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The next year he asked me to spend a few days with his sister's family in Kelowna. I really didn't want to go but he made me. More like kidnapped me. We drove through a treacherous snowstorm (yet another reason to dread the holidays - travelling at the worst possible time of the year when highways and airplanes are coated in ice) and barely made it alive. I staggered out of the car grumbling and stiff from clenching every muscle in my body for seven hours.
"It's official, I hate Christmas," I mumbled and shuffled towards the house.
Walking into his sister's home was like getting beamed onto the movie set of "It's a Wonderful Life." The air smelled like cinnamon, the house was festooned with homemade Christmas decorations, the children hugged us and seemed genuinely happy to see us. A glass of wine immediately appeared in my hand and plates of the most exquisite shortbread sat on every available surface. Under the Christmas tree there were wrapped presents, and one for me!
Now presents. This was a whole new concept. What family I had that remained on speaking terms one day decided not to shop for presents anymore. Christmas Day would go something like this. My mother would phone and say:
"Thanks for the present Michele, I just LOVE it!"
"Oh mom, I'm so glad! What did I get for you?"
"It's a darling little lamp I found on Granville Island. What did I get you?"
"Flashing sunglasses and a Godzilla costume! Thanks mom!"
Needless to say, this alternate reality Christmas in Kelowna was wonderful! Christmas morning the kids predictably got up, rushed around excitedly and dragged us out of bed. We gathered around the Christmas tree and opened presents. Presents that were wrapped, bought well in advance and pertinent for the recipient! Wow!
(My brother, in stark contrast, once came up from his room with a gumboot filled with unwrapped gifts. The gumboot was funny though.)
In the alternate reality, we went for walks in the snow and helped make turkey dinner at a reasonable hour. Before dinner, I called my mother and asked what I got her this year.
Dinner was served before midnight, the family chatted cheerily with no hint of animosity or weirdness. All was clear sailing. Frankly, it made me nervous. I went to bed still waiting for something to go sideways. It never did.