This year is officially “The Christmas We Had the Flu.”
Years are easily lost – they blend together in our memories and become difficult to distinguish after time. It becomes a series of, “Remember that year … oh wait, that was the year before.” And, “Last year we went to … no that was two years ago … or three?”
But certain events stand out from the others because they were exceptional in some way – fun, exciting, boring, torturous – and they become the all-encompassing, singular label for us to remember that particular holiday.
There was that year we were snowed in. That year Grandma surprised us with a visit. That year Mom burned the turkey. That year Dad forgot to put the truck in park. That year Brian caught the Christmas tree on fire. That year Blair had surgery. That year the dog broke the bathtub. That year we went to Mexico. That year we had the flu.
Brian and I are curled up on opposite ends of the couch, feet battling for the middle cushion, watching ‘Christmas Vacation’ and whining. He coughs, I sneeze. We both grumble. My poor mother paces the floor between us.
“Take this,” she says and thrusts a cup of medicine and a glass of juice in my face before moving on to my brother. It doesn’t seem like it has been four hours but I’m desperate for relief (and incoherency) so I take the drugs.
Brian downs his obligatory two teaspoons – Mom insists on the liquid cough syrup because it “works faster because liquid moves faster of course” – with a grimace and a choked coughing noise.
“Ugh … ” insert a few more dramatic coughs here (only accentuated and made believable by the awful rasp the flu has brought with it) “Yuck. Explain to me how we can put a man on the moon, clone a sheep, make babies in test tubes, fit a million songs in an itty bitty metal box, still think Robin Williams is funny and we can’t make cough medicine taste like the little cartoon fruit it advertises on the label.”
“Thus the mysteries of life, kid,” my mother says. “Only God and your great-grandmother know the answer to that and neither are around to ask. So drink your juice.”
Mom has a way of closing subjects.
We are stir crazy. Groggy and antsy – a side effect of the massive amounts of cold medicine, a little (a lot) bit of (spiked) egg nog, and days of being camped out on the couch. Mom disappears for a few hours to “go to the grocery,” she says, although she is probably just escaping her whining children. And Brian decides to install clappers on all of her lamps.
You remember the commercials: “Clap on! Clap off! Clap on! Clap off!”
Only now the technology is more advanced: Clap twice for off, three times for on, one and a half for strobe …
Our house has morphed into a U2 concert with sporadic applause and flickering lights and Brian and I are arguing over what is the most inappropriate thing to put a clapper on. (Brian says a scoreboard at a sporting event, I say a life-support machine.)
By the time Mom comes home (suspiciously with no groceries) we are laughing so hard we are grumbling from the pain of it.
And in the brief excitement, I’ve almost forgotten what we’ve decided to label this Christmas.
And then a thought fights it’s way through the cold-medicine fog filling my brain. What if those all-encompassing labels are just that: labels. What if simply calling it something different changes the memory – or the whole experience – entirely.
What if instead of the year we were snowed in, it’s the year Brian and I built a ship out of pillows and blankets in the living room and sailed around the world? What if instead of the year Blair had surgery, it is the year we danced around the kitchen singing Michael Buble Christmas songs at the top of our lungs and baking cookies? It isn’t the year the dog broke the bathtub (and flooded the bathroom). It is the year Bows conquered the claw-footed sea monster.
This Christmas, Brian and I had the flu. We laid on the couch under 15 quilts and 32 boxes of tissues and watched Christmas movies on cable television. We looked through old photo albums and made fun of each other … and ourselves. We installed clappers on all of the lamps in our mother’s bedroom and laughed until we cried as poor Mom had a fit trying to figure out why the circuits were going crazy. We coughed and we sneezed and we laughed and we stayed up late and we talked – really talked – for the first time in a long time. And we got drunk – accidentally – on cough syrup and egg nog that we snuck out of the kitchen when our tired mother collapsed from exhaustion after taking care of her grown-up children.
This year is officially “The Christmas We Forgot We Were Both 20-Somethings and Laughed Until Our Stomachs Ached.”
From the year we were snowed in … or the year Brian and I built a ship out of pillows and blankets in the living room and sailed around the world.
Merry Christmas! What will yours be called?