Alison Berkley: The Princess’ Palate
December 30, 2010
ASPEN – “Boarding flight 633 with service to Denver,” the lady at the Aspen airport said into the microphone, her voice tough and gravely. She surveyed the scene, chuckled, and said, “All ten of you.”
It was Dec. 21, so the holiday rush hadn’t exactly started when Ryan and I flew back to Minnesota to spend Christmas with his family.
When we boarded the plane, the other eight passengers had already taken their seats in the back rows, looking pathetic somehow, like children on a school bus.
“Can we just sit wherever?” Ryan asked the flight attendant.
“There are three classes of seats on this aircraft, sir,” she said sternly. “First class is rows one through three and rows three through nine is business class. The rest of the seats are in coach.”
“I was just asking,” Ry said.
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“I can call customer service if you would like to purchase an upgrade,” the mean stewardess said.
“No, it’s cool. I’ll just take my assigned seat,” Ryan said, using considerable self-restraint.
We settled in with the rest of the herd as the fussy flight attendant got back on the horn to do her little shpeal about what to do if you’re seated in the exit row. Except no one was sitting in the exit row.
It was like something out of a sitcom, except it wasn’t that funny.
Christmas, on the other hand, was hilarious.
Somehow I managed to find the one family in the world that cares about Christmas even less than mine does, even though they’re not Jewish.
This is an impressive feat considering my dad was the one who would run around Christmas Eve screaming, “I know who killed Jesus! It wasn’t the Jews, it was a bunch of Puerto Rican guys!” He thought his little joke was hilarious.
My mother despises Christmas carols so much she simply can’t resist the urge to mock them. We’ll be at the supermarket, or the mall, or the ski resort, and these songs are blasting over loudspeakers and she’s like, “Fa la la la god damn f-ing la!” I couldn’t like Christmas music if I tried, and it is so totally all her fault.
But I was always big into Christmas. As a kid, I believed in Santa Claus with the same intensity tweens love Justin Bieber. I was like a Santa groupie. I thought about him all the time.
Like my belief in Santa, my expectations around the holidays tend to be disastrously high. I have no idea where this comes from considering no one ever told me to expect anything.
This has nothing whatsoever to do with religion or the birth of Christ of all people. It has everything to do with presents and the tree that you put the presents under, and opening the presents, and getting really good presents. I know I sound selfish, but I also love buying presents, and wrapping them and giving them. I will think very hard about what someone wants and why, and I will probably spend more money than I should just because I hope and pray and believe with all my heart and God and Jesus and Santa that they would do the same for me.
Naturally this is a nightmare for everyone who has to be around me this time of year.
Last year was my first Christmas with Ryan’s family and I was extremely confused when, on Christmas Day, no one opened any presents because there was a big pile of them under the tree.
When I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer, I finally spoke up. “When are we going to open the presents?”
They seriously looked at me like I was insane and said, “Tomorrow, hello. That’s when our granddaughter comes over.”
If they’re going to open presents, it’s going to be for her, not the spoiled rotten/super regressed/seriously delusional 40-year-old girlfriend of their older son.
This year I was totally prepared for the whole “What should we do today?” conversation that came up on Christmas morning. I did my best to avoid even glancing at the big pile of presents under the tree.
Of course I never went to acting school so I’ve never been very good at hiding my feelings. It must have been the way I pushed my lower lip forward or my vacant stare as I slowly sipped my coffee that gave me away.
Exacerbated by my not-so-subtle pouting, Ryan finally got up and said, “Let’s just give Ali her Norman Rockwell Christmas and go ice skating at Lake of the Isles,” Ryan said.
So we got bundled up and piled into the car and drove into downtown Minneapolis, where three lakes (Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet and Lake of the Isles) make this small Midwestern city a special place. The ice wasn’t ready for public skating yet, but instead of being disappointed, we decided to walk around the lake instead.
It was brisk and cold outside, the city blanketed in deep white snow. We went for a long walk and then drove down to Minnehaha Falls, a massive frozen waterfall where you can climb up into a cave behind the falls, where these massive aqua-blue icicles look like jewels or prisms, creating this soft, ethereal light. For being in the middle of a major metropolitan area, it was extraordinary. Or maybe it was just extraordinary, period.
We piled back into the car with the cold that still tingled on our cheeks and at the end of our noses, giddy with adventure as the present moment transformed itself into a memory.
That’s when it hit me how lucky I am that I met these people who know it’s not about the gifts or the tree or Santa. The most beautiful gift in the world is family. It’s about time someone finally taught me that lesson.