On the first day of Christmas...We hugged the furry dependents goodbye, piled in the car and drove all day through Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The trip began in drizzle and we actually had some snow flurries in Texas, but the weather was cooperative, otherwise.
Not so, the traffic (a major bane of my existence). Memphis has had some of its trickiest interchanges torn up since who knows when. The last few times I've passed through Memphis, I felt like I was picking my way through a war zone. Nashville is Nashville. The timing of the drive is such that we pretty much always hit town during rush hour, so slowdowns aren't unexpected. But it's gotten much worse over the past five years or so. The only way we make it through without me having a complete meltdown is for Sweetie to continuously coo calming words.
Coming from a Schmendrick who commutes daily in Dallas traffic, that's saying something—but nothing good.
Finally, we arrived at the homestead of the Foo parental units. Mom and Dad were waiting to greet us with open arms, bourbon and water, and the anise-flavored cookies that are traditional in my family. Later in the evening, one of my sisters stopped by to help, lest the task of eating the cookies prove overwhelming.
On the second, third, and fourth days of Christmas...My youngest sister and her husband drove down to Mom and Dad's and brought the progeny for a visit with Uncle Foo and Aunt Sweetie. We don't get to see our godchildren often, and it's always astounding to see how much they've grown and matured. One is four now, going on eighteen. The other is three and needs constant supervision as he rumbles around the house trying to pull down the Christmas tree, unroll the bog rolls, and drop heavy objects on his feet.
I know I started a couple dozen conversations with my baby sister over the three days. We may have finished one. I gave numerous elephant rides (I'm too old and decrepit for horsey rides), tickle attacks, and hugs.
Sweetie and I love kids' animated movies, but we usually rent DVDs and keep this as our dirty little secret. With our niece and nephew as an excuse, though, we ventured out one afternoon to take in Chicken Little and had a great time of it. My favorite character was Fish Out Of Water.
On the fifth day of Christmas...All quiet on the Foo front. Baby sister, brother-in-law, and godkidlets headed home in the morning.
Does the word tinitis ring a bell? I rarely notice it under normal circumstances, but with a 50% decrease in the household population came an 80% drop in decibals that made the ringing more pronounced. Don't get me wrong; I really enjoy playing with the kids. It's just that Uncle Foo and Aunt Sweetie never had any kids and just aren't used to extended periods of non-work related chaos and all that extra yelling and ramping around.
In the evening, we got gussied up and went to church. The service was quite nice, aside from the somewhat overenthusiatic application of incense which a choking fog and many a watering eye. Afterward, we headed back to the folks' place, had a glass of wine, and started putting our stuff back in travel bags for the next leg of the trip.
On the sixth day of Christmas...On Lancer! On Scion! On Civic and Lexus! On Buick! On Geo! On Mazda RXes!
Christmas morning. After a hearty mom-produced breakfast, we hit the road and made for Sweetie's mom and dad's. The previous night's weather reports had hinted at snow in our travel path through Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. The worst we saw was a cold drizzle. A very cold drizzle. But we were snug inside the purple grapemobile, warmed by CDs of Christmas music and the celebration of our Savior's birth.
I like Sweetie's family a lot. They've gone out of their way to embrace me from the first time Sweetie introduced me to them as her fiancee. But I've been part of it for a relatively short time, so I'm most comfortable at such gatherings if I can find a quiet spot on the periphery from which to click away with my camera.
Someone brought along a mutant sweet potato, which quickly became like one of the family. A good time was had by all.
On the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth days of Christmas...We hung out with Sweetie's folks, her sister, her niece, and assorted other friends and relatives in the area. This is always an enjoyable time for me. I don't get to see my new mom and dad very often, so I'm always grateful to have a few days to spend with them and get to know them better.
I went plasma TV shopping with Dad-in-law, got my butt whipped at Rummy by Mom-in-law, and generally had a nice, relaxing four days.
On the eleventh day of Christmas...We pointed the grape toward home, driving under heavy cloud cover through much of Missouri. By Joplin, we'd driven into bright sun, which allowed us to fully appreciate just how brown Oklahoma is.
Most of the Southwest is in the midst of a record drought. Over the past couple of weeks, we'd been seeing daily stories in the national news about the grass fires in Oklahoma and Texas. Seeing all the brown grass whiz by reminded me of the signs I'd seen along the interstate on previous trips through Oklahoma: "Do not drive into smoke". I mentioned this to Sweetie, who was driving at the time.
"Why?" she asked.
Sweetie often questions what I tell her. It keeps me sharp.
"I don't know," I said, just to keep things interesting, "but I imagine it's because you can't see very well if you're inside a cloud of smoke. You probably wouldn't notice a 13-car pile-up until you'd become the 14th car."
"Or maybe the state wants to avoid lawsuits over allegations of lung cancer."
In any case, we encountered only one live grassfire just before pulling in to (coincidentally) Ashmore's Diamond Shamrock to drain one tank and top off another. We did see several areas along the route that had recently seen extensive burns, so I count us lucky.
Somewhere along the route we had the honor of passing Checotah, which (as the sign at the city limits proudly announced) is the home of American Idol winner Carrie Underwood.
We rolled into our driveway just as the sun was going down and then spent the next hour unloading the car, trying to get my aging Civic started and out of the garage, and trying to make up to the kittens all the ear scratches and belly rubs they'd missed over the past ten days.