A Norvell Family Christmas Vacation – or the holidays from h…


Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation:

“Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas.

No, no. We’re all in this together.”

In 1989 my mother came to visit with us for 6 weeks (that’s 42 days — 1008 hours but who’s counting).  She arrived at Thanksgiving and stayed until after the new year. Had we known how Christmas would play out, perhaps we would have sent her home much earlier. (Actually even without Christmas we probably should have sent her home earlier, as anyone who has or had a parent living with them for a long period can attest that it is no high old time.)  

But back to Christmas.   It started well enough. We decorated the house and settled in for what I thought was to be a typical Norvell family Christmas

Holiday Greetings.

As December began, a note from the school arrived and we learned that our daughter and several classmates had head lice.  Now if you have experienced head lice, you know that everyone, including grandma, had to have their hair shampooed, bedding changed, toys bagged, and everything carefully watched.  Just when we thought it was all done, she picked them up again from another student and we repeated the process.  You have not had real holiday fun until you have had to wash your mother’s head for lice, ah yes, – actually I let my wife do it twice – what a treat.

Fa la la la la — and here’s a bill.

The merriment continued into mid December, when our newer car died.  The engine had seized and the dealer presented me with a present – a bill of about $3,500 to fix it.  So it was pay the bill or have 3,000 lb paper weight in the driveway.   While it was in the shop, our other car had a flat tire in front of the house on an ice-covered street.  Just one fun winter time car thing after another.

A holiday surprise.

Nothing says Christmas like the Heimlich Maneuver.  On the weekend before Christmas, while dining out, my oldest daughter choked on a piece of meat.  Nothing says adrenaline rush like administering the maneuver to a loved one in a crowded restaurant. Nothing says “Ho Ho Ho” like old dad having a panic attack over the dinner table. The maneuver worked– and all was fine, (thank you US Air Force for the training).  Still it could have been much worse, and for that I was truly grateful – that said a whole crop of new gray hairs popped up on my head that night.

Relatives arrive.

Since it was the Christmas, my sister and her husband decided to visit us to see the sights in Washington DC.  Living there, relatives and friends often felt that we ran a B&B and dropped in.  (We once had “friends” who literally stayed a week and only spent about 8 hours with us, but that is another story.)   Now my brother-in-law was a bit unusual.  I guess since it was Washington DC, he felt he needed to be prepared for anything.  He had a bowie-knife in his boot and a switch-like rod whip to defend himself in his coat. I didn’t know this until we went down to visit the U.S. Capitol and he had to hide them in the bushes so he could get through the metal detectors. Does the term felony ring a Christmas Bell?

We did make it through Christmas, with no family in jail, mother relatively calm – perhaps it was the double martini I made her– both cars working, and no one choking.

Then it was on to New Years.  Well I can hear you saying, you made it – WRONG.

New Years Eve.

We had invited several friends for festive dinner on New Years Eve.  Preparations were underway for a pleasant evening and of course it was then that the power went off all over northern Virginia.  So that is how we ended this pleasant (?) family holiday – sitting in the damp and the dark, with my mother giving us her theories on why the power was out and when it would come on — over and over and over again.

1990 only had to get better… after all we had survived Christmas….

About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in American History, American holidays, Christmas, Family History, Virginia History, Washington DC and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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