Sunday, December 9, 2012
Hard Cider and Anne Murray do not a Christmas make
(An expanded and edited version of the original story, first published in 2009. In honour of D's birthday gift - see photo - I'm publishing it again.)
Our original two-month say in Blair’s Grove with Carman while Someday was being renovated turned into six months. Oops.
According to the renovation crew, once you start pulling down walls in an old place, there is always more work to be done than you’d originally thought, and they kept finding doozies in every room. Good old Doc Munn was probably having a hearty laugh at our expense. Still, we wanted to get all the renovations done at once, so it made sense to fix each problem as it came up rather than put it aside to be done “someday.”
To Carm’s credit, he never once complained or even showed any indication that he was sick of us, even when Neko slept on his carpet and scratched up the drywall. As for me, I found that living with the brothers Lowry was kind of fun. Boys don’t hold grudges or try to borrow your clothes. While they’re often messy creatures who suffer from an inability to watch one program at a time on TV, I enjoyed living with them. I learned all sorts of interesting new terms, like “chassis,” “Husquvarna” and “Gordie Howe hat trick.” Apart from raunchy hockey equipment and an eternally raised toilet seat, Carm and D were easy to live with. Until our first Christmas together rolled around.
Having grown up with a mother who celebrated every holiday by turning our house into something akin to a department store window display, I was interested to see how the boys would decorate for Christmas. They didn’t.
I’d done all the Thanksgiving and Hallowe’en decorating in Blair’s Grove that year by myself, which had been okay. But this was Christmas! Only Scrooges didn’t enjoy decorating at this time of year. They simply had to get into the spirit of things. So I accosted the boys during a break in Coach’s Corner and declared that Christmas decorating should be a shared responsibility by all occupants of Blair’s Grove. They looked at each other and shrugged, then asked me to move out of the way, which I took as assent.
The next night after chores, Carman begrudgingly dug out some candy cane lights from the basement and hooked them up in the front yard. They were hideous, but at least he was participating. The next night, he drove home with a nine foot Christmas tree strapped to the roof of his jeep. I was thrilled with the soft needles, the perfect height, the delicious smell. Then he informed me I’d be decorating it by myself, because that was “woman’s work.” Just like lawn-mowing.
D and Carman set up the tree in the tree holder while I pawed through three giant boxes of decorations Carm had hauled out from the depths of his closet. At first, I wondered why someone with such an aversion to decorating would have such a massive collection of ornaments. Then I remembered my mother-in-law, the unsung supplier of all necessities at Blair’s Grove. Shirley would have made sure Carman was well provided the first year he moved in, but the ornaments didn’t even look like they’d been used.
The decorations were mostly red and gold, and while I preferred a bit more variety, I wasn’t about to root around in our freezing cold garage at Someday to try to unearth my own supply. It was Carm’s house, after all. I’d make do with his stuff. At least it would make Shirley happy.
No sooner had I poured myself a glass of wine and hung the first ornament than the boys plunked themselves down on the couch, staring at my handiwork. Aw, they’ve come to help after all, I thought. The big softies.
My warm fuzzies disappeared the moment Carman declared, "Something's missing," went to his shelves and carefully selected a CD. A moment later, Anne Murray’s velvety voice blasted through the house at full power.
I hate Anne Murray.
I don't care if she's Canada's most beloved songstress. I don’t care that my aunt in Halifax has met her and says she’s nice or that my cousin taught her kids. I just cannot stand the sound of her voice; it makes my skin crawl. The brothers Lowry, however, love her. Like, really love her. They have a double CD of her Christmas music which they insisted on playing while I decorated. Twice.
Anne was belting out “Christmas in Killarney” when Carman decided to get up and evaluate my ornament hanging skills. D wisely remained on the couch and said nothing.
"That one should go a little further to the left, there, Kimmy."
I moved it to the left.
"I wouldn't just put that there red one so close to the other red one. You gotta mix 'em up a little."
I mixed them up a little.
"Well, how come you're not using these silvery ones? See, they go like this, against the light so it shines through."
That was when I turned my back on him and fantasized tossing my wine in his face, setting fire to the tree and frisbeeing the Anne Murray CD into the snow. I opened my mouth to say something that probably would have made Father Christmas blush when I was arrested by the sight of D. He’d disappeared to the basement during Carm’s critique of my decorating skills, and had now reappeared wearing his younger brother Paul’s childhood hockey helmet and clutching a bottle of homemade hard apple cider.
It’s hard to describe the taste of the boys’ cider; I’d peg it somewhere between rocket fuel and apple cider vinegar. One sip and your stomach feels like it’s on fire. Three sips and it starts to taste pretty good. A whole glass and suddenly you love everyone in the world and are wearing too many clothes. To a girl with plenty of first-hand cider experience under her belt, the helmet made sense.
“What the hell are you doing, buddy?” asked Carm.
"I gotta wear something for protection if I'm gonna help you two decorate this tree," D explained as he mounted a rickety kitchen chair and threw a wad of tinsel at a branch. He held the uncorked bottle of cider in one hand and grabbed another handful of tinsel with the other. “Oh, cooooome all ye faiiiiiiithful,” purred Anne in the background. As I sat on the couch and watched my helmeted husband and his brother decorate the tree, I decided to relish the touching holiday moment and not interfere.
Our tree wasn’t particularly stylish or symmetrical, but I thought it was beautiful in a manly sort of way, and we spent many evenings craning our necks around it to try to see the TV. Carm’s “finishing touch” - an electric train set ceremonially placed around the circumference of the trunk - gave the tree an extra touch of testosterone. The boys turned the train set on randomly throughout the Christmas season, usually when I was trying to read a book. I was not going to complain about anything that drowned out Anne Murray though.
On the night in early January when I dismantled the tree, it occurred to me that next Christmas D and I would be decorating our own tree at Someday while Carm was all alone at Blair’s Grove. The thought made me feel a bit wistful. I decided I’d try to coax my brother-in-law to come up and help us with our tree when the time came. I’d make sure there was a bottle of cider in the fridge and a few helmets for safety. And I’d carefully hide all the Anne Murray CDs.