What does X-Mas really mean? One family always managed to get this meaning.
| This story is for my brand new niece, Allana. The first Holiday is often the one by which all others are judged. May this Season find you well, Little Princess. I love you.
As always, the day came around on the heels on a very impressive Thanksgiving, and as always, the days before were a bit like lurking thieves, the intensity of an occasion filled with good cheer and happiness seeming to nearly overflow the run of Time.
Ben and Lisa had of course seen quite a few X-Mas holidays. Fourteen years and six months of quiet and good living had seen to that.
Nothing very extraordinary about that.
What was extraordinary was the fact that the two of them experienced the day’s festivities as twins.
What was it like to have people view you as naught but the same old thing, wrapped within the willing misconception of you as an individual with perks like telepathy and secret feelings?
Three days before X-Mas, as usual, Aunt Helen came upon the front porch with two armfuls of packages and holiday fruit baskets. Father rushed to the front door as he did every year, his eyes narrowing in his wife’s direction as he opened the door to allow his older, far more “spirited” sister into the house.
“Where are my twin Miracles?” Aunt Helen screeched upon stepping across the threshold and into the house, as she always did, of course, dropping her payload onto the floor, which Father always attempted to catch in midair. There was almost always the tinkle of some bit of glass ornament shattering on the floor, but Aunt Helen never seemed to notice this.
“Ben, Lisa,” Mother called, her voice high with good cheer and nervousness.
The twins appeared at the foot of the stairs that stood directly before the front door, and within moments, the both of them were buried within the many folds and turns of Aunt Helen’s voluminous fur coat. How many mink had the woman allowed to be murdered in order to flaunt that hot, smoke smelling cloak she wore?
Ben thought that at least two hundred weasels had died as a result of his aunt’s expensive tastes.
His nose wrinkled with disgust of its own accord, but of course, Aunt Helen saw this expression as a display of the her nephew’s endlessly adorable love for her.
“Awww, Benny loves his Auntie, oh yes he does!” she shrieked, and pulled him deeper within the depths of her coat. Lisa giggled behind her hand and allowed herself to be pulled closer to her large aunt, who had gained a bit of girth in her year long absence.
Two hours later, after the family had sat down at the kitchen table to eggnog and sugar cookies, the doorbell rang again. Following the single ring came a series of hard raps. Ben and Lisa looked at each other from across the table over their mugs and cookies.
That knock told of the arrival of one unique man.
Tom for short.
“Hahhhhh damn, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen you two!” Uncle Tom blurted across the living room from his place beside the X-Mas tree. “Come here and give ole Uncle Tom a little holiday love, eh?” he bellowed to the twins, who smiled at each other, genuine good cheer and holiday spirit in their eyes. Uncle Tom was a very tall, very strong man, his face full of slightly drunk though good humor, his eyes shining down upon his only nephew and niece with something very much like adoration, and as such, when he picked the two of them up, they shrieked with laughter mingled with pain and joy.
“Give yer ole Uncle Tom the love he deserves!” the tall man said to his nephew and niece in a loud, boisterous voice, and although his love hurt a little, neither Ben nor Lisa minded returning the man’s embrace.
Lisa led Uncle Tom over to the kitchen table after he had reached into the dark depths of his coat and dropped two crudely wrapped presents under the tree.
They loved Aunt Helen in their own way, they really did. When you got past the uncut honesty, the always reliable judgments, and the condescending looks, she wasn’t all that hard to love.
But Uncle Tom…well, Uncle Tom was Uncle Tom. Although he and Aunt Helen were siblings, the vast difference between the two of them had to be seen to be believed. You had to see one to appreciate the other.
The way you had to see one twin to appreciate the other.
Fifteen minutes later, a knock as soft as an angle’s caress came from the direction of the front door.
“There’s Grandma Elsa,” Ben said as he rose from his chair at the table, where Uncle Tom was telling some horrible joke that he’d learned at The Dock from his seat before Aunt Helen, who was staring points of disapproval at him.
Ben opened the door and met his Grandmother’s icy, brown gaze. Standing behind Grandma was Aunt Apple. From Aunt Apple’s small hands dangled several interesting looking bags. On her face was a look of strain and worry. Of course, Aunt Apple always looked constipated like this, but Father was at her side to help her with the gifts in an instant. He was followed by Mother, who helped Grandma into the house by her gloved left hand. The right hand held to a short, very gnarled cane which dug into the floor like a third foot.
“How did you ever get the name Apple?” Lisa asked her aunt through a mouthful of sugar cookies. Ben squirted eggnog through his nose when he heard this question, and Uncle Tom smiled, for at this very moment, Helen’s unyielding gaze fell upon her niece.
“Well,” Father said, his eyes resting upon his older sister in a curious kind of way, “…I think I can answer that.”
“Yes, Elton,” Grandma said in her wavy, wrinkled voice. "Answer it.” Aunt Apple smiled across the table at her youngest brother, and Uncle Tom pulled a face at Aunt Helen, who was positively livid at the mere mention of her sister’s nickname christening.
“Why must we tell the kids that disgusting story, Elton?” Helen hissed. “It’s bad enough that you’ve raised the two of them with such inquisitive natures…” She tipped a careful nod to Mother, who only smiled and looked at her husband, “…but giving them a reason to poke fun at their Aunt is beyond the limit.”
“Oh shut it,” Tom said, slurring a great cloud of droplets upon the table. Lisa laughed. The man was funny beyond words, even when he wasn’t trying to be.
The X-Mas tree glowed red and blue and yellow and white and green from within the warm depths of the living room. The house’s air system wafted sweet, cinnamon smelling air across the furniture and the people within. Tall candles blazed season’s greetings from upon several tall stands around the house. From upstairs came the tiny, yet noticeable tune of X-Mas music.
Last visit, Aunt Apple had given the twins a double CD collection of holiday music. What the family was hearing now was a rendition of Kenny G’s ‘Silent Night’.
Aunt Apple smiled at the two of them.
“Well,” Father said, “When I was about twelve, which made Thomas…”
“Tom!” Uncle Tom roared across the kitchen table in a gust of laughter.
“Ok, ok, which made Uncle Tom about fifteen, and Aunt Apple, whose real name is Deborah, about fourteen or so, Aunt Helen was sixteen, and pardon the harsh words, Helen, but you weren’t the easiest person to live with, one day, Aunt Apple and Aunt Helen got into a fight.”
“A row is more like it,” Grandma said from over her mug, and was that a slight smile touching the corners of her wrinkled mouth? Lisa thought that it was, and she stifled a smile before Aunt Helen could sense its birth.
“I’ll say, a row,” Tom muttered, smiling across the table at his sister, whose nails were buried in the kitchen table like savage hooks.
“Deborah wasn’t having the best luck in winning the fight, so she ran into the kitchen with Helen on her heels and got a hold of an apple from the fruit basket that Mama kept atop the refrigerator. Helen never saw what hit her through her rage and disgust at her younger sister, and BAM!, an apple knocked her backwards and back into the living room, where she hit the floor like a sack of…well, a sack of apples.”
Uncle Tom sprayed a collection of crumbs into the air and bellowed like an elephant seal in the very center of musk into the kitchen. His mug of eggnog spilled onto the table in a fan, but everyone else was too busy laughing or grinning to notice this except for Mother, who managed to rise from the table even as she laughed to get a table cloth to clean the eggnog up.
Aunt Apple, formerly Deborah, tried her best to hide a smile, but it was no use, for Aunt Helen saw this and jerked herself from the table in a huff.
“Honestly, can’t we focus on better memories than this? It’s Christmas, for Pete’s sake! And I don’t think we should encourage the twins to engage in violent reaction with fruit upon each other!”
Aunt Helen was frowning like the world’s surliest Tom cat, and her hands were folded across her considerable chest like a vice. Uncle Tom was rolling around on the carpeted floor with tears streaming down his face. His hands were gripping his stomach.
“See where this ridiculous story has gotten us?” Helen said, pointing down at her younger brother, who was beginning to choke off of crumbs and eggnog and laughter.
“We’ve got a drunk on the floor like a mental patient days before the celebration of our Lord’s birth. I don’t think the twins should see…” .
“Lisa and Ben,” Lisa said.
She had stood up.
Grandma stifled a burp and smiled for the first time since she’d entered the house. Uncle Tom was still lost in gales of laughter on the floor, and Aunt Apple looked at her niece with something like curious knowledge.
“What?” Aunt Helen said, more irritable than ever at being interrupted.
“Well,” Ben said, wringing his small hands in his lap, “We’re tired of being referred to as ‘the twins’ so often. How would it be if people started calling us Ben and Lisa every now and again?”
Aunt Helen was speechless, but Mother and Father were looking at their children with quiet smiles. They may’ve known that this day would come soon, but who knew it would come on X-Mas?
Grandma grinned her toothless grin and took a note from her son’s book, swigging a bit of eggnog with a twitch of her still gloved hand.
“For Pete’s sake,” Aunt Helen said, staring at the twins, then around the room at her family. “Now, you see where such tales have gotten the twins…”
“Lisa and Ben,” Lisa repeated. “It’s Christmas. How about honoring our wishes for a change, as the family’s youngest? Please Aunt Helen?”
Lisa sat back in her chair and sipped her eggnog. Ben did the same. Indeed, it seemed that this day, a few days before X-Mas, even as they claimed their individuality, even as they demanded their individuality from their family, the two of them would forever be in synch in some ways.
“Oh, honestly!” Aunt Helen said, but she said no more on the subject after this, sitting down and snatching up a large sugar cookie. She pretended to munch on the cookie, but everyone could see that she was only pretending to do so, as was her way. She was really surveying the room, only awaiting some vague signal before she hauled her anger and disgust out upon the family.
Uncle Tom had found his way up from the floor, but now his arms were resting on the table and loud snores came from within the dark cave that his arms had formed, which his head rested within.
“You deserved it, you know,” Grandma said, breaking a cookie in half and dipping it into her mug.
No one said anything, but it was known well enough who this statement was aimed at.
“Who wants more cookies and eggnog?” Mother said, getting up from the table. She was still smiling. Her teeth were brilliant. Father followed her lead.
Aunt Apple got up and found the bathroom. Grandma remained where she was.
Aunt Helen stared at Tom with an unblinking anger.
“Uncle Tom. Honestly!”
Minutes later, from the living room came the sounds of the season. Ben had brought the CD player downstairs and Lisa put on Kenny G’s Greatest Holiday Hits.
Uncle Tom snored through the festivities. Aunt Helen sneered through the good cheer, although every now and again she put on a false smile for Grandma. Aunt Apple sung along to Kenny’s sweet and harmonious tunes. Mother and father danced beside the X-Mas tree, and Grandma viewed her family’s celebration with silent satisfaction from her position before the fireplace, in her favorite rocking chair.
Ben and Lisa shook presents under the tree, perhaps trying to decide what they would open first on their first holiday as individuals in the eyes of their strange and wonderful family.
X-Mas met the family as it always had, and as it always would.