We slept in that morning at Brian and Elizabeth's, since there is nothing for taking all of your energy out of you like driving through multiple states in a single day. Multiple midwestern states, mind you - not New England states, which flit by like potato chips, one after the other, without you really noticing, nor western states that have to be taken in small bites. No, midwestern states you can do in a single bound, but they take some recovery time.
Elizabeth and Brian, our sleepover hosts
But not too much recovery time! For it was, as noted, Christmas Eve! So we loaded up the cars with freshly wrapped presents, freshly scrubbed people, and whatever else we could load them up with, and headed off to my aunt and uncle's house.
They live in a nice new house on a horseshoe-shaped road that is maybe fifty yards long if you measure along the outside of the horseshoe. It's cozy. In order to get to this road, you have to leave the state. Seriously - you drive down the two-lane highway outside of the subdivision until you see the sign that says "Welcome to Georgia!" You'll recognize it when you see it - it has the big peach on it, like everything else in Georgia that doesn't have a Confederate battle flag. Just past the sign you turn into the subdivision, go past the (usually unmanned) guard post, and turn right toward their house. And at that point you see another sign that welcomes you back to Tennessee.
The various cousins had a grand time with this.
My cousin and his partner - "the Uncles Chris," as we refer to them - were in charge of the dinner this year, and they did a nice job of it. It was the usual odd number of kinds of seafood, though not just the usual kinds - a little variety and freshness into the menu. I was even convinced to try the ravioli with the lobster sauce, and it was good. So perhaps there is hope for me yet.
The kids all spent the time running around excitedly, which was nice to see. We've all moved up a generation now, and it is fun to see them playing like we used to do. Tabitha and Lauren got hold of a slinky, for instance, and were making it do sine waves across the living room while their toddler cousin Annelise ran through them. The New York cousins, Josh and Sara, got in shortly before dinnertime, and the excitement (and volume) increased markedly at that point.
It's just not Christmas if it's quiet.
Eventually we could hold the little ones off no longer, and it was time for presents! Tabitha has long since reached the age where she could read well enough to distribute presents, and now Lauren and Josh have largely caught up to that point - and Sara was not to be denied, not when everyone else in her generation except Annelise was in on it - so there was a lot of amiable confusion when it came to the gift giving, but eventually it was all sorted out and everyone had a nice pile of loot in front of them.
The piles are rather smaller than they used to be for those of us in my generation, as we have been playing the Cousins Gift Swap game for a few years now. It's a fun game of skill, luck, cutthroat trades, and kitsch, and we have a good time.
It was the Year of the Snuggie in our family, apparently. On the urging of my two offspring, I somehow ended up with a pair of blue snuggies that had been wrapped by different cousins for the game. We managed to keep them unopened until we got home - we were in Tennessee, for crying out loud, and it was warm enough to our Wisconsin blood that we did not even bother with coats while we were there - but no further: they were unwrapped and in use even before I got the entire car unpacked once we had landed back home. So it worked out, I suppose. My goal in these exchanges is to come away with something relatively small and conceivably useful, and by that standard I would have to count it as a success.
And then it was back to Elizabeth and Brian's house, where we bribed Santa's reindeer with food in order to have them find us so far from home. Those reindeer - they're suckers for a good snack.