I used to dread the scratchy threadbare sofas and faint cigarette smells of countless unknown family friends’ living rooms in Methuen, Lowell, Pelham, frosted New England lands beyond the frozen Boston skyline. “Ova tha Merrimayck” and through the woods, to strange old ladies homes we traveled for the family census to be assessed for the rosiness of our cheeks and adorability of our red velvet dresses, size 2T. Legends of divorce, lawsuits, and babies were lorded (“lawded”) across the table in thick Boston accents accompanied by heaping platters of the classic Irish “meat’n’pataydas”.
Now, though, I look for those shambles of accepting coziness, in a city, alone as an adult. I scan the tops of the buildings for a glimpse of a Christmas garland or those cheap multicolored string lights that remind me so fondly of New Hampshire duplexes dripping icicle lights foregrounded by grayed piles of sandy snow. It tells me that not all has changed. I find myself tearing up with mirth as I simultaneously savor the fact that James, practically my brother-in-law, is smoking a cigarette upstairs in the bathroom having “the worst shit of his life” and peruse the line of pies stretching across the dining room table in a 2:1 ratio to the Thanksgiving guests.
I realize that I have my own family now, of in-laws and those friends so close you introduce them to your kids as “Uncle Travis” or “Papa Flynn”. I could tell tales about how in freshman year of high school we would cut out of school and ride bikes in the forest instead. “Back in my day, you could give Uncle Casey fifteen bucks and get a pint of Sailor Jerry’s and a two liter of Coke with change to spare for the McDonald’s next to Beachway Liquors.”
Last year, my friends threw an ugly holiday sweater party. When it first snowed, my whole dorm got together for a snowball fight on the front lawn. We finally loved being kids, pinching each others’ cheeks in sarcastic but heartwarmingly nostalgic display of seasonal cheer. We sang, we laughed, we skated figure eights in our snow boots on the front porch. We were bundled like Richie’s little brother in A Christmas Story (“I can’t put my arms down!”).
But we aren’t little kids. Finally, after more than eighteen years of waiting, we’re on our own and we’re accumulating student loan debt. . And we’ve finally learned the true joy of being children, now that it’s over. All the effort our parents put into helping us make friends at the playground, pulling on our hats and mittens and buckling us snugly into the car to sled at the golf course until we face plant and cry until the snot freezes on our upper lip, dragging us kicking and screaming to “play group” parties, – it was all too soon. We aren’t grateful until our thanks are lost in the admonitions we regret being unable to declare to our former selves.