But I know all-too-well what comes with a Clapis Family Christmas. Fried dough with brown sugar and cinnamon is already wafting through the rooms of my grandmother’s house, fueled from her small Hartford, CT kitchen. Every few minutes a door opens, another cold rush of air, another series of smiles and kisses and hellos.
There is no snow on the ground (not yet anyway– just wait until December 26th!!) but we are in good spirits. Next door, Uncle Mike’s homemade brick oven burns with a tenderloin roasting inside. Cars rush by Grace St. at speeds that make us cringe. There was a time when the street was quaint and quiet. Now the fried dough and tenderloin smells mix with those of the city– cold wet pavement, cigarettes, bread from the Portuguese bakery across the way. Welcome to Hartford.
We’re sitting around the table reminiscing with my aunt Phyllis and cousins, and suddenly my phone rings. My younger brother is on the other end. It’s 3:00 in the afternoon and Marvin’s GMC Envoy has just been broken into, the passenger window smashed in a successful attempt to pull the GPS from our dashboard.
I curse myself, always having been one to make sure to park cars in driveways and hide all expensive items from view. Four months in rural North Carolina have seemed to numb my city senses. I should know better, I should know better.
I’m sure Marvin’s reaction is similar as he follows me downstairs at a quick pace. He was born and raised in Brooklyn and is now a Marine, and the look on his face says that he’d like to find the person that did this not five minutes ago in broad daylight and give her/him what s/he deserves.
But as we stand there, glass shattered about the street, his car’s leather interior and the dashboard itself, we feel hopeless. It’s Christmas Eve, we have a long drive to New York first thing in the morning, and there is no one in the world who is going to fix this for at least three days. Thoughts of me sitting in the passenger seat next to an open window as we drive through 30-degree temperatures are a bit unsettling. Above, my aunt and cousins hang their heads out the street windows, apologizing profusely to Marvin for the bad behavior of their city streets. The guy’s been here for a day and here is his holiday welcome.
Many of us know the feeling of urgent despair when traveling. There are points when the stress level gets so high that you just want to sit down and have someone else take care of things for you. A cancelled flight, a failed communication attempt, a physical injury abroad. The comforts of letting someone else deal with difficult situations died at the onset of our own adulthood. Now it is we who must take care of ourselves.
That feeling is heavy on me now. The Christmas Eve party is starting in two hours and we’re supposed to look happy and festive. Are you kidding?
We gingerly direct the car into Uncle Mike’s driveway as he gets out a vacuum and cuts us a perfectly fitted piece of Plexiglas (I will forever be in awe of Uncle Mike’s ability to pretty much fix anything). He’s the host of the Christmas party and should probably be more stressed than anyone, and as people pull in with their cars and piles of gifts he quietly continues to work. From my childhood, he always seemed to me to be critical and unforgiving when things happened or I made a mistake. Now as he works, he tells me a story about how his car was broken into, and how he couldn’t stop it, even with a car alarm that woke up the whole neighborhood.
Shit happens, he basically tells me.
Then Mike pauses for a minute. He looks up. “I feel really bad,” he says softly, “for the guy who was desperate enough to do this.”
Christmas presents in the backseat untouched, the person who broke into the car swiped the GPS off the dashboard and made a run for it. It couldn’t have been worth more than $50 or $100, already two years old. Though I know it’s not good to necessarily feel mercy for your offender or fall into a bout of Stockholm Syndrome, I fall quiet at the mention of this too. Somewhere out there is someone who needs $50 so badly that they will break into someone else’s car — and on Christmas Eve in broad daylight, nonetheless — to do it.
Marvin’s attitude is magic. He’s able to keep the incident from raining on his parade. Our Christmas Eve is just as good — if not better — than any other, complete with a last-minute sympathy card to Marvin “for the loss of your loved one car window,” prepared by a number of my cousins.
It did take three days to fix that window, but the Plexiglas kept us comfortable with a warmth that perhaps our hammer-wielding neighbor was not fortunate enough to enjoy. So at this Christmas and always, we think of those around us who are enduring hardships, and remember to not take for granted the love and support of family and friends.