Revenge of the Eccentric Aunt

I finally got my Christmas tree disassembled and boxed; ornaments wrapped in excess tissue paper and nestled safely in their festively decorated tin. My cough, which has been with me for almost three weeks, is, at long last, on its way out.

I’m resuming my normal working life, scheduling car maintenance appointments and putting my 2018 resolutions in writing. Yes, I’ve been a bit reflective.

I hosted a Christmas Eve family gathering at my place. My older sister doesn’t bother with a tree, and my niece, visiting with her husband from South Carolina, welcomed the thought of making my place a first stop for dinner and a gift exchange before heading off for cookies and a visit from Santa with the Irish Catholic side of her family.

I was eager to turn the tables on her, on her experiences of gift exchanges when she was a child. What a haul she would make!

Before her sister Emma showed up (almost 11 years after her arrival), Liz was the only child in our family. Her mother, being raised in a Jewish home, romanticized about the Christmas holiday. She loved to decorate a tree and had a slew of favorite Silver Palate cookbook cookie recipes.

My sister would throw her Gidget Goes Goyish party the Saturday before Christmas, complete with heavily spiked mulled wine, and she hosted a casual Christmas Eve dinner and gift-exchange before heading off to husband’s Uncle Leo’s house for a major gathering of the clan.

My mother would wrap Liz’s presents in Hanukkah blue wrapping paper, and my eldest sister Barb might include a song about lighting a menorah when she performed her traditional short set at the family piano, but make no mistake, the highlight of the evening was Christmas presents.

For a few years, it was fun to watch Liz tear into the colorful wrapping paper then it got to be a bit of a drag for me. Witnessing her natural childhood exuberance morph into almost a sense of entitlement gnawed at me. I don’t know if it was because I didn’t like the holiday focus on material things or because I never felt like the center of attention in my family and was simply jealous, but I didn’t enjoy the ritual.

So, I started a Christmas tradition of messing with Liz’s Christmas present experience.   When she was nine or so, I brought over a large wrapped box and put it under the tree. When it came time to unwrap her presents, she was eager to start on the mystery box.

After, taking off the bow carefully, and ripping off the paper less carefully, upon opening the box, she discovered a smaller wrapped box inside. Like Russian Matryoshka (nesting) dolls, that box contained another wrapped box, and that box another wrapped box, an on and on. I seem to recall she had to unwrap nine boxes (one for each year of age) before she actually got to a small gift of hair barrettes.

She rolled her eyes at me. A lot of hype for very little pay-off. She was not a happy camper.

The next year, I brought 10 small boxes, each wrapped individually, but the presents they contained were very unglamorous. I brought things like socks, a can of soup, and bar of soap. My gesture was a metaphorical way to say Be careful what you ask for…. She got lots of presents…but none were very impressive.

The next year, I bought her some sort of educational software package. Under the tree, I placed sealed clues on where she could find it. (I didn’t put a box under the tree.) She didn’t like this either.

She didn’t want to play a game to get her Christmas booty. She actually got bored and gave up looking until one of the boys from next door came over and thought the game was fun and helped Liz solve the mystery of her present’s location (hidden in the basement dryer).

Now that I was hosting Christmas Eve, I had the chance to turn the tables on her. I bought presents for myself and saved small gifts from friends, which I placed under my tree, so I could open lots of gifts in the company of my family.

It took longer for me to unwrap my gifts than it took anyone else.

Liz poured herself another glass of wine and smiled. Watching me in my child-like. flawed adult glee, she remarked…

Remember when you gave me a box within a box within a box? I was really mad at you……That was pretty funny.

Being forgiven by the adult version of the child who swore she would never forgive you is no small thing.


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