CANTON, Ohio — Coming home to Ohio for Christmas this year felt like an extended version of the movie “On Golden Pond,” with my stepfather Tom as the crotchety, yet lovable Henry Fonda figure, my mother as the eccentric, yet supportive Katharine Hepburn figure, and meâ€”the forever man-crazy Jane Fonda character who walks around barefoot and in boxer shorts and complains that it’s too cold in the house. OK, well Jane Fonda didn’t do that in the movie, but I do.
It had been almost six months since my parents moved me to Boston for graduate school so I was eager to go home a week for the holidays. Too bad Boston Logan International Airport has a reputation for delayed flights. My 7:30 p.m. scheduled flight on December 22 was delayed until 8:30. That didn’t seem so bad. 8:30 turned into 9:30 and then 10:30. I finally landed in the land of Canton, Ohio — famous for helping to re-elect George W. Bush in 2004, celebrating a museum of bronze football player heads that is the Football Hall of Fame, and drinking the beauty that is PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) beer at 1 a.m. I couldn’t have been happier.
Christmas Eve consisted of my mother and stepfather arguing over how to correctly insert a small circular battery into a plastic mini-candle.
"No, you have to put with the positive side up," my step-dad insists.
Tom, who looks like a hybrid of Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Farina from “Law and Order,” is usually right about these sorts of things. He’s a regular jack-of-all trade’s artist and fix-it man who was a one-time beer can collector and who used to teach Earth Science to high-schoolers until the narcolepsy kicked in.
"I’m telling you, you bent the plastic edge, now it won’t work," he explains to my mother.
"These cheap things are a piece of shit," my mother so elegantly puts it.
My mother Victoria looks to Tom to fix anything that appears out of the ordinary.
"I can’t get this stupid cork screw opener to work!" she says later in the evening.
"You’re going to break it!" she exclaims when Tom manhandles the opener.
"Pretend you’re a waiter at a restaurant. It’s the fancy kind that they use," she instructs him.
Finally, they get the bottle of White Zinfandel open. My mother pours herself a large glass and thrusts the bottle into the refrigerator. I come from a family of wine connoisseurs.
My mother, who’s dressed in a god-awful pink Christmas sweater with sparkly pine trees, insists that we listen to some joyful Christmas music.
"Put on B-A-R-B-R-A!"
When Mike Meyers created the character of Linda Richmond on Saturday Night Live in the early 90’s, I think he was talking about my mother. Granted my mother doesn’t have long finger nails and isn’t Jewish, but she’s still obsessed with Barbra Streisand.
"She can’t do wrong! Listen to that voice."
Don’t argue with her. To my mother, Streisand is ageless, timeless and flawless, which is why she was thrilled when we opened Christmas presents that I got her the Divine B’s new CD.
"I just knew you’d get this for me!" my mother shrieks.
My step-dad is more thrilled that he got a new book of Sudoku to listen to her. When he’s not immersed in his favorite game, Tom can be found in the back room of our basement aka "his studio." Right now, he’s trying his hand on stain-glass windows after taking a class at the local art gallery.
"Hey Nicholas, can you come here a minute?" he calls me later that night.
That can only mean one thing. He needs me to hold something in place. Ever since I was 10 and my mother remarried I’ve been holding up ladders, holding down weights for projects, and holding onto my sanity throughout the process. He’s got another hollow wood sculpture he’s working on in between all the stain glass Christmas window hangings.
"I can’t seem to get the damn glue to stick!" he cries like a defeated Ahab.
But he always defeats his Everests. Then he goes and takes a nap.
It’s always interesting after being home for a long time to notice the various changes around the house. My room is no longer my room. It’s the guest room. But there aren’t just changes. There are improvements. My mother fills me in.
"What do you think of Tom’s new carport he built next to the garage?"
"Did you see our new window shutters for our bedroom?"
"Doesn’t this carpet look like one of Tom’s stained glass windows?"
"Did you notice that I got rid of those awful duck handles that were on all the kitchen cabinet doors?"
"Can you believe that the kid from Best Buy didn’t sell us a memory card for our new digital camera!"
No, Mom. I honestly can’t.
In the summer I’d come home to spend the day at my parent’s on our pontoon boat on the lake. But Meyers Lake aka Golden Pond is frozen over. Even though it’s winter it doesn’t keep my parents from feeding the wildlife.
Despite the fact that we’ve had a case of freezing rain mixed with snow, they both feel it’s their solemn duty to feed the birds, squirrels, and the neighbor’s fat grey outdoor cat.
It’s when the seagulls start circling the house that I start to get worried.
"Do you have to do that?" I ask my mother as she throws a packet of stale bread for Hitchcock’s heathens.
"They like it!" she laughs.
Sure they like it, Tippi Heddren. They also would like to peck out your eyes, I think to myself.
But Christmas Eve didn’t end on a bad note. We all ended up watching “A Christmas Story” on TBS’s marathon run they have every year.
"Look, what I got myself," my mother shows me holding up a large Este Lauder makeup bag.
"I got it for myself for Christmas! Tom doesn’t know," she giggles, "do you think your cousin Emily will like this ugly red bag? I just wanted the lipstick."
"I have no idea," I say as I pet our tabby cat Jewels, who’s sitting on my lap.
"Well, I guess I could keep it. Do you think Macy’s would take it back and give me another case of eye shadow instead? I mean, it’s a perfectly good bag."
"Mom, this isn’t Mexico. You can’t just barter your way up and down the perfume counter," I inform her.
"True. I think I will give it to your cousin Emily."
The next morning I wake up to the sound of snow and rain bleating against my windowpane. Looking out onto Meyers Lake, I realize that even if it’s for a short time, I’m glad to be home.
"What are you doing?" my mother asks me as she comes into my room on Christmas night.
"Writing a story about you and Tom,"
"Oh God!" my mother says rolling her eyes.
God, it’s good to be home.