Christmas 2020 was an altogether different experience for everyone, I imagine. For our family, it meant far fewer of us gathering and eating, laughing, and holding our tongues at something someone on “the other political side” said over the never-ending election ads here in Georgia.
Despite the fewer numbers, we still managed to get a couple of families together–properly distanced of course. One family did end up with two COVID cases, but it didn’t spread to the other four in their house (including a 6-month old) and none of the rest of us who were around them caught it either. But with less going on, I noticed that, by and large, everyone spent less time at my in-laws’ house. We all showed up; sat around a bit while lunch was finalized; ate; sat around a while until it seemed that we’d done all there was to do short of an activity that might put us all at a COVID risk; and then we all went home.
My wife and I left earlier mostly because of the kids. They didn’t have any cousins to play with this year so it was basically just like being home with each other, only, with a lot less to do. And who needs more of that? Amiright? Amiright?
While sitting in the living room desperately trying not to engage anyone in conversation–thereby avoiding any unnecessary drama–while watching my kids very nearly melting into the carpet from boredom, I was reminded of my own childhood spent at my Granny’s house during the holidays. “Granny” as she let me call her, lived alone. Her husband (a pastor and a drunk) had left her and their five children decades earlier and by the time I was in the picture, all of Granny’s kids were grown with families of their own. Granny spent the next two decades with just herself and Jesus to keep her company and she seemed almost jealously happy with the arrangement. She was a prayer-warrior of a woman, but boy did she love her daytime Soaps!
Granny lived in a tiny modular home on a great space of land adjacent to one of her daughters and their family. Having lived alone for so long, her house was decidedly not child-friendly. In fact, the only entertainment to be found was a 30-year old pail of tinker toys and some cards if you were lucky. The rare times my Uncle Buddy, who lived across the way, invited the older boys to go snake or dove hunting on his 30 or so acres of adjacent property, approximately five acres of which held water well enough to qualify as a swamp, were a treasured rarity and not something you could count on happening. If there was any fun at all for a kid to have, it usually required making it yourself.
At Thanksgiving and Christmas, 15 or so of us would all pack into Granny’s tiny home, heated by a single, gas-fueled space heater, which, when combined with 15 additional bodies and four roaring gas burners and a stove, more than amply heated up the home at the holidays. So it was, that, after the meal, your options were to either fall asleep in the drowsy heat of her living room on twenty year old couches that sucked in bodies like the softest memory foam, or do what my cousin and I did, which was escape outside and make our own fun.
My cousin Tamara was my age, so we got along pretty famously for two kids thrown together by marriage rather than blood. When we were much younger, we played “Kitchen” making mud pies out behind her mom’s hair-dressing shop, which was behind their own house out in Tanner Williams, AL. As we got older, we spent more time indoors just hanging out, or if it was summer, shucking corn or shelling peas at her parent’s behest before they’d allow us to go swimming in their above-ground pool.
Once we’d escaped outside where you could take a deep breath of fresh, cool air, our entertainment of choice during family gatherings at Granny’s was, “Whose car is it?” It’s a very simple game where two or more players (but it was only ever the two of us) sat on Granny’s front porch and waited for cars to come down the lonely stretch of road that ran into a four-way at the Alabama-Mississippi line about 1/4 of a mile past Granny’s, eventually running into Big Creek Lake if you kept going straight, or dead-ending into even lonelier parts of “the country” if you went right or left.
The rules of the game were as such: Each car that came down the road belonged to the next player whose turn it was. There were two options for the car: it was either yours (by turn), or if you didn’t want the junker, you “gave” it to another acquaintance of ours, a girl we both knew from school and who drove us both bonkers. Oh the hours Tamara and I whittled away laughing at the junkers we gave to our mutual annoyance, and the rare sports-car gems that came down the road made every disappointment worth the wait.
You wouldn’t think such a simplistic game would offer much of a diversion on wintery holidays in Alabama, but when the options were that or the snooze-fest going on inside, yelling, “That’s my BUICK!” wasn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon. We both usually sat on Granny’s porch-swing while playing, which added an additional benefit of movement.
I was reminded of this while looking at my own kids at their grandparent’s house at Christmas. There, they had a big backyard. They’d brought balls to throw to each other. There was a trampoline–not to mention they each had their phones–and there they sat, bored as anything and ready to go home.
What I wouldn’t have given to have had half their entertainment options growing up. I suppose every generation of parent has those moments where they look at their offspring in a bewildering combination of disgust and amazement over the opportunities wasted. It’s a rite of passage generations old, I guess. Doesn’t make it any easier to accept as an aging adult, though. I wonder how it will be for my children? Likely, their kids will just be sitting there in a near-vegetative state while playing video games in their heads thanks to the internet-connected cybernetic implants making it unnecessary to ever move.
Then again, we all thought we’d have flying cars by now too.