased complexity of life for some — having children, having spouses, having to read clocks — the entire group assembles at about six.
In years past, the youngest generation barely managed to bypass relatives’ hugs and kisses before running straight to the cabinets in the rec room. Soon, decades-old Fisher Price toys littered the floor, and the kids — alternately bored and enthralled with the toys — wove between bodies to the living room television and back.
The women always congregate in the kitchen to discuss their kids’ most recent hijinks, their drama at work or school, other family members. Stories are retold for the billionth time with renewed vigor over wine or cocktails. At some point, the family lineage is invoked as we discuss who is related to whom and how. The men, meanwhile, sidle up to the rec room television as if warming themselves on offensive strategies.
We used to eat a turkey dinner with all the fixins, but a few years ago, my grandparents realized they could serve lunch meats, sliced cheese, and bread rolls and still make the group somewhat happy. The rest of the family contributes sides: chicken salad, fruit, frozen pies, Jesus cake. We spread it all out on the rec room’s makeshift table, a pool table with flat boards laid on top.
Conversations and sports-watching resume; seconds and thirds are obtained and devoured. Pretty soon, the word “presents” is passed around, and the kids dash to the “red room”: the formal living area with red walls, white carpet, a thousand framed photos, and past pets’ urns that go unnoticed.
In an attempt to tame the chaos, the adults wait until the kids retreat with their spoils. The volume grows with shouts of gratitude and explanations for why certain presents were given. A few hands shuffle plastic and paper corpses into trash bags.
But the most memorable part of the occasion is, by far, the family photo. All of us amass in front of the fake Christmas tree on the weatherproofed porch. Kids have grown, and no one seems to remember where they stood in previous years, so we strategize positions like linebackers. As phones are assembled on a metal ladder, a low “ahh” begins, our family’s version of “cheese.”
Timers are set. On someone’s mark, triggers are pressed, but some don’t engage. We urge them to get in place anyway, and the “ahh” swells, each one egging on the others to higher volumes. Lights flash, and one person resets the cameras, but the sound, by this point, has a life of its own.
I begin to wonder if the neighbors can hear us and what they think about this large group of people standing calmly on the patio, taking their annual Christmas picture, yelling as if their lives depend on it.
The cameras flash for the last time, and everyone erupts into hoorays. It’s the joyous elation that another Christmas with the family has finally ended.
We’d love to see your holiday photos! Submit them to Katlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured in a future issue of Winston-Salem Monthly.