It was going to be a bummer of a Christmas anyway with Dean, our fun son, gone (luckily, we only have one son, so I don't have to worry about hurting the feelings of our boring son by saying that) so we agreed to host our crazy Aunt, let's call her Olive (since her body type is 100% Olive Oyl), for Christmas dinner.
A quick catch-up-to-speed on Aunt Olive: she has worn out stoves, not by cooking too much, but by cleaning them too much. When she has a bowl of cereal in the morning, she cleans her toaster. And her coffee maker. And her stove. And all the counters. And the top of her refrigerator. We have seen her vacuum the mattress after someone has stayed the night. Also, she thinks the squirrels will starve if she doesn't feed them. Shelled nuts. A variety pack of walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans and peanuts. Sorted by variety. In bowls she cleans every night. She believes everything she hears on right-wing talk radio shows. She believes that the government wastes too much of her tax money, although she is not required to pay any taxes any more.
So instead of Christmas dinner being a warm time to gather around the table and share a good-n-plenty meal, it becomes a bit of an ordeal: to change the subject when it wanders into territory that could incite a high-pitched rant sure to embarrass or insult someone or someone's race or nationality, to ignore odd random cranky asides, and to repeat things that she didn't catch the first time with her failing hearing. It's kind of like having Christmas with Scrooge, before he got scared straight.
When we were younger and more fragile, and Aunt Olive was younger, and although eccentric, still basically competent and in control of all her faculties, the barbed comments and mean attitude were much more hurtful and the concern about who she might offend next more nerve-racking. Now that she's old and doddering, it's certainly not charming, but it's definitely more harmless. Unfortunately, my mother carries the memory of those family dinners past more close to her nerves, and the anticipation of her visit is actually more worrisome for her than the actual experience warrants. Now although she is still the same mean whiny lady, it is muffled quite a bit by her unsteady gait, her failing hearing, her moments of confusion, and her frequent episodes of forgetting everyday words, like "napkin," or "duck."
I think the days of dreading Aunt Olive's visits can be, if not over, at least downgraded to yellow alert. Today's Christmas dinner was, if not one for the personal memory book, at least a mostly pleasant afternoon with Mom and Dad and Aunt Olive, who, while still whining heartily, also thankfully downed more turkey, dressing, and jello salad than anyone.