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Welcome To Griswold Christmas Hell

Holiday season is always filled with etiquette gaffs in my family, but one Christmas became a true tale to tell.  It is now a seasonal tradition amongst my friends for me to repeat this story!

Christmas Day: per usual, we’re driving down to my father’s side of the family for a large meal and a gift exchange.  Also per usual, I’m a little unhappy and anxious about it.  We’ve always been the black sheep of the family and as I was eighteen at the time I was very self-conscious about not fitting in.I stopped worrying about it after the following happened.

1. My grandfather made a half-hour long production over giving all the married women in the family a “mystery gift.”  They were all forced to kneel in the middle of the room (most of them having known knee problems) while he recited a charming little poem about how helpless they were, and how he was going to help them out lest they impose on their poor henpecked husbands.  He then presented them all with a petite pink hammer, so they would “stop stealing your husband’s tools out of the garage when you need something.”  It was wrapped with a note designating it the “kitchen hammer.”  Being somewhat feminist in leaning, I was seeing red not pink.  Most of the womenfolk found it charming, and thanked him for the gift and poem, entitled “To Help a Housewife.”  The fact that all of them knew their way around a toolbox already and all worked full time didn’t keep them from enjoying the 1950’s sentiment.

2. There was no turkey or ham this year.  Apparently the rest of the family wanted something “nicer” so they bought…ham loaf.  Okay, some people like it, but they really kept going on and on about how it was “nicer” and “fancier” than a regular ol’ turkey.  If you haven’t had ham loaf, just imagine a giant roll of Spam and you’re pretty much there.  I’m not a snob really, but I don’t consider it nicer.  Also, a ham loaf is about 1/6 the size of a turkey, and they didn’t think to buy more than one, so only the kids under 10 (who get to go first in line) and the grandparents actually got any meat that year.  I think it’s rude to not have enough to go around.  We could have pitched in if price was a problem.

3. On the way out, my uncle stopped my dad after my aunt whispered in his ear to, “Ask him, ask him!”  My uncle, who worked in HR for a large manufacturing plant, asked my dad if he would be willing to be in a safety video he was doing.  My dad was confused, as he was a software engineer.  My uncle then went on to elaborate that they had a hard time getting the plant workers to wear safety goggles, and were putting together a video to convince them it was for their own protection.

I see where this is going.  My father is legally blind.  Sure enough, my uncle wanted my dad “to talk about how awful it is to not be able to see, to scare them into wearing their goggles.”  My dad refused, first on the grounds that he has a hereditary eye disease, not blindness by injury.  My uncle insists, because “the point is how hard it is.”  My dad refuses again, stating that he is not the kind to pity himself.  My uncle continues to push it, throwing out the following: “But doesn’t it make you feel bad that you won’t be able to watch your daughter walk down the aisle one day?”

We’re all speechless at this point, while my uncle continues to lay out his brilliant scheme.  Turns out than in addition to have my dad talk about how they sure don’t want to wind up like him, he figured that my filmmaker boyfriend would be willing to film, direct and edit this project for him for free since my dad was in it, so it would save him a bundle!

I not-to-calmly informed my uncle that no, my boyfriend is a full-time student and part time worker, he’s not going to drive the *six hours each way* drive to this plant, shoot a video, take it home and spend hours editing it for free.  Especially as he had only met my uncle once.  The hilarious part was my uncle wasn’t even asking me to ask my boyfriend.  He just assumed he would do it and didn’t need to ask!

4. On the way out the door, I was informed that I didn’t get any leftovers from the huge dinner to take home, as I was “just a kid.”  I was eighteen, and had brought a made-from scratch pie, but I didn’t qualify for leftovers.  My parents didn’t get any either, as they hadn’t brought anything and “it wasn’t fair to take when you didn’t bring anything.”  They hadn’t brought anything because I was bringing a pie as our contribution, but why let logic enter it?

5. I was also informed that nobody wanted to eat my pie anyway, as it “looked funny, and we had better ones.”  The better ones were the three pies picked up at Costco by other family members.  Which is fine, but I was mad that my made-from-scratch pie wasn’t good enough.  Incidentally, it looked funny because it was the only one that wasn’t burned on top and in a disposable tin.

So, that’s my Holiday Hell story.  To this day it makes my friends crack up, but then they proceed to tell my that my pies in fact taste delicious and look darn pretty.  Which is why my friends all get a pie as their holiday gift!    0528-10

{ 61 comments… add one }
  • Katie December 7, 2010, 6:42 am

    Bookworm, I actually think Wanda’s right that these particular relatives won’t recognise the OP’s ‘graduation to the next oldest generation’ until she has her own kids. At 26, I get treated like a child in certain ways at family gatherings because I’m unmarried and child-free. My cousins of a similar age are treated as adults as they are married parents. I don’t think it’s a conscious thing at all – when the current older generations were growing up, you became an adult, you got married, you had children. If you didn’t, you weren’t grown up yet. Not all, but some older people – and I’d totally imagine that the OP’s relatives would fit into this category – don’t consider being child-free to be a valid choice. It’s irritating, but I find this attitude present at many family gatherings. It’s as if seeing you with your own child in your arms is the only thing that can shock some older relatives into realising that you’re not in school anymore.

    However, in my opinion most of the OPs story can NOT be blamed on the generation gap! Those incidents were rude and insensitive 90 years ago, and they’re rude and insensitive now. I get why store-bought might be considered fancier, hence the ham loaf (?!) and the looking down on the homemade pie. But the true etiquette of past generations would surely have been to thank the OP for the pie, not said anything to the OP, and whispered judgemental things about it to each other later.

    I have to wonder how many of the women who received the pink hammers were fake smiling and simply acting charmed. In my family, I can’t imagine the women kneeling in the first place. But truth be told, I would’ve probably gone along and said nothing, while imagining kneecapping him with that pink hammer. I don’t think I would’ve been able to smile though!

  • Ali December 7, 2010, 8:37 am

    I agree that you can’t blame it on a generational thing. I’m young, but I come from a family with BIG generational gaps, and if he was alive today, my mom’s dad would be 110. And from what little memory I have of him, he NEVER would have stood for this. None of my grandparents would have. If anyone had tried to make my grandmother “kneel” for something, she would have given him one of her famous death glares.

    Besides, all the older families I know were run by (normally Irish) Matriarchs. Patriarchy is really NOT the norm. That kind of patriarchy really shouldn’t be anywhere at all. That’s not patriarchy, that’s expecting female subservience.

  • Sally December 7, 2010, 10:12 am

    Your story about the ham loaf was amusing to me because when I was pregnant with my second child, my husband, daughter, and I went to visit his grandparents for Christmas. His Grandmother loved ham loaf and thought it was much better than turkey or ham, insisting that we have it both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. She, very nicely, gave me the recipe, which I have never used in over thirty years. Yuk!! Give me a turkey, any day.

  • elicat December 7, 2010, 12:12 pm

    I don’t know about you, but in my family “kids under 10” were definitely last on the “serving food” list, and were expected to wait with patience!

  • Emmy December 7, 2010, 12:44 pm

    I really hope the women were merely being polite to an old man who is clearly off his rocker after receiving the pink hammer. I can’t imagine any independent, smart, woman would actually feel ‘charmed’ after that speech. I also find the implication that a wife ‘henpecks’ her husband very insulting.

    I would also take being the black sheep of that family a compliment. It does seem odd that they insult your pie for being ‘funny looking’ yet they don’t give you the ‘funny looking pie’ to take home. Having Spam for dinner was odd, but not having nearly enough for everybody was very rude.

    At least you got some good milage out of this story.

  • bookworm December 7, 2010, 1:14 pm

    Katie- I agree with your sentiments, but I was merely pointing out that perhaps it’s OP’s choice to not have children and amending her statement to state such. Not everybody wants a baby, nor should they have to give birth to one just to “move up a generation”. The generation move up can just as easily happen if it were a sibling or a cousin’s child.

  • phoenix December 9, 2010, 4:18 pm

    Hey all, the OP here!

    Thanks for your sympathies, everyone! This is definitely one that is funny to me now. I don’t think it’s a generation gap thing, since my dad acts completely differently from his brothers. It’s more a general attitude. This took place in a rural area where etiquette is literally referred to as “putting on airs” and is frowned upon. “Straigh-shootin’ ” and “brutally honest” are the values of the land.

    To answer questions: this was the last holiday I went back for. Every year previous to this I had to attend because my parents forced me until I was 18 and on my own. My parents continue to go. It’s weird, knowing their attitudes towards us, but…they still go.

    Regarding not enough food and leftovers- I was specifying that there was not enough of the special ham loaf to go around. There were plenty of leftovers of other stuff, but not for me.

    Regarding my pie- would you believe that one of my cousins grabbed the whole thing to take home as her “leftovers?” I forgot that part of the story. After we were ready to leave I remembered that the pie was in MY pie pan and went to retrieve it, even if I wasn’t allowed to keep the pie itself (the no-leftovers-for-me thing) only to find it long gone. I was then informed that cousin had taken it, pyrex and all. Never got it back.

  • phoenix December 9, 2010, 4:26 pm

    OP with another note- you’ll have to forgive me if some details on this story were a little sketchy…this was many years ago. The only part I have perfectly memorized was the speech my uncle gave my dad. Still remember that clear as day. “But doesn’t it make you feel bad that you won’t be able to watch your daughter walk down the aisle one day?” “Do you realize you don’t know what she even looks like anymore?” “What was it like losing your independence?” “These guys need to hear how they’ll no longer be the man of the household and their wives will have to take care of them.”

    Blech. It’s so hard to tell this story without is sounding made up, I swear 🙂

  • Sarah December 10, 2010, 7:02 am

    I’m completely appalled by what your Uncle said to your Dad. My husband is registered as severely partially sighted (no vision on one eye and very poor vision from the other). If somebody had said something like that to him I’d have gone feral!! My mouth opened wider and wider in shock as I read it!

    We are also treated in much the same way as our young niece and nephew – his family don’t consider us to be grown-ups because we don’t have children (because, as with your father, my husbands condition is hereditary and we don’t want to risk passing it down).

    The pie thing is dreadful – there’s something extra personal about having your cooking insulted.

  • Enna January 4, 2011, 7:20 am

    Keeping the dish is technially theft. I’d be asking her “did you enjoy my pie?”

  • NostalgicGal December 2, 2012, 3:14 am

    Just found this one and brings back memories…..

    My mom, bless her, wasn’t much of a cook. She also made shoe leather piecrusts. At best. Due to my dad’s mom and a summer month spent with her at age 12 she cleaned up the skills and yes I could actually bake things and make nice flaky piecrust. It was an incident (a meal and a pie) after I went home that when 7th grade started I became the family cook. And produced lunch and dinner every day.

    Holidays roll around, and Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s were hosted in turn by Mom, her one sister and the sister’s oldest daughter who’s oldest is 5 years younger than I am. We always did Thanksgiving. This would mean cooking for about 3 days and dad wiring/screwing nondrilled new hollow core doors to the sawhorses to make a table big enough for the adults in the living room and the kids had to eat in kitchen in the built in bench booth and a cardtable crammed in too.

    I am up to bat this year and the only thing my mother did was to get up at 4 am and put in oven the huge turkey that I had prepared the night before and put in roaster in fridge. I also made like 15 pies two days before, from pumpkin to crusted fruit pies and one mincemeat for the mincemeat lover. A few side dishes will be brought but I have produced the main courses… turkey, ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberries, the ‘marshmellow salad’, green beans, and corn. (sidenote, for Christmas and New Years, I also had to produce all the pies and that is what we brought… after this particular holiday-so three mass baking days a year)

    The others show, and we get things sorted and everyone’s going to go park; and I bring in the turkey platter (already carved, dad did that chore with the electric carving knife) and go to sit down. One of my aunts picks up my plate and silverware to move me to the kid’s table. I grabbed the other side of the plate and said I cooked it, I’m eating where I feel like. She looks at my mom who says yes she did. The one precious spoiled grandson couldn’t eat at the adult table but the teenager could… (that tempertantrum of his took about 20 minutes and he still had to eat out there). Why did I take my plate back? I worked like an adult, I felt I should have the right to eat with the adults instead of the toddler crowd.

    I rode the line between adult and kid for the next 19 years, until I joined ‘the zipper club’ as most of the women on my mom’s side did and still do between 30 and 40. Even though I’d married, no children… and yes, the childless have to work harder to be considered adult in a lot of extended families… the one my aunts could no longer ignore was the one they’d all gone through. Oh, if I cooked the meal I could eat with the adults, if I didn’t, even if I brought 12-15 pies; I had to sit with the kids, until I came home from college.

    I feel for the OP about making 18 but still not ‘making it’ in the family…. and she totally should have gotten her pie plate BACK. The video was and the hammer bit, glad they humored the Grandfather.

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