A shower door closes. A hairdryer blasts. A dog barks. The Yankee elbows me in the ribs, “I think the cacophony is your wakeup call.” I didn’t know he knew what “cacophony” meant. I wonder where he learned that word? I float up to the Mountain of Knowledge and ask Elvis what he thinks.
“BERT!” The harsh whisper wakes me from my dream. “It’s 2 o’clock. Time to join Camp Price Tag.” I’m groggy and barely coherent. “Where did you learn the word ‘cacophony’?” “I have no idea what that word even means, but the troops are stirring. Get up.” I roll my exhausted self out of bed and head to the shower. The mirror reveals a pair of eyes looking more like cinnamon candies atop a 3-piece luggage set, but there is a germ of life behind them. I loofah my arms and legs with extra force this morning, willing the blood to flow faster. I don my festive Christmas shirt and add enough makeup to my face so I look “not dead”, as Sgt. Fran had demanded. I stagger out to the living room, tote bag in hand and say hello to Fran’s mother, my Aunt Kitty. She is a dry-humored soul with short gray hair, thick round glasses, a pill for every ailment, and a surgery story for every body part God ever made.
As I walk to the kitchen, Fran comes around the corner, keys in hand, and I get a glimpse of her “festive” attire. Her thick hair was festooned with felt antlers and a blinking Christmas-light necklace hung around her neck. She waved her hand at me and I noticed one finger was completely covered with a “ring”, approximately the size of wall sconce, that was shaped like a little elf, complete with pointy-toed shoes. We look at each other with equal disdain and say, “You’re wearing that?” at the same time, followed by a unison, “YES!” I walk towards the kitchen as Fran says, “I already fixed you a ham bun for breakfast. That’s all you’re getting until the restaurants open so toss it in the tote bag and let’s get in the car. Bargains await.”
I would click my heels together, but I’m too tired.
We get in the car and, of course Aunt Kitty’s knee is bothering her, so I fold up like a lawn chair and squeeze myself in the back seat. Fran slams the door, starts the engine, looks at me in the rearview mirror and says, “Hang on to your bippie.” I was about to say, “But I’m too sleepy to even find my bippie,” but I was too late. She floored it, tires squalling into the darkness of her neighborhood, as I held on to the door handle and said prayers for every sin I’ve ever committed. One coffee stop later, we’re at the door of Ritzy Retailer, waiting in line like every other goober who decided to join Club Price Tag in the middle of the night.
On and on we shopped, hour after hurried hour of deals, bargains, and Christmas cheer. Fran sailed through the aisles like a pro, I ran behind her for dear life, and Aunt Kitty’s watch kept beeping to remind her which pill to take next. We ate “lunch” at 9 am, got manicures at 10, and heard songs about roasting chestnuts at least 524,298 times. By the time Fran pulled a parking job a la “Blues Brothers” in her driveway, it was 7pm and I was numb from the knees down. We ordered pizza, listened to Aunt Kitty’s beeping pill watch, and fell asleep like drunk college kids at a pledge party.
The next morning, I staggered to the living room, feeling somewhat rested but still sore from the 400 miles we had walked the day before. As Aunt Kitty recounted in detail her most recent surgical procedure, Fran skips into the living room, her towel tied in a turban around her hair. “Good morning, my lovelies!” she shrieked in that chipper tone I can only liken to a canary. “Are we ready for our adventure?!” My eyebrows narrowed, “What adventure?” “We’re going to get a CHRISTMAS TREE!!!” I’m sure I turned pale, “Why can’t you get a fake one like everybody else?” She looked appalled, “And miss the fun?! The scent?! The ADVENTURE?! Oh Bertha-Butt, you are soooo funny!” I was skeptical. “And exactly where are we going to get this Christmas tree, Fran?” She clapped with glee, “Lizard Gizzard Mountain!! It’s over in the next state but it only takes about 3 hours to get there. Then we climb up and pick the best tree we can find! What’s wrong, Bertha? Why are you crying?”
So, an hour later, we’re back in the car, flying up Lizard Gizzard Mountain. The curves are so sharp, my motion sickness is kicking into overdrive while I furiously chew strong mint gum and hope I don’t throw up. In one ear, I have The Yankee detailing every screw and chisel he saw on his Black Friday trip to the hardware store and in the other ear, Buttercup is having an autistic fit because the DVD player is skipping with each sway of the car. Something like this: “And then they had this screwdriver set that was originally $55 and it was on special for $35 and if you bought a dozen gasket rings for the dishwasher, they were only $17 a piece and I know you said don’t spend more than about 100 bucks but they threw in a free hammer so I knew you wouldn’t mind.” “Uh oh! Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no, DDD is bwoken, DDD is bwoken, DDD is bwoken, oh no, oh no, oh no, DDD is bwoken …” (*wave of nausea* Don’t throw up, Bert. Just keep breathing.) “So I went ahead and got the screwdriver set but they only had 11 of the darn gasket rings for the dishwasher, so I said ‘Well, heck, why don’t I just get a gasket ring for the dryer too while I’m at it’ and they went ahead and threw in a free hammer anyway …” “DDD is bwoken, MAMA!! DDD is bwoken, oh no, oh no, oh no …”
This better be the best freakin’ Christmas tree the bloody world has ever seen.
Three hours, two packs of Astonishing Mint Gum, and a bwoken DDD later, we arrive at the base camp of Lizard Gizzard. Up we hike, carefully avoiding anything that looks like it might turn an ankle, until we find the best tree Lizard Gizzard Mountain has ever produced. As Stan and Fran debated the virtues of height over diameter, I pondered the mysteries of Christmas tree hunting and came to the realization that God made plastic for a reason.
Stan, bless his heart, saw my green tinged face and decided it was time to go home for a relaxing dinner. He took a longer, but less curvy, way home and I have since decided that I really love him. We spent the evening swapping stories as we looked at the naked tree in their living room, looking exponentially larger inside the house than it did hanging off the side of Lizard Gizzard Mountain. It had been a memorable visit, and that’s just the point. This sisterly crap we do with each other is not always easy, but it sure is memorable. I was a little sad we were leaving the next day, but happy that we would be going back home to peace and quiet.
How very wrong I was.