As I related the Harness Boot Christmas Eve last night, I stopped with my little lake of molten, waxy shoe polish spreading across our kitchen table and the aftermath. I was laughing when I wrote it and still laughing today a few times. However, that Christmas Eve didn’t end there.
Oh, no, it did not. I mentioned two neighbor ladies who were coming over, sisters, both as old as my parents and neither had ever married — Joyce and Edna. We had known them very soon after we moved in — about ten years at this point — and they came over for a bit every Christmas Eve. Their visit actually had spurred the spreading of the decorative plastic tablecloth.
By the time the sisters arrived, my mom and dad had made a full recovery from the debacle I had created by melting the first plastic tablecloth. (As I said, I’m pretty sure those cloths came like three for a dollar, but they were the only types I ever saw on our table the three or four times a year we actually ate there.)
My parents’ had their own way of recovering from the numerous curve balls and knuckle balls life seemed to throw at them: they drank copiously. I didn’t like it, but I accepted it. Knowing they loved me and they were never mean to me made it easier to accept. This meant, though, that friends, people like the neighbor sisters that night, drank a fair amount, too.
With my mom and dad in good spirits, literally, I had cleaned up and made my appearance with my highly polished boots in all their splendor. I wasn’t flaunting them, though, because I didn’t relish any ridicule even if only to the sisters. Dad could be really witty, sarcastic, and droll, so I actually was relatively humble. After my parents greeted our guests, Dad was off and running with his wit and stories, keeping Mom and the ladies amused. There were some jokes about the bowl of mixed nuts — a special Christmas treat we always had — and guffaws about cracking nuts and picking the meat out.
The ladies were already too toasted to even crack the nuts, so I was asked to do the shelling and putting the picked meats on a clean paper plate. (We got thicker plates when guests came over.) My sister thought it was funny, but we were both biding our time till we could leave. I would be leaving for my girlfriend’s house and going to midnight mass with her family.
In the meantime, I sat cracking nuts with the little scissor-handled nut cracker. At least I had something to do. I don’t know what in the hell my sister was doing. But the adults kept drinking. Mom put out some cheese spread and crackers, and then, the big culinary offering of the night — the boiled shrimp my mom had made.
Oh, what a delightfully deadly odor that produces in two rooms. The total length of the living room and kitchen with a tiny dinette was a little less than thirty feet. At least no one could smell the shoe polish anymore!
Mom set the shrimp out on paper plates and put some extra ones out for each of them to have their own depository for the shells and tails. Now, the party was rolling, and my sister and I knew we wouldn’t be missed before long. Hell, if we didn’t leave, the sisters were getting so soused they may not even have remembered us.
In addition to the nose pollution, a noise pollution always attended such times in the tiny apartment. That night, as always, the television was on. Jimmy Stewart was well-whadda-know-about-that-ing all over It’s a Wonderful Life. In addition to those two super-sensory stimulators, breathing became questionable as the five adults smoked, filling the living room and kitchen into what may have been an EPA-classified toxic cloud when it mixed with the boiled shrimp steam bath.
At this point, I was surviving, but I noticed a small pile of nut and shrimp detritus building on the floor in front of one of the ladies; I’m not even sure which one it was anymore. I noticed my sister looking at it, and she saw me. We burst out laughing, for a moment. We knew better than to call attention to ourselves when we were both angling to leave.
At that moment, though, we noticed the most-inebriated sister gesticualting with almost comical chewing, smacking, and shifting of her jaws and mouth. Actually, it grossed out both my sister and I, but my mom asked her what was wrong.
Through slurred words, she kept chewing. However, since she was trying to speak at the same time, the crunching became very audible. “Oh, Ginny, theesh shimps are de…[crunch, crunch]..lish…[crunch, pick at teeth]…ush…” At this point she picked up the plate and spit stuff onto it. (So glad we were using the thicker paper plates so it didn’t fall on the floor.) “But they are really crunchy.”
Being subtle and trying to remain unnoticed no longer mattered. My sister and I laughed until we were crying, and I think she wet her pants a little, which she often did when she laughed hard. My mom said, “What? What’s so funny?”
My sister, through her tears of laughter, choked out, “She’s eating the shells and tails.” OMG. We took a breath and laughed even harder, then, slowly throttled it back, feeling a little guilty because the lady didn’t even know what she was doing. I don’t think she even knew we were laughing. We did stop, eventually, and tried to help clean up a little before we left. The ladies were friends and we really didn’t intend to make fun of her, but sometimes, situations just present themselves, especially to teenage minds.
Of course, Mom intervened and told her she had to peel the shrimp and not eat the tails.
In the midst of that sensory chaos and underlying sorrow at the alcoholism, my sister and I still could laugh, still could take what was there and know some fun and peace. We had to in order to know some calmness in the wake of our childhood, which as I said last night, did not include physical abuse, but it did have long-term effects on both of us.
This is one memory, though, we can still laugh about from that unsavory time.
And I would encourage anyone, whatever challenging situations they may face, to find that feeling, that emotion of a settled calmness. Sometimes, people just need to find a way to laugh, friends who are healthy for them, and an inner peace borne of love for self and others.
Our Heart bears us the goodness and help of the Spirit of all, and that is really the source of settled calmness, a faith that help awaits.
And laugh, oh, laugh and enjoy and giggle and share that with others.
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Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!