Day 7: Berkeley day with my big sis, Melanie Ramil, then lunch in L-mo with Casey Cochran. Last minute Christmas tree shopping with the family proved a failure, so we ended up decorating a 4-foot houseplant and watching a color-corrected version of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ Strange Christmas. . .
I can’t not go to the Bay Area without at least one trip to my old college town. Except for the occasional new restaurant on Telegraph, signs of progress on the stadium, and the lack of students (I’m always visiting during a break), Berkeley still feels the same. After trying (and failing) to see my old boss Kelly at the Bancroft Hotel, Ate Melanie and I chowed down on some pupusas in El Platano, a Salvadoran place at which she used to work. The waitress got three out of four of our pupusa orders wrong, but it didn’t matter; they’re all delicious.
We then hit up the Telegraph Avenue Holiday Street Fair, which comes around every weekend in December. If you’ve ever walked past the vendors on Telegraph on a normal day, imagine that times a hundred. And in the street. The city cordons off four blocks of Telegraph, from Bancroft to Dwight, and vendors from all over the Bay line both sides of the street with their homemade goods. One can find everything from candles to metal scrap statues, knit mittens to freshly popped kettle corn. My sister does a lot of Christmas shopping here.
The two of us left Berkeley before I could meet up with my friends in the area so as to beat traffic (sorry Nate and Olivia!). After grabbing a bit to eat and a beer with Casey at First Street Ale House in downtown Livermore, I rejoined my family for our traditional Christmas tree hunt. I use the term “hunt” loosely since it usually just means driving to the closest lot. Usually. This year was different. This year, we got a late start because somebody wanted to go gallivanting around southern California until December 22nd, meaning we couldn’t get a tree until the 23rd. Apparently, nobody thinks people would be in the market for a Christmas tree so late in the game. Our little shopping venture actually turned into a hunt as we prowled around Livermore in the Hyundai Sonata, scouting out the known Christmas tree lots, only to turn up empty-handed.
Downtrodden, we returned home and ultimately decided to settle on a (shudder) FAKE Christmas tree. We’ve NEVER had a fake Christmas tree, and I could tell my dad was not happy. He’s pretty nonchalant about most things, but by the look in his eyes I knew he saw a fake tree as a slap in the face to the memories of his childhood Christmases. I had messed with tradition, and I felt bad.
While my mom was out buying the plastic Christmas twig, my dad was struck with a clever idea. “How about this for a Christmas tree?” he yelled from the den. My sister and I walked around the corner, curious, and found my dad pointing at a four-foot tall house plant. It was so unexpected we couldn’t help but laugh and love it. We promptly called up Mom and told her to forget about the fake plant for we had a worthy, if not ironic, substitute.
Another part of our Christmas tradition is decorating the tree with our ornaments, all of which are unique. Except for our yearly family ornaments (ya know, those big ones with the year and our names), all of ours were gifts from friends, family, and my dad’s past students. Absolutely no store-bought boxes of bulbs in bulk. My mom, sister, and I retell the same stories behind each ornament while my dad watches It’s a Wonderful Life and critiques our hanging of said ornaments. (Actually, we laugh about how we tell the same stories. Pretty meta.) This year, we couldn’t find our copy of the Frank Capra classic, so while my mom was out not buying the tree, she also purchased a new copy. This one had a colorized version on the flip side. Staring at our Christmas house plant, which was sagging under the weight of a fraction of our ornaments, my dad and I knew we had to watch the colorized version, much to my sister’s displeasure. It was different, not worse. The main thing was that I discovered how many daytime scenes there were.
‘Twas a strange Christmas, but it’ll ultimately go down as one of the most memorable.
Day 8-9: Sister and I had breakfast w/Jake Sorensen and Jessi Bucey in Sac before continuing on to Lotus for the traditional Christmas Eve extravaganza with the Ramils. Good times, as always. Drove back home the next morning with the family and stayed in pajamas all day, even through our family Christmas dinner. The parents got the hang of their nooks a lot faster than expected.
Our Christmas Eves are spent with my dad’s side of the family at our “house in the woods” in Lotus. Since my mom had to work until the evening, my dad stayed behind while my sister and I headed north that morning. Sacramento is somewhat on the way to Lotus, so that was our first stop. Not only does my sister live there, but so does my college roommate Jake and his girlfriend Jessi. The four of us met up for breakfast. Over delicious omelettes, our conversation quickly turned from jobs and future prospects to robots, hypothetical universes, and screenplays. Some things never change. Though brief, our encounters are never boring.
After a quick stop at my sister’s rat-terrorized apartment (a gritty war story that should–and may–be its own post), we continued on to Lotus. Since its usually just the northern California chapter of our family, this get-together is relatively small compared to the bigger events (like a 100th birthday). Ya know, only about forty or so people.
Everything played out as it it usually does: aunties in the kitchen cooking too much food, uncles drinking outside around the fire, cousins lounging about the living room while their kids run around on an endless amount of energy. Dinnertime looks pretty much the same except everybody has an overflowing plate in hand. There’s no room for a table big enough to hold us. After dinner comes the presents, which, in my family, is a two- to three- hour long event.
I have noticed a drop in the patience and gratitude levels of the young folk. When I was a kid, I hugged everybody who gave me a gift and waited patiently for my next one. I’m not saying there aren’t some little cousins that do exactly that (see photo below), but there are definitely others who seem unsatisfied unless there’s a constant stream of toys coming there way. I’m going to blame this on instantly-gratifying, Internet-infused, multimedia technology. Attention spans have become an endangered species. Thankfully, as long as we have family–and some copy of It’s a Wonderful Life–Christmas spirit will not be.
The next morning we drove back to Livermore for more of my immediate family’s tradition: opening presents in pajamas. As the baby in the family, I love this tradition because I’m the young one all over again (as opposed to the older cousin who hands out presents and plays in the adults’ White Elephant). We drank hot chocolate and snacked on a plethora of random hors d’oeuvres my mom prepared. My Uncle Mike and Cousin Jordan even stopped by for a second on their way back from Lotus. Even though our rented digital copy of A Christmas Carol crapped out, I couldn’t ask for more.