1. Not the Martha Stewart way
My life is always about a day behind my plans. When I die, I’ll have a To Do list of 24 hours’ worth of outstanding tasks that someone else will have to tackle.
Even though I intended to have all my gifts wrapped by Friday night, on Saturday at midnight I was still sitting on the floor with brown paper — some unfurled from an Amazon box, some repurposed from shopping bags — and tape and a black Sharpie and gifts around me. I did follow through on my plan to wrap with used paper and yarn remnants. I hadn’t thought to buy gift tags, though, and so I had to improvise those at the last minute, using some snowman paper that Jimmy and Grace had on hand.
On Christmas morning, as the Gutermans unwrapped their gifts from me, I requested that they preserve the wrap instead of tearing it off. They did. Later, before heading to Sally’s house for Christmas dinner with the Kokernaks, I reused all that paper and yarn to wrap my nieces’ gifts.
No one seemed to mind.
2. Because I do not want anyone to experience food poisoning
On Saturday night, my brother Brian and my sister Sally and her family came over for a celebration of one-pot dishes: chili and baked ziti and sides. Why is it that, as people are eating, they want to discuss other meals, past and future? (The talk of food while eating usually makes me gag. I’d rather discuss surgery.)
When I mentioned that I was bringing my usual to Sal’s house for Christmas — a green bean niçoise salad and the pineapple salsa for ham — Brian asked me if I recalled that Mum had been sick the previous Christmas. “She thinks it may have been the pineapple salsa.”
He added, “I too felt sick, and I think it may have been the pineapple.”
“Are you and Mum allergic to cilantro? Some people are. Or at least it upsets them.”
“No,” Brian said and shook his head gravely.
Well, why cook something that people may be averse to, even if I think that — in this case — the self diagnosis might be a little, er, crazy? I made the green beans as planned, and I simply grilled the pineapple with honey, lime, and pepper.
As I set them on the counter to go out to the car, I noticed the themes of LINEAR and CITRUS in my offerings.
The food was eaten. No one got sick on Christmas this year.
3. The Kokernak News Channel
When we get together with Jimmy’s family, we discuss my inlaws’ extensive network of relatives and friends.
When we get together with the Kokernaks, we don’t discuss people we know or once knew, unless they had recently been maimed by fire, overtaken by an impulse to purchase a motorbike, mugged on vacation, or forced out of the family business. The topics we prefer usually have something to do with (a) bodily functions or (b) psychological dysfunctions. (Note: One of our wisdom touchstones, when I was growing up was — never mind Moses or Jesus — Sally Jessy Raphael.)
On Sunday afternoon, we talked for a while about our own individual hiking mishaps or accidents. This led to a series of anecdotes about unwanted ambulance rides. My favorite was told by my mother. Several years ago, she had been doing something around the house, fell, and pretty quickly realized she had broken her ankle. She couldn’t bear weight on it. My father came home from some errand, and they decided to go to the hospital. However, it was a long way from the house to the car for an injured person, and my parents were stumped as to how to get Mum to the car.
“We thought about the wheelbarrow,” said my mother.
If you were a Kokernak, you would understand what a perfectly rational solution this would have been. Break a leg? Someone, get the wheelbarrow! (For some reason, though, this time the wheelbarrow was ruled out.)
No neighbors were home to provide an extra shoulder. (Surely my father and another man could have helped my mother to the car.) So, my father called 911 and simply asked for that extra shoulder: could someone help him get my mother to the car, and then he would drive her to the hospital?
Of course, the ambulance showed up and followed through on bringing Mum to the hospital, as EMTs are wont to do. My parents still seem indignant about the unnecessary ambulance ride, all these years later.
We also discussed cosmetic procedures, the good ones and the ones gone wrong. I learned that in the last few intense weeks of the semester, when I shut off my attention to much of the stuff that goes on in the world outside of home and school, there was a big story about an unlicensed cosmetic surgery practitioner who was injecting customers in the face and bottom with some kind of chemical filler not meant for humans.
“Yeah, fill a flat,” said Michael.
“What?” I asked. This story confused me.
“Fill a Flat. It’s some adhesive that comes in a tube that, when you have your first car and it’s a junker and you have no money, you use it to fix flat tires. People are now using this for homemade plastic surgery,” Michael explained.
Then my father described the orthodox use for Fill a Flat and how, technically, it patches a tire.
Brian added, “A lot of transgendered people get work done this way. It’s cheaper.”
I had no idea that any of these practices existed: backroom cosmetic surgery or the easy patching of wounded tires.
No Kokernak faces, by the way, have been surgically altered, although we’ve all had our share of necessary dental work.
4. The fine line between leaving and quitting
My parents left Sally’s house first; they had the longest drive, 90 minutes back to their house on the Cape.
Kenlie replenished the fire, and the rest of us sunk deeper into the upholstery. There were two rooms and two groups: Grace, Sara, and Elena in the heated sunroom, and the grownups, along with Eli and Lydia, in the living room.
Now that my children are well into their teen years, Michael likes to recall adventures from his own youth. Sometimes he drags his siblings down with him. 😉 Last night, he and Sally shared stories from their early years of employment, emphasizing more the leaving of a job than the keeping of it. And they really meant leaving when it came to voluntarily ending their own employment. Apparently, the way to quit a job is to “just stop going.”
This was the point in the evening, by the way, when I took out my notebook and started openly spying on my own family.
In high school, Sally and a friend “ran away” from their job at Tempo Fashions in the middle of their shift, and went to Friendly’s to fill out job applications.
Michael said his classic story of leaving a job was when he had a position at a fitness club that he abhorred. One day, at lunch, he told everyone he was running out to CVS to buy a soda, and did anyone want one? He collected a dollar per person and, on a scrap of paper, wrote down the soda they wanted. He got in his car, headed to CVS, and as he sat in the CVS parking lot, Michael realized he could not stand to go back to the job. So he didn’t. He didn’t mean to keep everyone’s money, but he never went back, and that’s simply what happened.
Emily hated giving her notice — it made her sick to her stomach just thinking about it — because she always felt so necessary to her boss. And yet she always did give her notice formally. (I feel exactly the same way, too. Maybe this is why, when I have been laid off, when Emily has been laid off, it has been so painful. How can they not need us?)
When he was in his early 20s, Brian had a temp job, making cold calls. He hated it. He could barely make the calls, and would get sick to his stomach just anticipating dialing the number and speaking. One day, he went out to lunch with Michael and told his tale of woe.
Michael said to Brian, “Just don’t go back.”
Brian said, “This was the best advice Michael ever gave me.” He did not go back.
Interestingly, when Michael owned his own company and was a boss, he said he could sense when an employee was disgruntled and about to walk out. Michael said he always tried to act before they did and get to them before they could go.
However we feel about our personal obligation to employers, we certainly don’t let each other go. Over and over again, we return. When we were young, they called us “the Kokernak kids,” and we can still be that — for better or worse or even better — when we’re together.
There’s something about the sibling thing. If you have them, you know what I mean.