Tom's Take: A Toast of Traditions
11/24/2015 12:57PM ● Published by Tom Mailey
Illustration by David Norby © Style Media Group
Most families have a holiday tradition they uphold. It could be a special ornament that’s been passed down through generations; maybe it’s Midnight Mass or a certain breakfast Christmas morning. For my wife and me, it’s “Christmas-tinis.”
It started several years ago, cleaning kid barf from the backseat of a Hertz minivan at a freeway rest stop on a cold, tempestuous Christmas Eve. Vickie and I and our three young children had been on the road only a half hour or so, heading south on I-5 to spend Christmas Eve with my brother in Portland after celebrating with my parents in Olympia, Washington. Suddenly, our youngest boy, Sam—who was six at the time—got carsick. One moment he was discussing Christmas presents with his brother and sister; the next he’s fire-hosing vomit throughout the cabin of the van. He missed nothing: windows, seats, the floor, his shoes, inside his shoes. To make matters worse, a storm was arriving early and it had started to snow. Hard. Forecasts called for up to two feet, with strong winds. My brother’s place in Portland was only two hours away and when we left, I had figured there was plenty of time. I hadn’t figured on this. Soon after we pulled into the rest stop, snow flakes the size of chicken feathers were swirling down, and surrounding fir trees started headbanging in the wind.
Sam has always been a hearty eater and by the looks of it, he hadn’t missed a serving at dinner. Our two other kids had diametrically opposed reactions: Emma, then about 12, was horrified, climbing onto our stack of luggage in the back like a terrified cat trying to escape a flood. Joe, on the other hand, who was about nine, was deeply fascinated, gazing into the spray pattern on the window and saying, “That’s a carrot! There’s some turkey!” Thanks, buddy.
It took us nearly an hour to sufficiently clean the mess and another 15 minutes to talk our cat-daughter off “Luggage Island.” By the time we were back on the road, it was dark and the freeway blacktop was white. Traffic slowed to a crawl as wind gusts pummeled our vehicle and snow whipped through our headlights like a swarm of ghostly locusts.
Four treacherous, tedious hours later, like a wave-tossed ship finally reaching port, we turned wearily into my brother’s neighborhood, my head and neck aching from the strain of staring through the windshield. But as we rolled to a stop in front of his house, I could see Dan standing warmly in the doorway, back-lit by the twinkling lights of his Christmas tree. And in his outstretched hands he held the most welcoming Christmas surprise a couple of road-weary, stressed-out parents could ever see: a pair of shimmering appletinis. Suddenly, the wind’s howl became a chorus of angels and the entire evening went from frightful to playful. “You made it!” Dan bellowed through a smile. As our stiff legs crunched up the walkway, the kids began building a snowman.
So, this Christmas Eve, as we’ve done ever since that one, Vickie and I will mix up a couple of what we now call Christmas-tinis, and we’ll take a moment to recall the utter gratitude we felt that night, and how good it now feels to know that, despite whatever storm you may be facing, there are good things waiting on the other side—like a loving family, a warm home and Beefeater Gin. •