Yesterday, T & I arrived in Oregon for a week’s worth of family fun time. We started in Salem to spend time with his mom and her husbands with the plan of going up to Portland on Wednesday to finish up the week with my family. In between all of this, I’d also have a couple of days of trying to work remotely. Good stuff. I haven’t really been in a Christmassy place this year, not for any particular reason, just not really feeling the magic. I also must confess the very thought of spending a ten days running the gauntlet of family dynamics was daunting, to say the least.
Today, the agenda included brunch at a local winery that Susan had made reservations for. Included in our party were two of the three ex-husbands and her crazy friend Marge. Good times! But, before we headed to brunch, we had a little Christmas present exchange:
We all got some great loot – T got a new jacket and I got a blender that I’d asked for, but Wally really cleaned up with some fancy decorations:
Here are two of my boys in their holiday finery. (Smokey Joe saw the writing on the wall and wisely made himself scarce… )
Even Annie was in the holiday spirit:
Brunch turned out to be a strange buffet-style affair. The food was decent but a bit over-priced. Apparently, it had been much better the last time Susan had been there but it was still nice of her to take us out. Then it was off to family gathering number two – my dad’s side of the family has a big gathering every year and this one was only ten minutes away in a small town called Independence. So, more food and more crazy relatives to look forward to.
We walked in after everyone had already sat down to lunch, which given that we had just eaten brunch was very unfortunate timing. We picked at some of the food and chatted with folks. Talk of my Ironman was very popular and I had a long conversation about it with an uncle I don’t think I’ve ever exchanged more than cursory greetings with beforehand, it was pretty surreal.
My father’s family gatherings have a very definite agenda. First we eat, then we do a gift exchange where people have either made a present or spent five dollars or less. This gift exchange takes forever, as there are complicated rules of stealing presents back and forth and no cap on how many times an item can be stolen. It is amusing to watch the dynamics of my aunts & uncles at play as certain presents become “favorites” and get stolen back and forth a mind-boggling amount of times. T usually wades right into the fray and targets one of the favorites or stirs the pot in some way, which is also hilarious.We start off with the recitation of the rules:
The lady in pink below is my grandmother. Next to her, my aunt Janet is weighing her options before making a trade and the little girl on the floor is my cousin’s daughter Delaney (I guess that makes her my 2nd cousin?)
The penguin bag at the bottom left of this picture was quite a hot commodity, with T wading right into the competition to procure it. My mother has “the ugly present” that my Aunt Janet made fun of, which gave it an immediate boost in status as well…
My dad is always fun to watch at these things, as he usually just makes people bring their presents to him.
My brother and I also really enjoy murmuring sarcastic remarks back and forth, when he’s fortunate enough to be in town for these gatherings.
Finally, many hours later, the gift exchange ended. When the dust settled, T did manage to secure the coveted penguin bag which turned out to contain this necktie pillow made by my grandmother:
(The necktie on the far left, belonged to my grandfather.) So, so many kinds of awesome… I got a pretty red scarf that my cousin’s wife made for me. (Sorry, I neglected to take pictures.) Then we moved on to the next agenda item – the reading of the children’s book. My Uncle Joseph and Aunt Susan started this tradition 12 years ago, and while I’m not a fan, they seem to enjoy it. It’s funny to see how having children in the room changes it, they aren’t as inclined to be polite as the rest of us and there’s a lot more heckling:
After the story, (or stories, as is usually the case) we pass the book around to sign it and then take a big family picture. (Should this year’s make it to Facebook, I’ll add it to this post.) What’s also quite amusing is that right after the photo is taken (and I mean within five minutes) there’s a huge exodus of people leaving, as if they’ve just been waiting for all of the requisite agenda items to be completed before they can go. We took advantage of this departing wave and headed out as well.
All in all, I had more fun than I expected to (I always dread going to big social gatherings, even though I usually enjoy them.) and was glad we went.