Slightly Off Center

Slightly Off Center: Splendid Blended

By Dennis Hinkamp

Innocent holiday newsletters riddled with bombshells.
by Dennis Hinkamp
It usually takes me to the end of February to get over the trauma of Christmas. The commercialism is sad but predictable, but the part of the season that isn't predictable is the family newsletters. I ponder them like letter bombs. It is only after the grace of time and with great caution that I delicately open them with robot arms from the far side of a lead shield. I then take a deep drink of something nullifying and read through them.

People divorce, remarry, divorce, re-remarry, adopt and fight over kids and money. That's what we do and that's part of what we write about in Christmas letters.

Maybe you know someone out there who through chastity and perseverance has managed to live their entire life in an unblended family. I don't know anybody who fits that description, and it certainly does not describe me. One side of my family is exceedingly blended. You might even describe them as pureed. If I were to attempt to trace the family tree, it would make the most mild-mannered ladies at the LDS genealogy library run screaming down the street in search of the nearest Unitarian church.

I know I often use dramatic license here, but I'm not making this part up.

This year I found out that my half sister adopted my stepsister's grandchild. I know there were drugs, divorces and lawyers involved, but the sheer complexity of this alignment made me forget all that. All I could do is try to diagram and reconcile it in my head. This young woman to whom I am now tangentially related is going to suffer through some long introductions trying to explain this one. Her biological mother became her cousin, her uncle became her cousin, her great-grandma became her grandma, and her grandma became her aunt. I think that officially makes me a half-uncle.

I'm sure Hallmark does not make a card for this relationship. But perhaps it should because it just shows what fabulously quilted and blended the lives most of us live.

Once I get past the chessboard of new family alignments, the next sections of the letters usually deal with tragedy. Everybody jokes about being hit by a truck, but apparently my friend Randy actually was hit by a truck and survived. Another distant family member reported that a tree fell on her husband. He survived, but since he is not a lumberjack, this is going to haunt him forever.

I guess this is what we have come to. We relate these things to each other because that's what we are used to hearing on the news every day: car bombs, political unrest and disgruntled young people on rampages in malls. The announcer then says "tune in tomorrow for more" and, for reasons that expose our dark souls, we do. And, we keep writing and reading these Christmas newsletters as though they keep us in touch with the tragedy of life.

Actually the only bizarrely cheery newsletter I read this year was somebody else's. It related how proud their relative was to finally bag a giraffe for the trophy wall. I tried to imagine how easy it must be to stalk a giraffe, and how much of the neck would one mount on the wall, and how big of a room must one have to mount such a trophy. It suddenly seemed normal and lightened my mood as I imagined the puzzled look on the face of a stuffed giraffe mounted 20 feet up a wall.

Dennis Hinkamp invites you to send him your worst Christmas newsletter stories, but please wait a couple of months.

This article was originally published on February 28, 2007.