Sweetie and I forgot the camera when we drove off to Who's, so I just have a boring wall of text for you today.
We left for Greensburg on Wednesday morning, because Who needed to buy some things. His leg is dying for reasons yet unknown by the dozens of doctors he's seeing, and he's dependent on prescription-level pain killers, so he shouldn't be zipping around by himself. You would think, in a condition like that, he would want to make his shopping trips brief and ask us to do the heavy lifting, right? Well, that would be true, if the man were not so cheap. You all know I'm cheap (I'd rather starve than spend five dollars on a sandwich) but my cheapness is tempered by my laziness. I would not, for example, after spending an hour in Walmart frantically pushing through crowds to secure small packages of peanut butter M&Ms for a particular gift recipient, drive to two separate grocery stores because the first one was out of the 5 for $5 loaves of bread and the 12-pack sodas were 4 for $12 instead of $10 like the one across town. Or get to the cash register and find that the only wrapping paper that doesn't make your eyes bleed was $1.35 instead of the advertised $0.65, and send the young'uns to run across the store to get the other kind because you could get two of them for the same price!
Okay, okay. I'm being judgmental, but Who actually has a reason to penny-pinch. At Grandma's house the next night, we picked up an envelope containing a wonderfully understanding letter with content approximating the following:
"Your balance of $51,000 is due in ten days. Please pay your bill on time! We know your good credit at Decatur County Hospital is important to you and you would like this issue resolved."
In case you think I mis-typed the number of zeros, here it is in writing: fifty-one thousand dollars. He was hospitalized for that burst ulcer only four months ago. He hasn't been able to work since, and even if he had, a maintenance manager's salary is half that per year. Veterans Assistance won't touch it because he didn't tell them in advance that his life would be on the line. He's lost all of his assets over the past few years, first when his ex-wife reconnected with Jesus Christ, drove him out and sold the house; then when the shipping outlet he worked for shut down (and took his health insurance with them); and then when the fire obliterated everything left. He's been denied for food stamps next year because his name is on Grandma's house, he owns that crappy trailer and a truck worth a couple hundred bucks, and he should sell those to feed himself first.
In a word, his life sucks. I couldn't say this to him directly, but I really don't think saving 50¢ on hamburger buns is going to make a dent in his problems. Gas is over $3/gallon now and he probably burned more than the cost of that wrapping paper just driving across town to find it. If I were him, pushing 60 with nothing to my name and diseases up the wazoo, I wouldn't expect to pay off that hospital bill. He's a strongly responsible person, but frankly, his credit is shot to high heaven and even if everyone in that family scraped together their life savings, they could not cover it. He should just sit tight for a few years and, when Sweetie and I have solid careers, let us ensconce him comfortably in Wyoming.
Anyway, on Thursday afternoon we all went out into the snow and whipped my car into driving-14-hours-one-way-in-winter shape. There are a lot of things wrong with it we didn't even notice...like the fact that the cigarette lighter doesn't produce power, a brake light went out, and someone jammed the wrong type of oil filter in so hard that two men with an arsenal of tools couldn't dig it out without destroying it.
In the evening we went to Grandma's house, where the number of children had multiplied exponentially since last year and all of them were stuffed with sugar. Sweetie and I became the favorites, since we were the youngest adults there and are not directly related to any of them. We spent the night being teased badly by the boys ("badly" not as in "harshly," but literally because kids have no idea how transparent they are), and presented with many a crayon scribble by the girls. I learned that I am quite good with crying toddlers...if I just get down and look them straight in the eyes, the tantrum stops and any stolen items are solemnly offered to be returned.
The food there was so-so, and I could eat enough that I did not starve (despite Who's dire admonitions that I should eat Hamburger Helper before we left because it would only be finger food). Oddly, I was not inclined to eat any cookies this year...that's probably another result of this intuitive eating business. However, I did leave with a few cartons of Hershey's kisses and a jar of peppermint candies, in addition to the obligatory candle.
At first, people gave me candles because they didn't know me, and candles are the fool-proof default for females. But since people keep giving them to me every year, I think I've perpetuated a reputation for actively liking them. So now I have an army of candles sitting on my bookshelf. Peppermint, cranberry, citrus, and snowman-shaped...and that's after abandoning a few at Who's place. None of them have ever been lit, and they never will be because certain furry creatures like to knock around anything that looks like it could destroy all of our worldly possessions.
So that was pretty much our Christmas. Random, incoherent, and not the slightest bit celebratory. But we don't go to family holidays for fun; that's what vacation is for. Tomorrow we're setting off for NYC despite the journalists' serious-faced premonitions of the apocalypse ("OMG, we're in the Midwest in winter and there's snow!") We need to buy some supplies, print some maps, and meditate down any lingering stress hormones.