For several years my house became the mutually agreed assembly point for my in-laws and their overly complicated but short Christmas Day celebrations. At first I sort of enjoyed their company, most of my in-laws are highly intelligent and if we avoided politics the conversations could be quite stimulating. It sure as hell beat my family's tradition of spending several hours talking trash about whomever was being ostracized at that moment. A problem I solved by volunteering permanently for the job.
The other benefit of spending a holiday with them was the fact their usual habit was to show up on Christmas morning, spend precisely two hours catching up. Once that was out of the way the “experts” would proceed to the kitchen to either warm up something cooked earlier or outright prepare a special dish. The actual eating part of the ritual would just take about an hour with the following clean-up done by those lowly individuals who culinary inexperience would have resulted in bodily harm had they trespassed into the kitchen during the preparation phase.
The final segment lasted three to four hours, required because of the affect of consuming a near mutant turkey long overdosed with growth-hormones, consisting of everyone either on the couch or lying about the living room floor. Once everyone recovered their senses it was a mad dash to get back on the road or catch a Christmas Day flight to the other end of the country. The net benefit of those abbreviated warm family fuzzies was that no one was exposed to each other enough to fray nerves or set off a dormant desire to strangle the living shit out of a particular family member. I thoroughly enjoyed such visits since it allowed me to savor the rest of my Christmas holiday after they left in relative silence and peace.
Now choosing my house for all this unbridled affection had a lot of it had to do with the location of the retirement home for my wife's parents, which at first was an upper-crust golfing subdivision just off Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. If you've never been to Hilton Head it is not a terrible place to spend a holiday, but about fifty zillion other contentious human beings have already discovered that same fact with all them desperate to enjoy the balmy breezes and the overwhelming number of truly fancy restaurants.
I will say this, if anyone has a surefire scheme for suddenly jumping in front of a car and getting clipped for the resulting insurance money without getting killed, Hilton Head is the place. At any given moment you can throw a rock onto the crowded roads and easily hit an ultra-expensive Benz, BMW, Lexus, or any number of other supreme luxury cars. In fact, given the number of massive SUV's with suspiciously darken windows sharing the roads, a person could begin to believe some sort of summit of world leaders was taking place there. Believe it or not, Hilton Head was once the home of a thriving African-American community but the combination of golf courses, marinas, five-star restaurants, and full scale mansions has caused it to be overrun by the unabashed wealthy, not unlike how rats would act invading a full corn bin.
The second reason my house became the default meeting place was that my mom-in-law and dad-in-law eventually left Hilton Head and moved to Manning, South Carolina. Never heard of the place? No worries, it is a small town situated on the edge of Interstate-95 and has all the innate country charm its population of undereducated and overly religious folks can muster. Only the extreme Bible thumping Upstate of South Carolina can rival their growing enthusiasm for things like Donald Trump, civilian-owned assault weapon collections, and the impending second coming of Christ.
It was the discovery by my dad-in-law of a hidden lakeside golfing community that curled his toes in glee enough to make him decided to abandon the Hilton Head area. Since I'm not a golfer, I simply cannot appreciate how not having to wait long hours for a tee time can make someone like him want to move to such a backwoods place.
Now having the in-laws come to my house for the holiday pow-wow was not without its issues. The most memorable one happened about six or seven years ago when my dad-in-law somehow got a hair up his butt one Christmas wanting everyone to dress up for dinner. We're talking suit and ties for the guys and nice formal dresses for the ladies.
Right off the bat you have to understand the relationship the rest of my in-laws had with my now late dad-in-law. The best way to explain this is to compare him to a silverback gorilla with everyone else his troop of lower-ranking underlings. What dad-in-law wanted everyone quickly sought out to supply, even though they might bitch and moan to the point I began to believe they had been in contact with my blood relations. Honestly, I would not be betraying any secret if I write that neither my mom-in-law nor dad-in-law every had any overtly warm feelings about me. To them I was semi-redneck their precious daughter had the misfortune to meet at a Jimmy Buffett concert and decided to start dating.
Quite frankly, I was flabbergasted and befuddled by his desire to dress up for an occasion that every time before we all just worse things like slacks, polo shirts, and maybe shoes. My traditional Christmas dinner attire was jeans and a clean surfer t-shirt, and if the weather was warm enough I would ditch the pants for my comfortable cargo shorts. Putting it bluntly, I do not get dressed up for any normal reason. If I have to wear a sports coat I'm probably on a cruise ship enjoying tropical sunsets. If I have to wear a suit and tie someone has died or is getting married, which in truth I believe is essentially the same thing.
I quickly told my wife this suit and tie thing wasn't going to fly with me. Actually I compared it to such things as a heavy lead balloon floating up in the air or the success of a submarine designed with a screen door. She at first she just poo-pooped my objections, then after I didn't let the subject go sort of hinted that I would be rewarded with wild monkey sex if I went along. It was her failure to cement the promise which resulted in my withdrawal from the agreement. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice saying you have a headache I'll buy because I'm a decent guy, fool me a third time and I'm the blithering idiot.
Well, that particular Christmas Day finally came and the usual suspects piled into my house around 6:30am that morning. It was all a happy affair, with still no explanation as to why we had to dress up when the time came to eat. Since this shindig was happening in my house and with no real explanation as to the reason for the dress up party I would go along, in my own way.
By the time I arrived to the dining room everyone else was already seated. My wife's brother was wearing some nice suit with a tie that looked like rattlesnake skin. A good choice since few that know my bro-in-law for longer than twenty or thirty minutes consider him to be such a reptile. My wife, her mom and sister were all wearing dresses that would allowed them entry into one of the swanky restaurants to the already mentioned Hilton Head Island. My dad-in-law took the cake though, he looked like he was trying to impersonate Marlon Brando's character from the first “Godfather” movie.
His attire was appropriate since the look of surprise and then anger he directed at me would have scared most people. See, I decided to “dress up” for Christmas dinner by wearing a colorful Hawaiian shirt, my cargo pants, and my docksider shoes, without socks. I do admit to having gone as far as ironing my cargo pants because they were quite wrinkly.
Dad-in-law's face turned rather red those first few minutes, enough that I sort of worried I might have gave the putz an aneurysm. No such luck, dinner eventually proceeded as usual with everyone doing the expected hasty retreat after recovering from the turkey induced fog. Dad-in-law did get over my protest actions enough to personally say goodbye to me as everyone filed out. A gesture that was unexpected, not because of my fashion antics but because he was usually the first person out the door.
No one should get mad at me for disrespecting the man back then or even now since he has passed on to the great Republican heaven/golf course in the sky. As the father of a rambunctious daughter I fully expect that holiday karma to come back to me in spades. Its just that I will welcome the aftermath still wearing my damn Hawaiian shirt.