The Wednesday Pop Culture Rant has received requests for a holiday tale, so here we go: When The Rant was wee, we would load up the car and head to our grandparents in Logan, Kansas, population 700, give or take a few horses, which were allowed to live in town. The sort of place where a rooster woke you up in the morning and a goat wandered down the street without fear of repercussions.
Our grandparents built a house to contain the entire crew for holidays; how often can your family boast of increasing the population by over 5% just by showing up to open presents? My father had a blended family of five other brothers and sisters. We had aunts, uncles, cousins, fiances, and several people no one could ever identify, spilling out of every room. Including the bomb shelter with the steel door where you could wait out the end of the world of the pre-zombies-heavy-on the-atomic-winter-Book of Revelation variety. Apparently the imminent nuclear holocaust would place a premium on tomatoes and green beans. My grandmother had shelves filled with endless jars of both for you to ponder as you lay on a cot and speculated about how you would fare in a Lord of the Flies scenario. At least you would have plenty of vegetables for bartering.
The Rant would like to note we accomplished the Familypalooza sans alcohol, the house teeming with fundamentalists of every stripe. My poor grandmother had long theological debates with herself about buying rum extract for her world-class bundt cake. We assured her nothing created from such a pure heart could be sinful as we inhaled slice after slice.
This particular Christmas we had a new stepmother in tow. To calm her fears about meeting the hordes, my father promised to take us skiing after our visit. We could hardly believe our ears. Skiing? In the mountains? While staying in a hotel? Truly it was a season of miracles.
The contagion began with our cousin K, where all contagions began. We knew the first day of July had arrived each year when she contracted Impetigo from her chigger bites. So if there was vomiting to be done, K was your girl. Soon it was stomach flu for everyone! Somehow The Rant avoided infection, but listening to people moan and yak all night provided little solace. Besides, our coveted ski trip now appeared doomed.
Feigning sympathy, we probed family members for information. How are you feeling? Would you feel better at a higher elevation? We know nothing lowers our fever like frolicking in the snow. Mostly we just heard more moaning in return. Things looked bleak.
Alternating dashes to the bathroom with weeping, our stepmother resolved not to ruin our first major outing. That’s when my father noticed the car misbehaving. Blown transmission. Was there no justice on this earth?
Revised plans called for a couple of extra days in Logan and then an abbreviated ski trip. Everyone else decamped, and it was just The Rant and the canned tomatoes. You can only walk down the middle of Main so many times before the thrill wears off. When the car arrived back from the garage, our joyous departure lasted only five miles or so before it broke down again. We gave up, borrowed a vehicle, and went home. Later we would learn the new transmission had been installed backwards.
Walker Percy argued you feel the most alive and strangely contented during the worst moments of your existence, and that you will harbor a longing and nostalgia for such experiences you can’t explain. So that’s the Christmas we remember. That’s the Christmas that means family and laughter and sickness and dreams unfulfilled. That’s the Christmas we would return to in a heartbeat, a Christmas full of love and hope and Mason jars patiently awaiting the apocalypse.