Home for the holidays

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 23, 2002

My family is starting a new tradition this Christmas – we’re staying home.

No dogs to board, no toys to load, no 375-mile drive punctuated periodically by the kids at each other’s throat, no traffic, no sleeping on a sofa, no fights with the family – and perhaps best of all, no senile old grandmother-in-law taking her teeth out at the table and licking them clean.

One would think this decision was an obvious one, but it wasn’t.

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Almost every year, no matter how far we’ve strayed from the mountains of West Virginia – Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Virginia – we’ve made the annual holiday trek despite how excruciating it has been at times. And it gets harder every year.

We lived for about 10 years 60 miles or so up the road in Hopewell. It was

a 300-mile drive to the old home place from there, and it didn’t seem so bad. I don’t know whether it’s the 60 extra miles or the five extra years, but the trip now literally exhausts my wife and me. It takes a week to recover. We did it a month ago at Thanksgiving and vowed we wouldn’t be doing it again for a long time.

It’s often uncomfortable, too, from an emotional standpoint – there are too many conflicting interests with which to deal. My mother and Cathy’s parents live about 20 miles apart. Each parent expects their particular sibling to spend their precious little time with them, which keeps us apart most of the time and is often a source of no little tension between husband and wife.

Our particular holiday traditions are different as well. Cathy’s family opens gifts on Christmas Eve; we’re a Christmas morning bunch. Cathy’s mom makes the exact same dishes every year; we tend to switch it around a bit. Plus, with the central and eastern European influence in my family, there tends to be more olive oil involved the Christmas preparations.

Cathy loves what her family eats and I prefer mine own. So that will be an obstacle for us this year as we sit down this weekend to plan the big carb fest. I imagine I’ll concede the potato salad if she gives in on the big bowl of olives in the middle of the table.

So I’m more than a little torn. While the thought of a quiet Christmas with just the four of us is certainly appealing, I’m sure there will be a void that has always been filled by the tension and revelry that results from dozens of people coming and going at all hours and which is the stuff of my fondest Christmas memories.

Because more than the food and the gifts and the decorations, Christmas to me is about family – for good or bad. It doesn’t really matter where you are as long as you’re seated around the table with people you love and who love you. I’m indeed fortunate and thankful that will be the case whether I’m in Suffolk or Summersville, W.Va. That’s my Christmas wish for you, too.

And if grandma’s there and takes her teeth out, look the other way.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald.