(Broken) Home for the Holidays
Growing up, I learned that although holidays were the best thing ever, there was also a very real chance that something would go wrong anytime we gathered for a family meal or opened presents. We went to Grandma Wright’s on Christmas Eve, but we went to Granny Conn’s house for most other holidays. Granny cooked all the food you could ever want in eastern Kentucky: turkey, ham, chicken and dumplings, mashed potatoes, corn bread, Stove Top stuffing, green beans from her garden, corn that she grew, and macaroni and tomatoes (made with her own canned tomatoes).
She insisted on giving me her canned vegetables long after I stopped appreciating them, and then after I started again. I remember the day I opened the last Mason jar of tomatoes she ever canned and gave to me. I held on to it like the treasure it was and still thank whoever is listening that I had sense enough to know its value.
On Christmas Eve, Grandma Wright usually baked a ham with pineapple rings — we didn’t have pineapple anywhere else — but there was pizza, too. Nobody would deliver up in our holler, so we usually had pizza only at Grandma’s. They got normal television, so Papaw Wright would be watching racing, wrestling, or The Andy Griffith Show. I always gave Grandma chocolate-covered cherries and gave Papaw a tin of cashews or walnuts still in the shell. I wrapped them with care, each time so proud I could give them something they loved.
I walked to my bedroom door one day not long before Christmas to find that my bed and floor were covered with plants, drying and sending off a scent that reminded me of the smell that came from my parents’ bedroom sometimes.
My dad told me not to go in — That’s your Christmas. And he laughed often about the way Christmas came for us, a good harvest that was quickly spent on the things we couldn’t afford the rest of the year. Tax returns were like that sometimes, too — we got the Nintendo that one year, and my brother and I played Duck Hunt as much as we could stand it but played Super Mario Bros. until we beat it. Every time we went to a grocery store, I searched the magazine aisle for a cheat book and could usually memorize one cheat to use once we got back to the looming violence of our home.