I was very young at this particular Christmas time, so my memory is hazy, but the memory of it has stayed with me all these years.
On one side of my family, the ages of my first cousins, siblings and myself spanned a couple of decades and more, so when I was a toddler, I attended my oldest first cousin’s wedding. He was finishing college and then graduate school, and he and his wife lived in the dorm complex in a very small apartment. I don’t know who first voiced the idea, or how so many normally practical people ended up agreeing to it, but the entire extended family was invited to spend the holiday with my cousin and his wife and baby son at the college a very few years after that wedding, and everyone accepted! As best I can remember, there were about 28 of us at the time including the host family. Normally, every Christmas was spent at my grandfather’s house at his insistence, and how he was convinced to do this, I’ll never know.
The entire family descended upon that tiny apartment, between the men’s and women’s dorms which were devoid of any other students because of the holiday. There wasn’t room for everyone to even sit in one room, so naturally, we were all spending the night—by invitation — since the accommodations were so grand!
I don’t remember how we handled eating, perhaps a lunch room, but I remember getting ready for bed in shifts, and going to talk to my mother before I was taken off to my sleeping spot. She was bundled into a bed with three other women, and all four were giggling almost to hysteria. My dad was sleeping in the lounge in the men’s room. He was lucky because he got a couch. The younger male cousins had to sleep on the floor on a pallet.
My slightly older sister, a female cousin of her age, my very youngest male cousin who is two years younger than I, and of course, me, were put on a pallet in some sort of gymnasium type room, which seemed enormous to me at the time, but was probably not large at all. I think some older cousins might have been across the room on the floor, but in my child’s memory of it, it was just the four of us. My little cousin, who was a real tough acting little boy with a notorious temper, cautiously reached over and put his hand in mind and whispered, “I’m kind of scared. Will you hold my hand? Just don’t tell anyone.” I squeezed his hand, assured him it was fine, and that it was our secret. I was about six, but his fear made me feel brave. We slept well.
The next day was a crazy day of opening a mountain of presents, visiting, and packing up to go. People had slept in rows on the living room floor, I discovered, in addition to the crowded bed and the other rooms that were used. It should have been a nightmare, or at least a fine submission as a Holiday Hell story, but it wasn’t.
Instead, it was fun. We enjoyed ourselves happily while we laughed and laughed, and we continued to laugh over that Christmas for years to come. No one ever complained; they always re-told the funny parts over and over. I never squealed on my little cousin, who is now a fine upstanding man and a loving grandfather to little ones as well. It was the Christmas celebration of a lifetime. We never wanted to do it again, but we wouldn’t have missed it for the world! 1006-15