split Christmas - Saturday December 25 1999    

In Kim's father's house there's a stairway going down to the basement from the vicinity of the kitchen. The bathroom was destroyed some time ago by a cat that was subsequently put to sleep, so it doesn't have a door. Kim used it to pee this morning, and as usual for such minor deposits, she didn't flush. Kim's step-mother Linda was in the kitchen at the time and shortly after Kim rejoined me, we heard that toilet flush. Giggle, giggle.
At 8:30am Kim's father came by to wake us up. It was Christmas morning and time to get excited, more or less. Alex, the four year old developmentally-impaired son of Kim's step brother, was the only child present, but he was the focus for the morning. He could read the labels well enough to know which presents were for him, and he ripped into the presents with all the enthusiasm I remember having in my youth. He also enjoyed opening presents for other people. For Alex, the very best presents were computer games. He dug through all the wrapping paper, packaging and shrink wrap to the all- important CD, which he carried rapidly (but carefully) to his Macintosh computer. Unfortunately, the CD was for Windows 98 exclusively.
With our new infusion of gifts (some of which we could live without), Kim and I reclused ourselves to Alexander's room to "make" some more gifts for the maternal side of Kim's family. You see, as many gifts as Kim had brought with her from San Diego, she still didn't have quite enough. While we were scraping together the necessary wrapping paper and ribbon, Alex kept coming by to play with his toys. He had particular trouble with his speak & play cassette player, which he would load with one cassette before fully extricating the one before. By the time I had a chance to stop him, the hemorrhaging tapes were hopelessly tangled around the capstans, heads and rollers. But I was able to fix it anyway, becoming an instant hero to a little four year old boy.
Kim has told me repeatedly about her father Bud's famous Christmas morning bloody marys, and this morning I had a chance to sample several of them. The key to their success, oddly enough, was the inclusion of a simple dill pickle, which Bud used to stir in the Popov vodka.
Other relatives came by, including an extroverted little girl toting around her new colour Gameboy with tactile feedback and Pokemon pinball game cartridge. There was also an affable sixteen year old raver boy from Pittsburgh with dual earrings and the usual set of adolescent parental troubles. He was something of an eye-opener for his cousin, Kim's stepbrother Brent, who, despite his low-key alternative inclinations, has had a relatively sheltered life in the bland conservativeness of downriver Detroit.
It being Christmas, the day was too important for Kim to spend with just her father. It had to be split between him and her mother (another Linda). Kim and I had been entrusted with the Camry belonging to her paternal grandparents, and we packed this with our increasing haul of possessions and set off for the famous Dearborn Inn in Dearborn, the place where we'd rendezvous with Kim's mother and her husband Chuck.
The Dearborn Inn is a big brick building done in the institutional style. It's surrounded on most sides by Ford auto plants. Inside, it's got your normal posh dining rooms and lobbies which, at least on this day, were largely filled with elegantly-dressed elderly people and a few of their younger, poorer relatives.
Not wanting to leave Sophie out in the parking lot in an unfamiliar cage, we did as Kim's mother always does with her tiny terrier Casey, smuggling her into the dining room in a travel cage. Kim's mother was extremely impressed with Sophie; up until today she'd never known of another dog who could discretely be smuggled into a restaurant.
There was nothing all that special about the food and drink at the Dearborn Inn. On Christmas day, they weren't even serving alcohol. Interestingly, the main courses were served in the conventional restaraunt manner while everthing else had to be picked up from the buffet.
Kim's mother was so happy that we'd made the trans-continental trek that she'd gone all out on our behalf. Not only would she be putting us up tonight in the EdgarAlan Poe House, the most expensive cottage at the Dearborn Inn, but she'd bought us a bottle of Dom Perignon and a spread of sandwiches from Zingerman's, the most respected deli in Ann Arbor.
The Poe House (yes, there's delightful irony in the pronunciation) is apparently a replica of a house where Poe wrote a number of his poems. It consists of two floors, two bathrooms, kitchen, dining room and cozy little parlour. The wallpaper has a green and red rose flower pattern, the sort that would look interesting under the influence of LSD.
We hauled all our stuff into the Poe House and proceeded to celebrate Christmas in the manner to which Kim and her mother are accustomed. This was rather different from the Christmases of my youth. Kim went through present after present, the vast majority of them being dressy clothes for northern latitudes, and picked the few of them she actually wanted. The rest of them she'd get to take back to the store for refunds. The most comic moment in the gift giving came when Kim encountered some CDs her mother had bought for her: Celine Dion, etc. Kim was merciless, saying "It's probably best if you didn't try to buy music for me."
Along the way, Kim's mother also had a few presents for me, including a small flask of Paul Masson brandy and a complete black ski outfit. I thought it looked like a burglary oufit, so that's how I referred to it (to the amusement of everyone). In my family, it's generally expected that people accept gifts as they come. I learn to like my gifts and be grateful for them. So I sipped my brandy and tore the tags off my gifts.
Christmas Kim style requires a lot more than simply sitting in a cozy cottage, sipping brandy and opening presents. There were moore relatives to visit and the most important of these was Kim's Sicilian grandmother, the only shicksa at a Jewish retirement community in Farmington Hills.
We were running late, of course, and by the time we reached the retirement community, it became clear that we'd missed a rendezvous with Kim's two aunts, Betty and Rhonda. There's some sort of fresh new bad blood between Kim's mother and her sisters over the work necessary to keep their mother happy. It seems that while Kim's mother has been wrapped up in remodeling her house and neurotically coping with a fire that took place nearly a year and a half ago, Kim's aunts have been carrying most of the weight with the grandmother. When our contingent was late for our appointment with grandmother today, the aunts had left in disgust.
Kim's mother was beside herself with paranoia and outrage. Since grandmother couldn't be found anywhere in the community she was assuming the aunts had taken her away to foil our plans for a visit.
But suddenly grandmother appeared riding her motorized throne in the company of her devoted friend, a spritely old lady known only as "B." We sat around talking about old times while eating from the spread Kim's mother had brought. Grandmother had a voracious appetite, scarfing down an Italian pastry like a Las Vegas slot machine dealing with a silver dollar. The stories were pretty much the same ones she'd told when last I'd seen her. "Did you know that Kim was Miss Michigan?" she asked all present. Referring to the days when she used to babysit Kim, she said of Kims mother, "We couldn't wait for her to leave. We used to dance, oh, we used to dance!"
Grandmother's health has deteriorated to the point where she can no longer stay at the Jewish retirement community. On Tuesday she'll be relocating to a place offering more intensive care. It's all very sad for B, who may never see her again. Grandmother will have to find someone new to order around like a personal servant.
On Christmas day thing are fairly quiet at a Jewish retirement community. We saw few other people, and those we did see said things like "season's greetings" as we passed in the hallway.
Back at Poe House, I pretty much kicked back, sipped brandy and watched flicks on HBO. Meanwhile Kim and her mother put out food and poured the champagne. In the aftermath of a bizzare argument, Chuck had gone home to clean out the horse barn. Everytime Kim or her mother ordered something from the hotel main office, I had to hide with Sophie in the bathroom with the shower running or else she'd start barking at the first knock on our door. No dogs were supposed to be in our cottage of course.
Sophie didn't much like Casey the microscopic dog, bullying the little critter as much as we would allow. When Sophie finally got around to actually attacking Casey, everybody freaked out as they dove to the floor to pull the two stunted canines apart. In the process, an unopened pair of black pantyhose fell into a candle and caught on fire. We narrowly escaped the activation of a smoke alarm, though airing out the cottage resulted in something of a "freeze out."

Kim gossips during our Christmas meal in the fancy dining room at the Dearborn Inn.

After our Christmas dinner at the Dearborn Inn. From left: Kim's mother, me, Kim and Kim's mother's husband, Chuck.

In Farmington Hills the Jewish retirement center beckons us.

Kim and her mother.

The generations, from left: Kim's mother, Kim, Kim's maternal grandmother, at the Jewish retirement community.

Kim and her gandmother at the Jewish retirement community.

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