Christmas at my aunt's house in the country is always something of a risky proposition. Just getting there on a cold winter's night can be scary. It's about twenty minutes outside of the city, and you have to take these old, curvy, backroads that haven't seen any maintenance since 1972. You load up the entire family into your weighted down SUV, and off you go over the river and through the woods. Praying the entire time that no crazy rednecks in big pick up trucks are driving in the center of the narrow roads that were not made for modern vehicles.
Sometimes being on those small winding roads makes me a little sick to my stomach. I can never predict when it'll do that. If I drive it's usually more under control. Sometimes people like to drive on small backroads at speeds that'd make you think a remake of Smokey and The Bandit was going on. I go slow on these roads, because I hate driving on a road at night that I don't know all that well. Since I only go to my aunt's a few times each year, I never feel all that prepared to handle the seemingly random layout of the road. It's like playing Pac Man drunk.
We reach my aunt's house, and pull into the gravel driveway that is hard and frozen, and barely has a hint of frost on it. We're greeted warmly by my aunt, and the unloading of presents for the children in the family begins. The first family member to come out to greet us is my cousin Sandy. Sandy will hug you like a vice grip, burying your nose deep into her bosom long enough for you to just begin to feel light headed. Sandy lets go, and you have to stand there for a moment and let yourself become reacquainted with reality.
As oxygen returns to my brain, I pick up a large pile of gifts and make my way inside. The children all rush around me, as their eyes become transfixed on the sight of a bundle of brightly wrapped packages in my arms. I do my best to not trip over them as I walk slowly towards the tree, and set the bundle down near it. Gifts settled on the floor, I head into the kitchen. My aunt comes towards me, wiping her hands off on her apron as she does, then hugs me. Around eighty percent of the family is there by this point. The most notable exception is grandmother Debbie, but she's usually late to everything.
The smell of food is wafting through the air, mixing with the various yule scented candles that my aunt has in almost every room. The kids don't care about the food, they only care about tearing through wrapping paper with all their might. Once they greet me, my little cousin and his sister go into his room to play Super Mario Brothers on the Wii, they call me in and demand I join them. I give up after they “accidentally” knock me off into a lava pit for the fourth time, and I go into the kitchen.
The kitchen is a flurry of activity at this point, everyone rushing around to get things done, as the clock ticks closer to six, the more anxious everyone is to get started. Feeling a little overwhelmed by all the activity in the kitchen, I step out onto the back porch to get a little fresh air. It's cold, but I don't care, I'm just happy to have a moment of quiet. As I look out towards the mountains, I notice something in my Aunt's backyard. Three deer, standing still, perfectly so.
Quietly, I make my way back in the house and hurry to get the kids away from the TV, I tell them “You have to come out back with me, and be quiet!” My mom, aunt, young cousin, his sister, and I all walk slowly, and quietly onto the back porch. With little explanation, they all see the deer, and enjoy the peacefulness of the sight. In an instant our anxiousness for food and presents gave way to a feeling of just being thankful for this little life moment.
As we stood there, a sound began to be noticed. It was far away, but seemed to sound like it was approaching. We looked at each other as it, slowly, became louder. As the sound drew nearer, we recognized it as the sound of a roaring car engine. The car, which wasn't a stock car or anything, was clearly going faster than anyone should on the narrow country roads. Just as the sound became very noticeable, is when we figured out to which vehicle it belonged to.
Grandma Debbie came plowing into the backyard in her 1987 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon. Granny Debbie pushed hard on the breaks, and they screeched as she swerved on the slick, icy, grass. Where did she land? Right into the group of deer gathered. The kids, to their credit, did not scream, they just started to sob. We rushed them back into the house, and as I stood on the back porch looking at the sight, Debbie got out of her car, and yelled, “Those still count towards my quota!” With that, I turned around and went back inside.
The kids were far too upset, and we decided to let them tear into their gifts as a way to placate them. Debbie, celebrating her victory, stood on the front porch and smoked a Kool menthol cigarette, then came inside. We ate, and it was good. The kids loved their gifts, and quickly forgot about the sight they had seen, and I felt awkward as I helped Debbie load three dead deer into the back of her station wagon. It was not quite the sight of Red and Green I was hoping to have seen that year, but it stands out in my mind as a Christmas memory none the less.