“They” were my cousins – and the only part of Christmas I didn’t enjoy. Being the youngest – and the only girl among six boys – wasn’t much fun. Especially for a shy, quiet five-year-old girl like me. Sure, I was used to my older brothers’ antics, but my cousins were a whole ‘nother level of overwhelming. How I dreaded seeing those rowdy, rambunctious boys.
“Okay, line up! Little ones in front!” Grandma squinted into the camera. Then she huffed and motioned to the front row. “Matt, scoot closer to Sheri.” Matt was a few months older than me and not much taller. I noted the space between us.
“Scooch closer!” Grandma repeated. I took a side-step toward Matt. He took a giant step away. Heat crept up my cheeks. What was his problem? Did he think I had cooties? He glanced my way, then crossed his arms and crinkled his lip.
After the dinner dishes were washed and put away, everyone gathered in the living room for presents. My grandparents always gave each of us a gift. The cousins also drew names for a gift exchange.
I sat down by the tree. Across the room, one of my cousins took a running start and, as if sliding into home plate, plopped down beside me. Another boy promptly tackled and wrestled him to the floor. I moved closer to Mom.
I picked up one of my presents and carefully turned it over. What could it be? It was too small for a doll. Maybe it was a bracelet. Or a new outfit for my Barbie. I ripped off the paper and felt my jaw drop. I stared down at a small metal car.
Why would someone give me a car? I looked up at Mom. She raised an eyebrow and gave me the look – the look that reminded me to be polite – even if someone gave me a gift I didn’t like.
My aunt crouched down beside me. “I’m sorry, Sheri. I couldn’t remember whose name we had drawn. I figured, chances were good that we’d picked one of the boys.”
Suddenly, my aunt’s eyes widened with startling enthusiasm. She took the car and pretended to drive it through the shaggy green carpet. “Varoom! What do you think? Maybe you have a doll that would like a new car?”
I offered a weak smile. I knew it would never work. That car was way too small for any of my dolls. Even Barbie would be embarrassed to drive a cracker-box like that.
Now after Christmas dinner, eight boys crowded around Grandma’s dining room table. They worked hard, building roads with strips of flexible, orange tracks. When construction was finally complete, a race track spanned the entire length of Grandma’s table. Then the chaos began. The boys jumped up and down. They shouted. They made silly noises like they were revving up their engines. The more the cars flipped and crashed, the louder they became. I gathered my dolls and disappeared into another room.
By the following Christmas, I’d heard that an uncle had remarried. My mind raced on the way to Grandma’s house. How many boys would be there this year? I looked down at my new baby doll in my arms. Thank goodness I brought her along. At least I’d have someone to talk to.
Like always, Grandma met us at the door. I took one step inside and the shouts and commotion of noisy boys already echoed through the house. They were probably in the living room. I followed Mom to the kitchen. A lady I didn’t recognize stirred something at the stove. She greeted my mom, then looked down at me. She must be my new aunt, I thought, tightening my grip on Mom’s pantleg.
Suddenly, the lady stepped to the side – and that’s when I saw her. A little blonde girl about my age, peeking out from behind her mom’s leg. My new cousin. She held a doll in her arms. I couldn’t help but smile.
Finally, after all these years, Christmas at Grandma’s was changing for the better.
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