Well here we are, we finished packing up all the Christmas decorations in large bins and store them back in the attic for another year. Toss our adorned tree out to the curb. All unwanted gifts have been used as barter at a White Elephant party.
But wait I have one more gift for you, the gift of a story and it’s a good one. It’s a story of survival and new beginnings. And like all good stories it starts out at the kitchen table. It’s different now, for us the surviving four.
“Well this feels weird.” Dewey stated the obvious.
“Wow a month ago we were a family of seven and now look at us.”
“I lost my dad and my grandmother.” Daisy morns.
“So did I,” the boys said together.
“Okay guys it’s not a competition. And besides if it were I would win.”
“Well I would. I lost my mother and my husband. A husband is much more important than a grandmother.”
Oh my God what is wrong with me, what was I saying? We had lost so much in such a short amount of time. Ever since we had moved in here to help care for my mother, a lot of sad things happened. I wondered how I was ever going to make it whole again.
Looking on the bright side, “Well this is the new us. And this is our new house.”
“Talk about your fixer uppers.”
“It’s a dump.”
“It’s gross.” Daisy complained.
“No, I love this house.” I said.
“Of course you do Mom, this is where you grew up, this is your house not ours.”
Ouch. They were right. This house is so run down. Wall paper peeling off in the corners. Walls hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in at least 20 years. The carpet was put down for our wedding. Every wall used to be white, then turned beige now just old and dingy and dated. It screamed old lady decor. The dining room had been my mother and her care-givers bedroom for years. It was smelled like old people masked by heavy floral spray.
“Listen kids, it just needs a little paint and love. You’d be surprised what a little paint can do. “
“It will never look like the old house.”
“No we can make it look better. We can paint it any color we want we can paint it like the old house, make the dining room a bright color. We need to claim it, make it our own. Get rid of those old couches bring in those new ones I’ve been storing in the garage. It has tons of potential. And no matter what a house is a home, we’ll make it our home.”
“Can we do it now, paint now?”
“God no. We just put on a funeral for 400 people I’m not painting a house. After the holidays.”
“That’s my birthday.” Daisy said.
“Our birthday.” Dewey chimed in.
“Yes, ok after both of your birthdays and before Easter we’ll do some painting and stuff.”
What have I gotten myself into? I wasn’t even up to decorating for Christmas not to mention painting a house.
Soon Halloween was behind us and Thanksgiving out on the horizon, I was determined to have it go off without a hitch. But there’s more to this holiday than meets the eye. While busy reading up on how to cook turkey, Huey came up to me, “Mom,”
“I’m helping my friend from school and we need a house to film in.”
Huey is a film student, so I was used to this.
“So you’re ok with us filming here?”
“Ya sure whatever.”
Fast forward to Thanksgiving Thursday, we’re all cutting into our turkey jerky with friends and family sitting around the table gnawing at their roast beast.
“So Mom you guys will all be out of the house on Saturday, right?”
“I told you.”
I had succumbed to the oldest trick in the book. Classic. Tell a parent something when you know they are not paying attention. No parent is going to confess to not paying attention or worse loss of short term memory the first sign of aging.
“The entire day?”
“Yes, I told you. You can’t change now he’s counting on me. And you can’t come back until I tell you.”
“Are you shooting a porn?”
“No I just don’t need you around my friends.”
“Thank God you’re embarrassed of us.”
Uncle Joe volunteered, “We have passes to the Huntington Library we can spend the day there.”
“They’re you’re all set.”
Not great. As much as I loved to support Huey and his friends I did not want to be gone a whole day and the best shopping weekend of the year. God I’m a great mother.
Saturday morning arrived, “Get out! Get out!”
I’m still not convinced he wasn’t’ shooting a porn yet.
Out we went, out into the pouring rain. Perfect day to spend killing time for 10 hours. We walked. We talked. We shopped. We ate. We walked some more. We went out for dinner. Delightful and yet this was the longest day ever.
“When can we go home?” Daisy whined.
“I don’t know. I can’t believe Huey made us do this.”
It was around 9 o’clock at night and we had just finished dinner when Dewey announced, “Let’s go home.”
“I just got the all clear from Huey.”
“Well if you’re ready, let’s go.”
Dashed through the pleasantries and we were out of there.
As we drove up cars were still parked alongside of our street.
“Oh great they’re still here. I just want to go to bed.”
But as we drove into the driveway I stopped complaining and started crying. You see my delightful late Jewish husband loved decorating the house for Christmas. Our family joke was,” Dad the airport called, can you turn the house down so they can land the planes?”
Christmas Vacation paled in comparison. There, there it was. The house was covered in Christmas lights, and a reindeer, and Santa Clause and penguins and candy canes. Perfection.
Daisy looked at me, “Are you crying?”
“Heck yes.” I dried my face. “Let’s go inside I’m sure it was just part of the movie.”
As we walked up to the front door I quickly realized there never was going to be a movie. I could see the dining room through the windows. The old pink rose petal wall paper was gone and it was now a warm burnt orange. We walked through the front door. I was so stunned I couldn’t cry any more. I was expecting Ellen DeGeneres to pop out.
“SURPRISE MRS. FRIBES!”
Throughout the day Huey and all his friends worked together, kids I have known all their lives and love them like my own, kids from town, kids from high school, kids from college. Forty or more teenagers, millennials organized themselves without any adult supervision, without adult nagging, without adult suggesting, without any adults interfering, without any adults at all.
They picked out all the colors.
They bought the paint and brushes.
They painted the downstairs of the house.
They painted the kitchen bright and happy colors no longer dark and dreary.
They painted the den warm brown with a green accent wall.
They steamed the wall paper off the walls.
They took out the old furniture and replaced it with the new couches from the garage.
They hung pictures with care.
They put a roof on the tree house Benjie never got a chance to finish.
If anyone ever has anything bad to say about teenagers or millennials, come see me.
You would never guess that this warm and welcoming house was a hopeless dump 12 hours ago. Everything was put back in its place. No evidence, not a dirty paint brush or drop cloth anywhere. It looked like this is how it always was.
They say my heart grew 3 sizes that day.
“We did this for you.”
“I claimed the house for us Mom.”
“Oh my God Mom it looks amazing!” Daisy put her stamp of approval on it.
“Ok, now it looks like our house.” Dewey said.
And there in the corner was a big Christmas tree covered in lights. One of the kids began to play the piano and we sang, we sang Christmas Carols. It had been years since this house had heard Christmas Carols, so much joy, so much singing.
Right then I felt like George Baily, ours is a Wonderful Life.
Live with waffletude!