Everyone has different memories of the same event. To hear my mom tell the story, we had salmon and champagne every Christmas Eve. To hear my dad tell the story, we had an explosive familial fight every Christmas Eve. All I remember is the blender.
What we can all agree on is that every Christmas Eve, we’d pick up my Uncle Stephen from the nursing home. My mom’s brother was born with cerebral palsy, he was not able to walk or talk, but my mom had a near-telepathic communication ability with him. She’d moved him from his nursing home in Virginia down to Georgia so she could take care of him.
The halls were lit with a fluorescent glow. The nursing staff were working long, thankless hours under the paper snowflakes hanging from the ceiling. On the doors to the building was a large poster, “DO NOT BRING POINSETTIAS TO THE RESIDENTS.” I was filled in later that this was due to the fact that some of the residents had taken to eating the poisonous crimson flower. We’d walk to the end of the hall, the second-to-last door on the left and my mom, who had always decorated my Uncle’s room for the holiday, would gather his belongings to take him to our home. My brothers and I would usually go to the last room at the end of the hall, there was a large TV in there and stools with wheels on them that we would use as our own make-shift bumper cars. Flying across the linoleum tiles in our puffy, winter jackets, we’d eventually hear our mom’s voice tell us it was time to go as my dad carried my uncle to the car.
Some years we would go to our church’s Christmas Eve service. Other years we would head straight for the house and dinner. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember what we ate most years, but what did make an indelible impression on me was that every year, after we’d eaten our dinner, mom would take that exact same meal, and put it into the blender.
My uncle did not have any of his teeth, so eating at the nursing home usually looked like blobs of different colored substances on a plastic tray that had next to no nutritional value.
But when Stephen was home with us, my mom wanted to give him the exact same meal we were having. She is a good cook so whatever she made, it would go into the food processor and then she would feed him spoonful after spoonful, sometimes with a dash of celebratory bourbon to help wash it down and make him feel like he was joining the festivities.
As a kid, being eye level with the food processor on the counter, there was nothing quite like seeing your solid piece of salmon get whipped up into a slushy. I remember always being mildly freaked out by the whole thing, but I knew Stephen was so grateful to be tasting the flavors of a dynamic meal instead of the usual bland applesauce and soggy peas.
We’d hang out in the den with him while mom fed him and made him laugh. Then we’d go to bed (actually we’d usually not go to bed when told, contributing to my dad’s mounting anger,
hence the familial blowups each Christmas Eve. One Christmas Eve dad found my brothers and I watching Dexter’s Lab well past midnight and I remember he was not even upset that we were awake but rather irritated that we weren’t watching a Christmas VHS called, “Small One” about the donkey that led Mary and Joseph to the manger).
Christmas after Christmas many things changed, but one thing remained the same: Uncle Stephen was always home with us.
The Christmas of 2010 we were at our church’s Christmas Eve service, but something was off. My mom was agitated and distracted. She had a horrible feeling that something was wrong with Stephen. We left in the middle of the service and drove straight to the nursing home. She was right. He was sick and the nursing staff said it didn’t look good. We took him to the hospital that night. He died just over a week later.
Holidays are not an especially happy or sentimental time for me, but I will always remember fondly that the one thing my family did consistently every year was pick up my uncle from the nursing home and blend his food.