61. Saint John

61. Saint John

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

Saint John

Santa Claus has the right idea: Visit people once a year.

~Victor Borge

My husband doesn’t fit with my family. Never is it more evident than at Christmas. The men are testosterone-driven sports nuts who huddle near the TV ranting and raving, oblivious to the rest of the world — until dinnertime. It drives him nuts.

The first time he was introduced to my dad, he was asked, “What’s your favorite sport, John?”

“Golf,” he said.

“What about other sports?” my father countered. John wasn’t interested in any other sports, so that was the beginning and end of their bonding.

Being an only child, John covets his privacy. He was born to older parents who were stoic Germans. They lived a quiet life, so crowds make him nervous. He enjoys being alone.

I, on the other hand, have two brothers and one sister born of parents who married as teenagers. She nagged and he threw temper tantrums. Noise and upheaval were constants in our life.

In order to be accommodating on Christmas, however, when it’s our turn to have the family gathering — and to please me — John has learned to cope. This brilliant, self-effacing, only child takes on a whole new role for the day.

He begins this new role when the first person pulls up and ends it when the last person pulls away from the curb. He rehearses his lines thoroughly and knows exactly what his mission is. To hide.

The first place he hides is in the kitchen. As guests start to arrive, he plants himself near the counter with open bottles of Chardonnay and Zinfandel and shouts, “Come right on in. What’s your pleasure?” He knows he can spend ample time there pouring, dabbing up spills, and refilling the wine glasses. The men bring their own beer.

When it comes time to tackle the garlic-mashed potatoes, he digs in with fervor, retrieving the large pot and peeler. Mom, in her eighties, feels somewhat slighted. For years it was her job. “Don’t you want some help, John?” she whines.

John dismisses her with a casual, but loving, “Oh Lois, you just go back to the family room and spend time with your family.” Is he good, or what? Mom looks up adoringly and coos, “John, you are a saint.”

John finishes the potatoes, then takes the hams out of the oven and places them on the counter, along with the side dishes brought by the rest of the family. So far, so good.

“Time to eat,” shouts Saint John, and all twenty-two family members rush to the counter. Except the ones with testosterone, who are supervising their sports teams. They have to be called twice.

John hands out the plates so he can go through the line last. Comments that he should go first fall on deaf ears. He knows that by the time all twenty-two get through the line, some of them will be finished eating and he can eat — alone.

Saint John does the cleanup afterward, taking his time. He even takes out trash bags that are only half full.

When he can stall no more, he heads upstairs to the master bedroom to read Outdoor Life and The Rifleman. If anyone notices he is missing, my mom quickly comes to his defense. “Oh, I hope he’s taking a nap. He’s worked so hard getting dinner ready,” she purrs. If she only knew.

He comes out of his cave only when he hears my brother-in-law Jerry go outside to smoke. Mind you, John doesn’t smoke, but outside is another place to hide and he can bond with Jerry. They are the only two males in the family who don’t live for sports.

As it nears 4:00, my dad stands up and announces, “Well, Lois, let’s get going. It’s a long way home and I’d like to get back before dark!” It’s a two-hour drive for them, the others about the same, so they all leave together.

No reason to stay any longer. The football games are over and there is no gift exchange anymore since the children are grown.

When the last family member walks out the door, John and I give each other a high five and streak to the kitchen, stumbling and laughing. We fill two wine glasses with Chardonnay and head for the sofa. I feel giddy from one too many glasses of wine already.

I give a toast. “The award for best actor in the family festivities category is… Saint John.” We clink our glasses and I quickly add, “And, the award for best supporting actress in the family festivities category is… me! To add to the drama, we hurl our glasses into the fire.

~Rosemary Barkes

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