'Tis the Season
The holidays bring joy, cheer, and the occasional cover-up scheme
It is, once again, the holiday season, a glorious time of year when it becomes socially acceptable for old, fat men wearing excessive amounts of velvet to hold small children, and when families gather around dead trees to drink raw-egg-based beverages.
Spending time with family has always been one of my favorite parts of the holidays. And not just because said family generally brings food and gifts, but also because time with my family reminds me that my not having been institutionalized yet is a beautiful miracle.
One holiday season during my late twenties I spent an idyllic Christmas Day fireside on my family’s farm. That night our extended family from around the state was coming for dinner. As my mom put the finishing touches on the meal, I wandered to the front of the house, where through the windows I saw four deer grazing in our front yard in the misty, early evening air.
Hoping to share the peaceful sight, I called for my family to come and see. Unfortunately, as soon as my brother heard the word “deer,” he began loading his rifle. Most of the time my brother is an intelligent human, but when it comes to hunting he turns into a Jeff Foxworthyesque parody who should have a banjo soundtrack playing over everything he says.
Panicking at the thought of deer being slaughtered in the front yard, I, like any good sibling would do, ran to our mom to tell on him. Since my mom stopped listening to me tattle on my brother sometime around 1986, she simply told me to be quiet and went back to preparing the turkey. I hurried upstairs to my parents’ bedroom, hoping to find my dad. On my way up the stairs I passed my brother carrying his gun.
My parents’ room was dark and I felt that the clock was ticking fast for the deer. I flung open the window and screamed. The majestic animals paused in their grazing and turned toward the house.
And then my brother shot one.
This being the first time I’d seen an animal shot, I did not react well. I yelled “You killed him!” Then I slammed down the window, let out a blood-curdling scream, and began sobbing. When my parents heard the gunshot followed by the scream, they assumed that our sibling arguments had finally escalated to the point of murder. They’d been expecting this for years.
It took me a while to gain some semblance of control over my emotions. Meanwhile, the deer, whom I assumed was mortally wounded, ran away. My brother and dad tried to track it, but it was getting dark and our guests were arriving in minutes. And so, as a family, we made a pact not to mention the murder to our dinner guests because there would be small children who could be upset by it. It felt like I’d just agreed to share turkey and dressing with a bunch of hit men.
As we waved goodbye to our unknowing guests at the end of a delicious meal free of any deer mentions, crossing our fingers they didn’t get blood on their shoes on the way to their cars, I congratulated my family. Sure, an innocent animal had been shot in the front yard only hours before and we’d all been party to the cover-up. And yes, I’d had a hysterical breakdown that was worthy of reality television. But we’d suppressed any negative emotions (using holiday-themed cocktails) and made it through a lovely dinner without pointing out each other’s flaws (like being a killer). And, really, isn’t that what the holidays are all about?