By Betty Mills
Sometimes it seems that the usually frigid weather of a North Dakota January is somehow fitting for the after-holiday season, especially if you’ve blown a big hole in the family bank account upon finding that “perfect present.” So now there’s a rug to scrub (who did spill the raspberry punch?), all that cherished Christmas decor to re-box and tug into storage, thank you notes to send as soon as you can remember who gave you what, and at least three items to be returned for a refund. Only three?
But it’s not those mundane tasks that are the hardest to deal with after the holiday glow has subsided. It’s not the lumps in the gravy or the sudden collapse of the Christmas tree or even the inexplicable late arrival of the family’s favorite uncle. Those are the usual holiday mishaps not worth a footnote in the family archival memory although I’m willing to make an exception for the time one of the teenage cousins broke out in “adolescent pimples” that infected the entire younger generation with chicken pox!
In my family a most difficult Christmas celebration occured in December of 1941. One of the family teenagers had joined the Navy and played trombone in the band of the U.S.S. Oklahoma. When it went down in the attack on Pearl Harbor, his parents were notified by the Navy that he was missing in action, and hope was in short supply as we gathered for the customary Christmas celebration at his parents’ home. Not until early January were they notified that he was one of a handful of men who had been rescued after being trapped in the hold of the sunken battleship for 19 hours.
What is more difficult to toss along with the tinsel are the remembered quarrels—those serious and hurtful disagreements which sadly resurface to break the buoyancy of the holiday gathering. Whether it is an old hurt or a new found animosity, somehow the appearance during what is considered a joyful season magnifies those painful encounters.
Given the snow clogged driveway, the ugly stain on a favorite easy chair, bills demanding immediate attention, and those ansty disagreements, who needs that holiday season? Maybe a better approach is to remember why we are willing to spend so much time, talent, and cash on the celebration just past. If we are willing to toss the whole affair in the complaint box because of an old quarrel or a new misunderstanding, why not skip the whole thing?
You jest! The thought of giving up all those happy moments, those joyful reunions, the special events, the excitement of children, the loving remembrances of other holidays, are much too important to toss away, especially knowing that most unhappy events can be remedied or at least made endurable, given what is at risk.
Obviously, it’s no game for sissies. It is not easy to remedy old quarrels or out-maneuver new ones. And who wants to be classed as the family busybody? But then the status quo is not much fun either.
Maybe the place to start is oneself. Clearing out the mind—and the heart—of some once endurable misunderstanding is not always easy, but important changes often come at a price. When the reward can be friendship mended, a conflict-free family gathering, and a new meaning to the happy holiday greeting, what’s to lose?
If that makes me an unrealistic Pollyanna, it’s better than earning the rank of family sourpuss, and it gives new merit to the thought of cleaning up after the holidays.
Betty Mills loves books and loves to write. She belongs to three book clubs and when she isn’t reading, Betty loves to cross stitch, garden, and talk politics. Betty was a columnist for the Bismarck Tribune for 25 years. She is also an expert tractor driver.