My parent’s house is in the middle of nowhere, 17 kilometers from the nearest town in the middle of nowhere – nowhere being a small town in Northern British Columbia with a higher than the National average cancer diagnoses for its residents, and three pulp mills to prove it.
Every Christmas, my dad puts up thousands of lights on the house: on every post, beam, eave, window frame, and around the garage door. Their electricity bill skyrockets for the month of December ($364.69 in 2008), but he thinks it’s worth it.
He’s sentimental about the holidays, and he isn’t the only one. Our entire family (dad, Stan; mom, Linda; sister, Michelle, and me, Kim) is very sentimental and it isn’t just one thing, it’s everything: the Baby J (Jesus), the Spekuloos (a Dutch cookie made with ginger and almonds), the Christmas tree (with an electrified angel on top), the music (Boney M’s ‘Mary’s Boy Child’), and the smoked turkey (regular turkeys are put to shame). It’s everything.
My sister and I always return home for the holidays, bearing gifts and revelations from the city (‘Global warming is real’ and ‘Pork is the other white meat’). My mom greets us at the door with a long hug (14-19 seconds) and a wide smile rimmed with mauve lipstick.
My dad plugs in the Christmas tree and declares, ‘Christmas time is here.’ Occasionally, (but only very occasionally) there would be ‘difficulties’ upon our return. There would be an argument or disagreement or some other ‘ment’ that would cause tension and tears.
Last Christmas was one of those.
‘O, come let us adore him.’
My sister and I sat on my mom’s bed as she pulled my dad’s Christmas present from the back of her closet. She had got him a Leatherman tool (an all-purpose tool for the very handy man) and my sister was about to wrap it, scotch tape at the ready.
‘What’s that?’ I pointed past my mom to the closet contents that were mostly beige and neutral. There was a glimmer.
‘What?’ My mom pointed at a few blouses but I shook my head.
My mom pulled a hanger from the closet, and on it hung a pair of black leather pants. ‘You’re not serious.’
‘Your dad bought them for me.’
My sister and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. ‘You can’t be serious,’ we were in unison this time. My mom unbuttoned her jeans, let them fall to the floor and reached for the hanger. She pulled the leather pants up over her calves, but they held fast at her thighs. ‘They don’t fit, mom.’
‘They do.’ My mom didn’t sound convinced. She struggled and then flopped down on the bed. She looked like a fish out of water, flipping and flopping as she pulled the leather pants up over her hips and fastened them.
‘Can you even stand?’ My sister poked my mom in the thigh. Her finger left an imprint on the leather.
‘Yes.’ My mom pulled herself over to the side of the bed, let one leg drop and forced herself upright. ‘So there.’
‘O, come let us adore him.’
We were heading out to a Christmas eve carol service at church. My dad stood at the door jingling his keys, my sister was checking her lip gloss in the hall mirror, and I was standing at my mom’s bedroom door watching her scour the closet.
‘Let’s go Linda. It’s ten to seven,’ my dad called up the stairs, knowing full well that it took 15 minutes to get to church and we would most certainly be late.
‘Just a minute,’ she replied as she pushed the clothes from side to side, the metal hangers screeching on the metal bar. She pulled several pairs of pants from the bar and threw them on the bed. ‘I can’t find them.’
‘Can’t find what?’ I said, but I knew.
‘My leather pants. They were here.’ My mom got down on her hands and knees and reached to the back of the closet.
‘Just wear something else,’ I suggested knowing that the leather pants were folded neatly in a Safeway (Canadian grocery chain) bag in my mom’s rolling suitcase, down in the basement storage room.
‘Your dad wanted me to wear them.’ My mom stood there, staring into the closet, hands on hips.
‘Linda!’ my dad called, louder this time. He meant business. He hated being late.
‘I’m looking for my leather pants.’ As my mom uttered those six to seven words (depending on whether you count I’m as two words, ‘I’ and ‘am’ or one word, ‘I’m'), she caught my gaze. ‘Where are they?’
‘What?’ I sank down the stairs and moved closer to my sister. There is strength in numbers. ‘I don’t have them.’
‘Where are they?’ My mom stood at the top of the stairs wearing a white sweater and a pair of Spanx (a body shaping undergarment). She descended the stairs slowly, pointing at my sister and I. I had never understood why pointing was rude but right then – without any words or explanation – I knew. ‘Where are they?’
‘Gone.’ As soon as I said it, I wished I hadn’t. My dad’s head snapped in our direction.
‘Where are the pants?’ I had never seen my mom look this angry, ever.
‘Where are the pants?’ Dad moved toward the three of us. My sister and I were backed up against the wall, our family portrait hung just above our heads depicting the very best of times, thirteen years previous: my mom with no sag, my dad with a full head of hair, my sister with straight teeth, and me with an enthusiastic smile. All before time took it’s toll.
Dad repeated himself, ‘Where are the pants?’ I could tell he meant business.
‘We’ve hidden them,’ I said.
‘We?’ My sister jumped ship. I knew she would.
‘Where are the pants?’ My mom said as she yanked her Spanx up.
‘I’m not giving them back. They’re ridiculous, and you’re nearly sixty.’ I pushed past my sister and moved toward the kitchen. My dad looked at his watch and I saw his face flush red. He really hated being late.
‘Give the pants to your mom,’ as he said this he marched toward me. ‘Or, Christmas is cancelled!’
‘O, come let us adore him.’
We stood there for at least three full minutes. My dad staring at me, my mom inching closer, my sister listening to her voice mail.
‘Give me the pants, Kim.’ My mom put her pointer finger up in my grill and then repeated herself, as if I hadn’t heard her: ‘Give me the pants, Kim.’
My sister chimed in, ‘Give her the pants, Kim.’ I shook my head no.
My dad kicked off his shoes, walked over to the Christmas tree and began removing the ornaments.
‘What are you doing dad?’ I called, but he wasn’t listening. He unplugged the lights on the tree and pulled off the electrified angel topper. It was at this point my sister started crying.
‘Fine!’ I said, but it really wasn’t. I ran downstairs to the basement storage room, unzipped the suitcase, pulled open the Safeway bag and there they were: stiff, inky black, and smelling of the William’s Lake stampede.
I marched back up the stairs reluctantly and handed the pants to my mother, who slipped them on over her Spanx then and there.
I noticed my dad had placed the electrified angel back on top of the tree and was standing at the door again with his shoes on, ready to go.
Christmas was back on.
‘Christ the Lord.’