Tuesday, November 28
Like many people, my family has several post-Thanksgiving traditions. But this year, it feels like a lot of our traditions are changing.
My father usually spends the day after Thanksgiving putting the Christmas lights on the house. But this year, he decided to let my mother put candles in the window. He also bought one of those gaudy spotlights that shine a green and red confetti on the house. I call it “lazy lights”, but he won’t take them down.
We usually go to the tree farm the Saturday after Thanksgiving to cut down a tree. After letting it fluff out Saturday night, we spend Sunday hanging homemade ornaments on its delicate branches. This year, however, my parents decided to purchase an artificial tree and decorate it with large red and gold balls.
One of my favorite traditions used to be buying my Christmas dress. But, the past few years, I have found it increasingly more difficult to find a nice dress. I miss the cute little girl dresses from my childhood. Te ones in the adult section just aren’t as festive.
Every year, after picking out our holiday clothes, my mother tries to get everyone to sit for a family photo, which we use for our annual Christmas card. My brother hates this tradition, so most of our cards involve him scowling while the rest of us smile.
Are my parents going to obliterate tis tradition as well?
When I entered the kitchen Tuesday morning, I noticed a card hanging above the doorway between the kitchen and family room. For as far back as I could remember, my mother had traditionally hung holiday and birthday cards around the kitchen doorframe, even in our old house.
I loved looking at the cards, especially the ones with photos. This first one of the season was a from my father’s best friend from high school. Even though we technically weren’t related, I had always called him Uncle Fuzzy. I hadn’t seen him since I was five, when he moved to North Dakota to be near his wife’s family, although my father still talked to him on the phone all the time.
The photo showed a burly lumberjack in a red flannel shirt and denim overalls with a bushy brown beard. His slender wife with her gentle blonde curls stood beside him. Their daughter, with her father’s eyes and her mother’s curls, stood between them as they smiled for the photo in front of the Grand Canyon, where they had recently vacationed.
I turned to my mother, as she entered the kitchen. “Hey, Mom? Are we doing a family photo this year for our Christmas card?”
“I was thinking about that this morning. I wanted to go to the mall to pick out your Christmas outfits. We can go without your brother, since he just needs new pants and a shirt. But I wanted to get your dress and mine. Then, maybe one night this week, we can get a nice photo and I can get cards by the end of the week.”
“Sounds good to me. What did Joey say?” My brother complained about the annual photo each year.
“I’m not going to tell him until we sit for the picture.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“If you give me a list of your friends, I’ll try to have the cards in time for you to send them at school. If not, I can send them for you.”
“That’ll be great!”
I spent my morning sorting the clothes in my closet, trying to decide which winter clothes to bring to school for the upcoming term. Some of my sweaters had become pilly. One of them had shrunk in the wash. Another had somehow become misshapen so that one arm was longer than the other.
I made a donation pile and added some jeans and shirts that were either too worn out or no longer something I wanted to wear. I had grown so accustomed to my school’s dress code, that my taste in clothes had actually changed.
By the time I finished sorting my clothes, putting the donation pile in a large trash bag, my mother was ready to go to shopping. The closest mall was about thirty minutes away, so she left a note on the kitchen table for Joey in case he got home before us.
I had forgotten how small the local mall was compared to the one nearest my school. My mother parked near one of the two anchor stores and led me straight to the ladies’ department to find Christmas dresses.
I wandered the racks for a while, politely declining every ugly dress my mother held up, occasionally suggesting she might like it for herself. We repeated this routine in four more stores before I finally found a dress I liked. I also saw one I wanted to buy for the Snowflake Ball at school. But I wasn’t going to purchase a dress that important without my roommate’s input. I snapped a picture of it for the next time we went shopping together.
I helped my mother pick out her dress, then we returned to the first department store. Before leaving, my mother bought new pants, shirts, and ties for Joey and my father.
Somehow, my mother managed to wait until we were driving home before interrogating me about spending the day with Pat.
“So, did you have fun at Walter’s house yesterday?”
“Yeah. I had a nice day.”
“What did you do?”
“Well, there’s this crazy word game they play as a family, and Walter taught it to me a long time ago. Like, Long Weekend, I think. Yeah, the day I got back. It really helped increase my vocabulary. But he left it at school over break, so he created a version that uses paper instead of letter tiles.”
My mother nodded, but said nothing, so I kept going. “So, we played that, then we had lunch. Then, we played some video games and that’s when Meghan got bored and left. And Pat gave me a tour of the house, which is just crazy big. It’s insane, but they act like it’s no big deal. We wanted to go swimming, but the filter was broken, and Mrs. Evans didn’t want anyone swimming until its fixed.”
“How would you go swimming? You didn’t bring a suit.”
“They have extra swimsuits they keep for guests.”
“So, what did you do when you couldn’t swim?”
“Pat and I watched a movie with his mom. Walter joined us about halfway through, when he was done killing some video game elf.”
My mother shook her head. “What movie?”
“I forgot what it was called. It was really old. There was a lot of singing and dancing. Everyone wanted snow for Christmas. Mrs. Evans said it’s her favorite Christmas movie and she has to watch it every year.”
“And Pat drove you home?”
I shook my head. “He’s not allowed to drive anyone except immediate family until March. Meghan drove me home, but Pat came with us and I’m pretty sure he drove back.”
“It sounds like you had a nice day.”
“I did. I was thinking. I’d like to invite Walter over this week, but I don’t know what we would do here. I don’t wanna just watch tv or play video games. I was thinking maybe we could go tubing or something.”
“That sounds nice. Would it be just the two of you? Or all three of you?”
“Oh. I was thinking just me and Walter.”
“Any particular reason?”
“I feel like I owe him some time. It’s hard to explain.”
“I thought it might have something to do with the magazine I saw in the grocery story yesterday.”
“One of those magazines at the checkout aisle. It had a picture of Patrick with that girl from Romeo and Juliet.”
“Poppy Sommers.” I didn’t quite manage to mask my anger and bitterness.
My mother nodded, and I saw her send me a brief glance before returning her eyes to the road.
I shook my head. “We talked about it. Not just me and Pat, either. Meghan and Walter had something to say about it, too. It’s not true. They were together for a little while over the summer, but it’s been over for a long time.”
“I don’t want you getting hurt.”
“It’s okay. It’s not that big a deal. Really.”
My mother didn’t look very convinced, but she said nothing as she continued driving.
That night, I mentioned my tubing idea while I was videochatting with Walter, but he couldn’t go.
“I have to work the rest of the week.”
“Work? On what?”
“Sammy McSmartyPants. Apparently, CIAmy’s been a great success, because we’ve been picked up for another season. I need to do the tracks for the next few episodes. I went in today, but it’s gonna take me most of this week, so I can’t go tubing with you. Why don’t you take Pat? He can drop me at the train station, then go to your house.”
“He can’t drive me.”
“No, but wasn’t your mother planning on driving you and me to the mountain anyway? Why can’t she take you and Pat instead?”
He made a good point. I nodded. “I’ll ask my mom. Don’t say anything to Pat.”
A little while later, I found my mother in the family room watching a fashion reality show. I waited for a commercial before interrupting.
“What’s up, sweetie?”
“I was just talking to Walter and he’s got other plans all week and can’t go tubing. He suggested I invite Pat instead. You can say no. But, since I don’t have any other plans—”
“When were you thinking of going?”
“What day works for you?”
My mother consulted her phone. “Thursday is a good day for me. I don’t think I have any other plans.”
“And Pat can come? He can drive here, so you would just have to drive to the mountain.”
“That would be helpful.”
“Thank you! Thank you!” I raced to my room to invite Pat, who agreed to the idea almost immediately.
Wednesday afternoon, more Christmas cards appeared in the doorway and I read through them as I ate a turkey sandwich for lunch. I smiled at the photo card of my cousin Marco. There were cards from the families of my best friends from middle school, neither of whom I talked to anymore. Some of my father’s clients had also sent cards. I noticed a beautiful nativity scene hanging near my right eye and was surprised to see that it was signed The Evans Family.
That night, my mother made Joey try on his Christmas outfit to make sure it fit. Since he was already dressed, she used the opportunity to gather us all in the living room for our photo session. It took nearly half an hour, but we were finally able to get a photo where everyone was looking at the camera and smiling. My mother promised to upload it immediately so the cards would be ready before I had to go back to school.
Somehow, that one tradition made me feel like it was almost Christmas.
Mom gave me a few options about how I could spend my Tuesday. Dad was going back to Uncle Vinny’s to work with the band, but I was not invited. Everyone else was going into the city. Walter was spending several hours at the recording studio. Mom was going to drop him off then take Meghan to her doctor’s appointment. I could stay home or go to the city. I wanted to do something with Melinda, but I knew she was spending the day with her mother.
The train ride was boring. It was peak commuting time, meaning it was too crowded to find a seat. Eventually, Mom and Meghan found two seats together in one car and Mom let me and Walter find seats in another car, as long as we promised to stick together. And not lose our tickets. And not talk to strangers. She probably would have kept going, but we had already pulled into the next station and the tide of people pushed us away from her.
I shook my head as Walter and I moved toward the front car. “She acts like we’ve never been on the train before.”
Walter grunted in reply. He was busy reading his tablet, probably reviewing his lines some more.
Eventually, Walter and I found seats across the aisle from each other. I chose to sit beside the middle-aged businessman reading an actual paper newspaper. Walter got to sit next to his female counterpart. Mom, Meghan and I had bundled ourselves in hats, scarves, and sunglasses so as not to be recognized, not that anyone on the train looked at us. By the time we pulled into the Park Avenue Tunnel, I had to lose my disguise. I was sweating. Fortunately, no one recognized me for the remainder of the trip.
We met up with Mom and Meghan on the platform and took the subway to Times Square. Mom let Meghan drop off her bags at her apartment and made arrangements to meet up in an hour.
I turned to Mom as we headed toward the studio. “Do I have to go up?”
“Don’t whine. Yes, you do. I don’t want you wandering around the city by yourself.”
“It’s not like it’s my first time here. I’m not going to get lost.”
“You’re staying with me, and there’s no discussion.”
Walter sent me an apologetic look as we walked a few paces behind Mom. I followed them upstairs, although Mom did allow me to wait in the foyer instead of following Walter inside.
Walter had been doing this forever, so he was completely at home in the recording studio. It didn’t take Mom long to return. We walked toward Meghan’s building, stopping at a café on her block. Mom looked at me funny when I ordered a medium half-caf, but she didn’t say I couldn’t have it. I have only had coffee a few times before, usually at parties. But it was really cold and hot chocolate just sounded too unsophisticated for New York City.
Meghan joined us at the coffee shop, ordering some sort of fancy latte thing before we hopped onto the nearest subway. About half an hour later, we were walking into the doctor’s office. Again, Mom wouldn’t let me wander around on my own. I was starting to think I should have stayed home.
I sat in the lobby, using the time to research Hollywood agents. There was an agent I had never heard of who showed a lot of promise. I kept coming back to him.
After the doctor, we went back to Times Square to grab lunch at one of the restaurants near Walter’s studio. We emerged from the subway and had walked half a block when I heard someone calling me.
“Patrick!” Something pink and fluffy came flying at me. At first, I thought it was a crazy fan, but the voice was familiar.
I put out my hands to stop her, but Poppy came flying into them. She managed to get in a kiss before I pushed her away.
“Get away from me!”
Poppy pouted. “Is that any way to talk to your girlfriend?”
“You’re not my girlfriend!”
“Of course I am, silly.”
“No. You’re not!” This was getting ridiculous. Mom must have thought so, too.
I looked behind Poppy to see her smiling mother. Mom marched passed me to get into Ms. Sommers’s face. Mom was a lot shorter than her, especially since Mom was in sneakers and Ms. Sommers was in tall boots, but that didn’t stop Mom.
“You need to control your daughter!”
“She wanted to say hi.”
“She is spreading ridiculous rumors about my son! I will not stand for it!”
“Oh, come on Kara. They’re just being kids. You remember what it was like to be their age.”
“I NEVER spread lies about my costars! I NEVER made up relationships!”
“What are you talking about?”
“THEY’RE NOT DATING!”
“Well, of course not. But, what’s the harm in saying they are? It keeps them in the public eye. Casting directors will think about them for their next movies.”
My mother had some choice words to say about the ridiculousness of Ms. Sommers’s logic. If the situation weren’t so serious, it would have been very funny to hear my mother swearing worse than a trucker.
When Mom started turning as red as her hair, Meghan and I decided it was time to intervene. We each took an arm and led her away toward the restaurant. None of us said anything until after we ordered. I was pretty sure Mom was trying to calm down. I certainly was. I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on in Meghan’s head. When I judged the scene safe, I decided to address the elephant in the café.
“Mom, we need to fix this. I’m worried about what she’s going to do next.”
Mom sighed. “I know. I’m going to talk to Uncle Brendan. Maybe we can sue for defamation.”
“You don’t think she’s gonna find me at school, do you?”
“I doubt it.” Mom did not sound wholly convinced. “I tried to contact Cynthia about it, but she hasn’t gotten back to me.”
Meghan tried. “Mom, Cynthia’s not really looking out for our best interests anymore.”
I shook my head. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s helping along this Poppy rumor.”
My mother looked between me and my sister. “You both feel strongly about this? Finding a new agent?”
We both nodded before I replied. “Walter does, too. I mean, Sammy McSmartypants is perfect for him and Cynthia tried to talk him out of it.”
Mom nodded. “Have you thought about what you want to do?”
Meghan shrugged a shoulder. “I’d like to give Rita a shot.”
I took a sip of my soda. “I was doing some research while you guys were with the doctor. Have you ever heard of a David Mossburg?”
“The name sounds familiar, but I can’t picture him. Who is he?”
I showed Mom the website I had found and she read it slowly, her smile growing the further she read. Eventually, she returned my phone.
“Would you like me to contact him, or would you like to do it yourself?”
Mom nodded. “I remember him. He was one of those child actors that couldn’t transition. I think you can trust him to help you make good decisions.”
Melinda is always trying to build her vocabulary. What were some words in this episode that were new to you? She will add them to her vocabulary journal.