Sunday, July 10, 2005

Family Togetherness, Part 1

I miss my family. I don’t get to see them very often: the drive from Our Fair City to their little corner of Ohio is too long to make for just a weekend and under the school year it’s difficult to get a long enough stretch of time to make the trip. I had planned to spend Spring Break there, but had to scrap those plans when I landed the interview at my firm in D.C. So, this was the first time that I’d been able to visit since last Thanksgiving.

We made a leisurely drive into town, stopping for outlet malls and breakfast at the Cracker Barrel and for a taste of Skyline chili. The car was stuffed to the gills with our stuff and with the luggage that we had bought for my family—a (very) belated Christmas present. It was originally intended that we (or just I) would bring the presents when I came at Spring Break. Obviously, that didn’t pan out. My family is very, very difficult to shop for. My dad seldom asks for anything other than the typical socks-and-underwear gifts—but he’s very tall and very big, so it’s difficult to find these items in his size. (I like to think of it as a lifetime of training for being Finbar’s partner). My mother, when asked what she would like, always replies “Oh, nothing.” But if you actually got her nothing, her feelings would be terribly hurt, of course. Neither of them really has any hobbies or particular interests that would lend themselves to Christmas gift-giving. Then there’s my sister, who has never, to my knowledge, liked anything I’ve ever bought her, even when I bought specific items she asked for. I used to feel bad about this until I realized that she puts zero effort into buying a gift for me that I might like (You should have seen the year she went with a cat theme for my gifts. I literally could not give some of the things away), which freed me, paradoxically, from the guilt over never pleasing her with my gifts. I still try to pick something that I think she would like if, say, it came from my parents or anyone else other than me, and that’s fine. The situation was complicated this year by the fact that Finbar bought joint presents for his family from the two of us and I was responsible for buying joint presents for my family. This year, I had a stroke of genius. They are planning a trip to Vegas in the fall and I know they don’t own any luggage; they always borrow my grandmother’s. I picked out a large five-piece set for my mom and dad and a smaller three-piece set for my sister. The two sets matched. They were quite nice, really. In fact, I would really have liked a set for myself.

We rolled in late in the evening. As we were bringing things in from the car, my sister yelled out, “Did you see the new luggage we bought? It’s in your room!”


Finbar and I, who had just reached the door to my room, looked in and saw a much nicer, much more expensive set of luggage than we’d bought. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. We looked at each other and started to laugh hysterically. We laughed until I wasn’t really sure anymore if I was laughing or crying. Then I went upstairs and, in my most smart-aleck voice, asked if they wanted to open their Christmas presents from us, setting off another round of laughter from me and Finbar, much to the mystification of my family. My sister kept saying “Why are Christmas gifts so funny?”, and Finbar and I couldn’t stop snickering the whole time we were bringing the luggage in and dragging it upstairs. My mother asked “Did you buy this before or after I told you we bought luggage?”

Pardon me? If you’d told me you bought luggage, I WOULDN’T HAVE BOUGHT LUGGAGE AS A GIFT FOR YOU!!

And that was the moment in this trip when I remembered why, though I love my family very much, I don’t miss living at home even a little. George Burns had it right when he said, "Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city."


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