As we round the second hour of opening gifts, the 17 people crowded into the living room press on. The Christmas spirit will not be defeated. Neither will the commitment to go in turn around the circle, youngest to oldest, until every wrapper has been ripped from its mooring.
“Wait, who gave you those earrings? Who? I can’t hear.”
“What are they? Gold? Let me see.”
“Pass them over here. Who were these for?
“Where did she find them? They’re beautiful! Really!”
We holler over each other against the silvery tree. Its branches spread out over the only window in the room. All day, a relentless barrage of icy steel has been raining from the sky. No one has walked or run. We eat giant handfuls of Chex mix and leftover sausage balls. The mimosas are flowing.
“Who’s older? Who’s next? Come on, you’re not next! What year did you graduate?”
Cackles and shrieks. 1965? 1966? My grandmother argues with her youngest son.
“Mom, you graduated in 1938!”
“Don’t tell me. My memory isn’t what it used to be, but I’m not that far gone. It was 1937.”
“You were born in 1920.”
“I know when I was born!”
“Geez, leave her alone! Not everyone is 18 when they graduate!”
“Let it go, people! Who’s next? Someone open a present!”
“I am! I’m opening this one!”
“What is it? I can’t see. Wait, who’s it from?”
On and on. A cousin steps away from the melee. A moment later, I stand to stretch my legs and refill my glass. The silhouette of the towering man, that cousin 10 years my junior whom I held as a baby, barely registers. He is loitering on the back patio smoking a cigarette. My head is half down. My attention is only on seeking relief for the pounding in my head. A third mimosa will certainly not help, but it is easier to come by than a nap. I wince when he slides the shrieking glass door open a crack.
“Hey. It’s snowing.” He grins and the door squeals shut.
I glance up through the glass and see giant globs of wet snow plopping onto the concrete. The white lumps splash between the puddles and mix to a slush. I grin back and nod.
Sneaking into the living room, I catch Bug’s eye as he waits with commendable patience in front of his pile of unopened gifts. I beckon him to me and whisper, “Come here. Look outside, out where your cousin is.”
Bug leaves the living room and steps through the den. He stands at the glass door and stares out, trying to make sense of what he is seeing. My big cousin looks down with his signature wry smile. Bug catches his breath.
“IT’S SNOWING!” He screams, races into the living room, and pounds right into the middle of the crowd.
“IT’S SNOWING! IT’S REALLY, REALLY SNOWING!”
“In Dallas? No way.”
Everyone drops their packages, their plaster smiles, their stiff endurance. All 17 folks unfold themselves from their couches and corners. The heavy wooden door sighs open and the assembled mass piles out onto the front porch.
“Lookie there! Snow!”
“Well, I’ll be.”
Bug is dancing from foot to foot. “See! I told you! It’s real snow!” The other kids tiptoe out in their socked feet, mouths open, faces turned to the sky.
“Snow! On Christmas!”
“In Dallas. If I wasn’t looking right at it, I’d never believe it!”
All 17 folks get their fill of wet, frosty air and make their way back into the living room to finish what we started. No more order. Just opening, just trusting there is enough attention. Just smiles and noise and happy gathering. It is an embarassment of riches. No one can remember the last gift or the next. It doesn’t matter. We sit surrounded by tins of candy, books and Xboxes, jewelry and soup mix and hand-painted santas.
Outside, the snow turns to flakes and soon the white fluff dusts the yard. My headache is long forgotten. The gifts lay abandoned at the foot of the silvery tree in the empty living room. All 17 folks clatter around the kitchen, gabbing, running dishes under the hot water, laughing. The older kids run outside and have a snowball fight. Their bright eyes flash as they come in and press their red fingers to our warm skin before running away giggling.