Hide-a-beds, septic tanks and other holiday traditions

With a quiet snort, you wake up from a nightmare in which you were tied to a railway track and a locomotive was racing towards you. They grope in the darkness and are relieved to find themselves in a bed, without the danger of being blown to pieces by an oncoming freight train.

Relieved but half-conscious, you exhale with a quiet grumble, smack your lips, and turn on your side to snuggle back against your pillow.

“Ouch!” What is that dull ache in the middle of your back? It dawns on you: “I’m not in my own bed.” You open your eyelids and take in your surroundings in the dim early morning light so your internal GPS can determine your location.

Wood paneling. Patterned carpet in burnt sienna. Wagon wheel light. Console TV. Framed portrait of you in fourth grade with a huge gap between your two front teeth. And a painfully uncomfortable metal bar pressing against the middle of your back.

Detour …

“Oh yeah,” you finally remember, “it’s the holidays. I’m at my mother’s house. In the basement that my parents converted into a family room in 1977. On the old sofa bed.”

Although you’d rather lie there uncomfortably and reminisce about growing up on that little brick farm, nature is calling. You slowly roll your aching upper body to the edge of the paper-thin mattress, triggering a cacophony of squeaking springs. You stand in silence next to the brown, orange, and gold plaid couch and wait until you’re sure your spouse is still asleep before tiptoeing up the carpeted basement stairs to the bathroom.

Since moving out of your parents’ house, you have enjoyed basic human rights such as public drinking and sewage systems. They have become accustomed to the copious flow of clear drinking water from faucets, shower heads and toilet cisterns.

But in the tiny bathroom shared by everyone in your mother’s crowded house, there are plumbing problems you’ve long forgotten. When you open the door and turn on the loud fan light, you spot the coral orange countertops and mint green china that were originally from your 1950s childhood home. You enter and notice the familiar smell of rotten eggs.

You’re about to blame Uncle Eddie for overdoing the sausage dip the night before, but then you remember. The sulfurous well water is the source of the annoying smell to which you were immune as a child in this house.

Next to the crocheted tissue box lid hangs a note from your mother reminding the family of the limitations of the old well and septic tank: “If it’s brown, flush it away, but if it’s yellow, let it soften.” You’re sitting on the mint green dresser, leafing through an old National Geographic, wondering how on earth you grew up like that.

After waiting a minute for the water supply to recover from your rinse, step into the shower. Your spoiled hair follicles have to survive the 79-cent bottle of VO5 strawberries and cream shampoo your mom bought at the dollar store. In the middle of the foam, one of the children knocks and begs: “I have to go!”

She ignores Grammy’s handwritten sign and blushes. They yelp as scalding water pours out of the shower head. There’s another knock on the bathroom door as other family members come in to brush their teeth and use the toilet, braving the fluctuations in water temperature behind the frosted glass shower doors.

Finally, you emerge from the only bathroom, dressed and ready for another day of visiting family over the holidays. You may get dirty looks from your relatives who have to wait an hour for the hot water supply to be restored before they can take a shower. You may have frizzy hair from your mother’s cheap shampoo. And you might get a back spasm sleeping in that damn hideaway bed.

But you won’t mind because you know it’s a blessing to have family visiting for the holidays. These quirky people brought you into this world and are the reason you are never truly alone. No matter how annoying family visits on vacation may be, when you think about the alternative, you know that everything is relative.

Read more at theatandpotatoesoflife.com and in Lisa’s book, The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com. Email: [email protected]

You might also like

Comments are closed.