Christmas was full of traditions at my house growing up. The rest of the year was relatively free of ritual, so we piled everything into two days it seems. On Christmas Eve we always went to mass at St. Theresa's church in West Roxbury where I sang in the choir. Dad would come just to hear me sing, he said. It was one of the two or three times a year he'd go to church. We'd all go to Mario's Italian Restaurant for dinner afterwards. At home we would each open one present. And no matter how old we got we'd read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Over the years it became ironic and goofy but we'd do it anyway. Dad would build a fire and then we would all fall asleep on the high wrap around couch in our living room watching A Christmas Story or It's a Wonderful Life. My little brother would sleep on the trundle bed in my room and we'd stay awake late and get up at the crack of dawn.
But things change, and so with that in mind I bring you a scene from last night at Mom's new condo:
I looked up from the window ledge I was carefully icing and watched as Brian began decorating the top of the roof with red and blue gumballs. "Feeling patriotic?" I asked. "I like the way it looks," he said and we both burst into the first seven words of "Proud to be an American," which is all we knew. Mom painstakingly hand crafted icicles from the ledges. "That shit is bad ass," Brian proclaimed, and Mom sat back to admire her work.
As Brian began to plot the correct angle for some chocolate solar panels on the roof he started to curse, "Shit! It's going down!" The three of us watched as a sink hole appeared in the center of the house and swallowed all the gumballs. "F*ck," said my baby brother lighting another cigarette, "we should have waited for the frosting to set."
We fixed the roof but then a wall fell over. We uprighted the wall and Brian went to work on the Eastern windows, but he had been drinking a bit and the next thing I heard was this:
"What the hell is that?" (mom)
"What? There's snow on them." (Brian)
and a pause.
"It was a blizzard, ok, Mom?"
Just as I had completed the fortune cookie rock salt on the chocolate walk way there was a loud sucking noise and all the electricity went out. It flashed back on and then crashed out a second time. In the entire complex, and the one down hill from what we could tell through the windows. We pulled out flashlights and lit candles and tried to work in the dark. "Now we have an excuse for the way it looks," said Mom.
The roof kept sloping off, and so Brian and I decided we had to hold the pieces in place for fifteen minutes to let it stick. He kept letting go and shifting the table causing me to yell, "every time you let go, the terrorists win." Mom held Brian's beer up to his lips for him to drink and when I noticed Brian laughed so hard that Mom spilled the beer down his chin. "My family," I intoned, making everyone laugh harder as my side of the house shifted angles again.
The power returned and was met with mixed reviews, "Well at least we'll have a stove in the morning. But still no excuse for this house."
We stared at the house. One side of the roof was frosted, the other was bare. The frosting had huge thumb prints in it from Brian hanging onto the sides. Mom's icicles dripped to the ground like elf snot. One half of the holly branch I had crafted fell to the ground. Brian's windows still looked like someone had wiped their mouth on the side of the pastry. The roof split again, revealing the hole and shedding light on the American gumballs stranded inside.
"Well," I said, I should get ready for midnight mass.What time is it?"
"Good luck," said Brian taking a swig of a second beer, "It's flashing 9 o clock over there, and the microwave says it's zero time."
"What this house needs," I said, "is some support."
"It's not too late to throw the whole thing away and pretend we never tried," answered Mom.
Brian and I rigged some chocolate bar support beams for the roof and let it set overnight. He retired to the basement to play video games online and Mom went to bed. I fixed my frosting covered hair in the bathroom mirror and slipped out the door to go to church on my own, my first time in this new town that Mom lives in.
As I knelt in the crowded chapel surrounded by families and children, I kept picturing my brother holding onto the house, my Mom lighting his cigarette for him, her own held tight in her lips as the gum drops dropped off the windows one by one onto the kitchen floor and I thought maybe we had found a new tradition.
When I mentioned this to them later my mother's response? "Hell no."