Bored at Granny’s – A Holiday Story

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.

Movie Review – “A Very Murray Christmas”

About this time each year, or maybe a few weeks earlier, I start watching my old favorite Christmas movies; Christmas Vacation, The Ref, and A Christmas Story, to name a few. But, I’m always on the lookout for new ones, and I couldn’t help but notice the promos for Bill Murray’s new Christmas special – “A Very Murray Christmas.”

Now, who doesn’t like Bill Murray? Certainly not I, so when it came out on Netflix on Dec. 4th, I promptly pulled it up and started streaming.

Now I don’t mean for this to be a movie critique, but it kinda is so I’ll just lay it out there.

The movie starts out, seemingly, that Murray has been planning a huge NY Christmas special, only to be upstaged by a major winter storm that prevents pretty much everyone from coming. Left with a dark, empty stage, being televised to untold millions live, Murray tries to kick off the show, but just can’t pull together enough umph to make it work. And here’s but one of the places where you have to suspend your disbelief, or at the very least, try and overlook one of the HUGE plot holes–because apparently, the major network running his live show, has no issues with him just walking off the stage in a childish fit of “this sucks,” and then picking it back up again 20 minutes later. I guess we’re to believe they ran commercials for 20 minutes (it could happen).

In a fit of despair, Murray begins wandering around the hotel and finds Chris Rock and manages to coerce Rock to join him onstage, only to have the power go out and Rock disappear. One of Murray’s producers declares that this “act of God” nullifies the contract requirement for her to be there and she, and others, walk off the set and leave Murray and Co. alone in the dark in a random NY hotel.

So far, so-so good.

Thus begins a halfway decent tour of the hotel running into various B-list stars, some of whom have really decent singing voices, and the middle of the movie is at least interesting, if still a bit weird (These B-list actors aren’t playing themselves in the movie…or are they…one is never quite sure).

But then, Murray passes out and the rest of the movie is a Murray Fantasy(land) of fake snow, candy canes and…Mylie Cyrus in a skimpy Mrs. Clause outfit belting out Christmas carols while showing off her dozen or so arm and side-breast tatts.

I’ve nothing agains tatts, or even Mylie Cyrus for that matter, but was that really the best talent Murray could drum up for his Christmas special?

Needless to say, it was not Murray’s best  efforts, even if you look at it through the lens of “Well, Bill Murray is known for doing wacky things.”

I guess I’ll stick with with the classics next year.

When did charity get so expensive?

Clarks
I remember when I was growing up, that my parents had a “Christmas Club Account,” which they referenced around this time each year; usually in the context of being thankful they had it to help offset the costs of all the gift-getting.

I’ve always been pretty money-conscious, so I have my own Christmas account and though it always seems to burn up pretty quickly once I start shopping in earnest, there’s always a bit left that I try and use to help someone out during the holiday season.

You may be familiar with Clark Howard–the nationally known radio and television personality known for his frugality. He’s based here in Atlanta and each year he goes from Walmart to Walmart broadcasting on-air, to promote his “Clark’s Kids” holiday charity drive. It’s promoted as your typical “come choose a child to help this Christmas” toy drive.

I’ve tried to get over to the Walmart he’s broadcasting at for a couple of years now, but this year was the first time I’ve really been able to get there. So yesterday, I got the boys out of school early and we headed over to Walmart in hopes of teaching them a bit about “giving” and maybe help a couple of children have a better Christmas.

We arrived at Walmart and sure enough, there’s the local radio broadcast truck outside so at least I knew that we were at the right place at the right time. We headed in and just generally aimed for the balloons near the ceiling cuz, it’s Walmart and it’s pretty big. Arriving at the charity drive, we’re directed a long table filled with sheets of paper, each containing the details of a particular child: name, age, race, and then a list of three items he or she had selected for Christmas.

I encouraged my boys to each look through and select a sheet of someone they wanted to “help” and while they did that, I began to just peruse the sheets. As I did, I noticed a couple of things:

  • The lists were very similar. For instance a “VTech” game thing was a common theme. I asked if the kids were given a list of items to choose from and was told “Yes.”
  • There were some pricey items on the list. I saw a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, bicycles, and other large-ticket items

My own boys came back to me with their lists and on them I saw:

For the 4 year old my youngest son selected:

  • a double-sided whiteboard easel
  • a balance bicycle
  • a little-tykes basketball thing

For the 9 year old my oldest son selected:

  • a Simon game
  • electric scooter (and if you bought a scooter, you were supposed to also buy a helmet)
  • a basketball hoop you mount to your door inside

Let me say here that my expectation was to spend about $50 on each child,  so I asked one of the volunteers how “this” worked; did I just buy a couple of things on the list? She replied that the idea is for you to buy everything on the child’s list, but if you didn’t, it would go back in the pile in hopes someone else would finish it up. No guilt there right?

Now, I won’t bore you with the next 45 minutes we spent walking around, unsuccessfully trying to find the exact items on the list, many of which I was told Walmart didn’t even carry, or me looking at the price of an electric scooter and saying, “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. My own kids don’t have an electric scooter.” But we did end up getting (similar gifts since we could find an exact match for most things) all but the most expensive item on each child’s list (they didn’t have the balance bike) and it still came out to $145 total.

I’m happy to have been able to help of course, but the onsite expectation didn’t match the promoted expectation. And who thought this through? If a kid did get a smartphone from someone, who is going to pay for the cell phone plan? Is a balance bicycle really the best use of $60 when they’re likely going to outgrow it in a matter of months? I don’t know…it just felt a bit “thrown together” and I didn’t feel like I was really “helping” someone.

Being a charity run by the Clark Howard foundation, I’m more than a little surprised. For someone so bent on saving money and making every dollar count, this toy drive certainly didn’t live up to what I’ve come to expect from Clark.

Next year I’ll find someone, or an organization, a bit more “need” driven and a lot less “wish” driven.

 

Magic Elves – Season 5 Day 2

Somewhere between Thanksgiving and the next day, something magical happens each year in our home. Our “Magic Elves” appear. Santa sends them along on a magical slipstream of wind and snowflakes, to join our family for another season of merriment and mischief.

This is the fifth year.

The fifth.

That means we’ve had to come up with more than 100 clever and unique “things” for the elves to do each night. This is challenging, made moreso by the fact that, unlike the “Elf on the Shelf” our elves are completely soft, so they don’t stay in a pose. You can’t bend their arms and have them stay there. They can’t stand on their own. They literally are, like a sock.

But despite these challenges, we persevere. I’ll try and post some of this year’s exploits here for your enjoyment.

Here’s last night’s. As you can see, the elves created cutouts of minions and stuck their faces and appendages in them. Overall, it was cute, but I’m not sure the kids quite got what was going on here. All they saw was the minion toys and everyone drinking syrup. But hey, cross another one off the list. Only 23 more ideas to come up with.

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