December 29, 1998
Packing The Sarcophagus

Working on it.
I got home from TicTac late Saturday night, and it's taken me a couple of days to recuperate from all the warmth and fuzziness and chocolate and familial *togetherness.* (I actually spent Christmas Eve under the same roof with my ex-husband ... sleeping in my ex-house, on my ex-sofa, listening to my ex-leaky toilet all night long. Details to follow.)

In the meantime, click here to read that last fabulous entry ... and then check back later. I'll be here. Fa-la-la la-la. Etc.

Later That Day:

The garlic dip was every bit as noxious as I remembered.

It gleamed innocently in a little Tupperware bowl, alongside the smoked salmon and the fruitcake and the eight varieties of mostly-untouched pasta salad.  On Christmas Eve I loaded my Chinette plate with an assortment of raw vegetables and pungent cheeses, pepperoncini and jalapeños, pickled onions and stuffed olives ...  then demurely trowelled thirty-four ounces of garlic dip on top of everything.  And then I sat in the corner of Uncle Dick and Aunt Ann's living room and set my nasal passages on fire, basically.

It was great.

Everything about my holiday visit to TicTac was great  ...  even the parts that sucked. Which is pretty much what Christmas, and families, and going *home* again is all about.

One thing that struck me about this visit was the extreme contrast in weather, between California and TicTac, made all the more distinct and remarkable and impossible to acclimate to by the brevity of the trip.  Wednesday morning I was walking back and forth to the laundry room in Alameda sunshine;  twelve hours later I was flying towards TicTac International through a snowstorm.  Christmas Eve we woke to three inches of pristine *Winter Wonderland*; the next day, we woke to the sort of muddy, drizzly Christmas morning I remember from childhood. Saturday night I flew out in a flurry of Seattle rain; ninety minutes later I flew into a bank of opaque San Francisco fog.  My internal thermostat was seriously confused by the time I got home. So was my suitcase. 
My Suitcase: "Sandals AND mittens? WhutthefuckisTHIS?"
Truth is,  I didn't do any real packing for this trip. At least, no "packing" in the sense that you put actual stuff into an actual suitcase in anticipation of actual travel.  On Wednesday afternoon I threw my toothbrush and my bathrobe and a library book into an overnight bag and called that "luggage." I was good to go. I like to travel light, for one thing: that last-minute scramble for the overhead bin is a pain in the butt. And I steadfastly refuse to *do* the baggage claim thing, ever since the Unfortunate St. Louis "Aren't Your Bags Supposed To *Land* When You Do?" [She Inquired Naively] Airport Debacle.  For another thing, I figured I could do all of my Christmas shopping once I got to TicTac, thereby saving myself from having to haul a bunch of wrapped gifts through the airports. (Then it snowed, of course, and we couldn't get out and do any shopping, and I wound up giving everybody cash, which is what they wanted anyway. Sigh.)

And for another-another thing ... I didn't actually own a suitcase at that point. But I digress.

I'd warned my family in advance that any Christmas gifts they gave me should be as *portable* as possible. (In other words: no livestock or satellite dishes, please.)  But by the third day of my visit I had accumulated an enormous stockpile of framed family photos and glass candle-holders and fuzzy sweaters and seventh grade woodshop projects, amongst other treasures, and I knew that the dinky overnight bag wasn't going to be enough for the return trip. So I threw myself upon the mercy of my mother, who quickly produced a suitcase the size of a small Third World Country for me to use. ("Great!" said David, when I called home to warn him about it. "We can just ship you home in it and save the airfare!")  When it was time to leave, I neatly crammed all of the Christmas presents and my toothbrush and my nightgown  into this immense SARCOPHAGUS of a suitcase, but there was still tons of room left over, so Mom threw one of Grandma's crocheted afghans on top of all my stuff, just to "keep things from rattling around."  By the time we were finished re-packing me, the suitcase weighed as much as I do, give or take a pound or 150 (depending on which one of us had more See's Candy in us) ...

... but it made it back to California in one piece, and The Sarcophagus safely and fashionably transported all of my precious Christmas bounty, plus it landed when I did  --  always a bonus  ...

... and besides, *I* never had to carry it. That's what brothers-in-law and boyfriends are for.

Another thing that struck me? How familiar and wonderful a lot of little things seemed to me.
 Local stuff, like KBSG-FM ("Seattle's Good Time Oldies!") on my mother's car radio.  Lunch at Taco Time.  Jean Enerson on KING-TV News.  Red Apple Market. Washington State license plates. Huskies bumper stickers. Southcenter Mall. The A&W Drive-In. Even the crappy weather, which  --  when you've lived with it for forty-some years, and when you personally don't have to DRIVE in it  --  is completely tolerable.  And family stuff, of course ...  like the freckles on my son's nose, and the way he sat next to me and rubbed my arm, and his unabashed pride when I opened the pen-holder he'd made for me in school.  The smell of coffee in my mother's kitchen. Family photos, hanging on the walls. My older daughter's enormous chocolate-brown eyes, framed in careful eyeliner, and my younger daughter's artfully casual long brown hair, and the way the two of them looked standing next to each other at the buffet table, so gorgeous and grown-up, when they didn't know I was watching them.  My dad's dogs.  My stepmother's cigarettes. Spending the afternoon with my sister and my mother, watching chick flicks and eating popcorn. The ex-husband, wordlessly frying bacon in the kitchen on Christmas morning.  Aunt Jody hugging me in the living room and whispering "We missed you last year." Cats and candles and old tape recordings of the Tots, and the marshmallow Santa tree ornaments my brother and I made (which still bear the imprint of my four-year-old teeth)  ...  all of the stuff that makes our particular family Christmases unique.

There is a certain comfort in coming home, after a couple of years, and discovering that a lot of things are precisely the way you left them.

By the same token, of course, there is a certain surprise and sense of *internal weirdness* when you discover that other things are completely different.  Even when the changes are for the better.



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