My wife and I struggled with all the holidays before we made a clean break for the country. We either had to make a twelve hour psychotic run to my wife’s parents house in central Florida or a 45 minute drive to my folk’s house in Durham. In both cases we would be browbeaten a little for being weird semi-hippie vegetarians, but mostly for betraying an obvious sense of relief at having escaped. My mother avenged herself by  impressing upon my wife the importance of proper gift wrapping, despite the fact my wife was investing money as well as thought in her potato- printed grocery bag wrapped gifts. Mom would unwrap the gifts we’d brought and rewrap them with the candy cane  motif stuff she’d picked up at Wal-Mart and it made her feel better so my wife sucked it up in the interest of making everyone happy.  I could have told my wife she was in the same situation as Friedrich Paulus at Stalingrad. She had arrived at the game with no options and no happy outcome was possible. My wife  at least, had the moral advantage of not being totally fucking crazy, in contrast to,  say, Field Marshall Von Paulus.

But there was an advantage to spending Christmas or Thanksgiving or New Years with my folks. After 4:00 P.M., when they’d  become exhausted with each other’s teetotalling humor and plainclothes cop sincerity, we jumped at the chance to leave with the first exodus of trophy cars. It was only then we were free to go drink with …the Republicans.

My longtime school friends’  folks were consummate 60’s era drinkers. There was always a steak giving up the last whisper of moisture on the grill, half-smoked cigarettes piled in the ashtray, and six different kinds of bourbon scattered through the house in half-finished tumblers. Frederick Remington prints adorned the washer-dryer room, where people mostly threw up. When my wife and I arrived at this party, it was a huge relief to the hosts, who’d been arguing over the proper way to show respect to Reagan. We were thirsty, and thoroughly welcome. There were finally some quasi-communists to bait. My wife, with her Bible memorization skills and Winnebago camping background, was able to hold her own with the craziest of them while I relocated the liquor cabinet.  I’d been a party to violating this thing numerous times, but never as an adult. I felt certain they’d already finished the bottles half-filled with water, but with a sense of caution, I deliberately chose the second-tier brands. God knows what the staff were doing with the juicebox.

Generally, it was a fun place to be, when the daughter wasn’t in estrus, and the son had forgone drinking until noon. We enjoyed a kind of pride of place, as friends of son, and I’m afraid we exploited it. I liked at that time  to think the gifts of liquor and cartons of cigarettes we brought offset what was about to happen, and I still like to think it, so shut up.

Eventually the sliders and half-assed partygoers would leave, usually a good hour or two before the real party started. Once it was down to me, my wife, and the family, all the strange shit would start bubbling up.

People  tend to let their guard down around me and my wife,  which is why we haven’t gone broke at bars. Bartenders just give us the run of the place and feed us free liquor because we  “open things up”. Sounds great, but it’s precisely why we can’t go anywhere anymore.  Insecure bartenders will even start adding bourbon to our coffee to induce us to hang around  and talk shit while they close up. Irish coffee is not a “driving home ” drink.

We witnessed a couple of family meltdowns, and it seemed to be OK. We were family, or all of us had ingested sufficient amounts of alcohol to be considered family, or at least, fellow Episcopalians. The worst night involved a four tier argument that was spawned, I believe, by the father’s recent diagnosis of diabetes, the appearance of a popular interest in Gay rights, the daughter’s inability to find a match without an extensive criminal record, and the son’s apparent inability to put his ass in a chair.

It started off friendly. This was during the Clinton administration and we were all blessedly naive. The conversation first centered, naturally, on my inability to hold down a real job. I was working for those Stalinist freaks at the USPS, and  thereby extending the shadow of the Roosevelt era over honest working folks. Then the conversation shifted to the daughter’s choice of boyfriends. About this time dad wandered in and poured himself a pale double Maker’s Mark and mumbled something about gays wanting special rights. This was immediately overshadowed by son falling into an ancient windsor chair and reducing it to firewood.

“If you can’t handle it, don’t drink it.”  Said dad, who then staggered out to the den to watch television.

There was a tense moment while mom wept silently for the chair. Then out of nowhere, a bitter argument over my friend’s tendency to squander his money on pornography erupted. This went on for awhile until son lit a cigarette, leaned back in a sturdier chair we’d selected for him, and said to his mother “I’ve seen you in dire, dire need.”

At this point my wife began suggesting places that could repair the windsor chair, while we simultaneously prepared to leave.