With a tiny snort, you awaken from a bad dream about being tied to a railroad track with a locomotive barreling toward you. You grope in the darkness, relieved to find yourself under a blanket, in bed, with no threat of being torn to smithereens by an oncoming freight train.
Relieved yet half-conscious, you exhale with a soft grumble, smack your lips, and turn on your side to nuzzle back into your pillow.
Ouch! What’s that dull pain across the middle of your back? It dawns on you: I’m not in my own bed. Your eyelids open, one after the other, and in the dim early morning light, you take in your surroundings to allow your internal GPS to determine it’s location.
Wood paneling. Burnt sienna sculpted carpeting. Wagon wheel light fixture. Console television. Framed portrait of you in the 4th grade with an enormous split between your two front teeth. And an excruciatingly uncomfortable metal bar pressing against the middle of your back.
“Oh yea,” you finally recall, “It’s the holidays. I’m in Pennsylvania. At my mother’s house. In the basement that my parents converted into a family room in 1977. On a hide-a-bed couch.”
Although you’d rather lay there uncomfortably, reminiscing about growing up in that little brick ranch, nature calls. You slowly roll your aching torso to the edge of the paper-thin mattress, setting off a cacophony of squeaking springs. Standing silently by the brown, orange, and harvest gold plaid couch, you wait until you’re sure your spouse is still asleep, before tip-toeing up the stairs to the bathroom.
Ever since moving out of your childhood home, you have enjoyed the basic human entitlements of the public drinking and waste water system. You’ve become accustomed to the ample gush of clear, cool, potable water from faucets, shower heads, and toilet tanks.
But in the one tiny bathroom shared by every living soul in your mother’s crowded house, there are issues you’ve long since forgotten about. As you open the door, you detect the faintly familiar odor of rotten eggs
You are about to blame your Uncle Eddie, who went overboard on the sausage dip the night before, but then you remember that the sulfurey well water is the source of the offending odor, something you were oblivious to growing up in that house.
On the speckled Formica countertop is a note from your mother, reminding the family of the limitations of the well and septic tank: “If it’s brown, flush it down, but if it’s yellow, let it mellow.” You sit on the mint-green porcelain commode, leafing through an old National Geographic, wondering how on Earth you grew up this way.
After waiting a minute or two for the water supply to recover from your flush, you get in the shower. Your pampered hair follicles will have to survive on the 79 cent bottle of VO5 Strawberries and Cream shampoo your mother bought at the discount store with a coupon. Mid-lather, one of your kids knocks, begging, “Please! I gotta go!”
Ignoring Grammy’s hand-written sign, she flushes. “Ahhh!” you yelp, as scalding hot water cascades from the shower head. There’s another knock at the bathroom door, as other family members enter to brush their teeth and use the toilet while you brave the water temperature fluctuations behind the frosted glass shower doors.
Eventually, you emerge from the only bathroom, dressed and ready for another day of visiting with family over the holidays. You might get dirty looks from your relatives, who have to wait an hour for the hot water supply to build back up before they can shower. You might have frizzy hair from your mother’s cheap shampoo. And you might suffer a few back spasms from sleeping on that damned hide-a-bed.
But you don’t mind because you realize that having family to visit with over the holidays is a blessing in disguise. These quirky people brought you into this world and are the reason you are never alone. No matter how annoying holiday family visits might seem, when you consider the alternative, you know it’s all relative.