My family collects college degrees. We have some BAs, a lot of BS, an MD, a JD, an MBA, a MSW, an MFA, and a Masters of Education. Big Brother added second MBA when he married. Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister married a second lawyer. I brought the most, though, when I added Andy — a Masters of Engineering AND a Masters in Cyber Security (so, HA, you Russian hackers, give up attacking my website already).
I think the only degree we missed was a PhD. Bummer.
We rock at the book learning, yes, but we suck at practical application. We’re bad cooks. We don’t know how to caulk. We didn’t realize holes for heavy pictures should be drilled over studs. We didn’t even know how to find studs (wall studs, that is).
Dr. Sis has saved thousands of human lives while killing every plant she’s ever owned.
Lawyer Sis can run a gubernatorial campaign but not a Kitchen Aid.
Don’t get me started on crafty endeavors, either. We’ve no idea how to knit, scrapbook, or sew.
Which meant that our Christmas Craft was doomed.
We planned a six-sibling Christmas at Dr. Sis and Georgia Boy’s house. My job was to bring a ton of See’s Candy stocking stuffers from California to Virginia and do a lot of dishes. Georgia Boy’s job was to serve Beef Wellington before 9 PM (he failed). Andy’s job was to sous chef with Big Brother’s Wife. Gorgeous Singing Sister and Baby Brother were to keep the various nieces and nephews entertained with Nerf gun wars.
We were all responsible for making sure Baby Brother’s new girlfriend didn’t dump him. We hadn’t spent Christmas with Baby Brother in years, thanks to his Sucky Previous Girlfriend. Sucky Previous Girlfriend had refused to meet any of Baby Brother’s family. Ever. She insisted that he leave NYC and buy her a lake house in rural Georgia. His only socialization was with her friends, her family, and her dog.
Thankfully, Baby Brother figured out Georgia wasn’t for him and went back to NYC. I think he missed the dog.
He soon met Excellent New Girlfriend. She insisted on meeting his family. Per Andy’s advice, we met her one sibling at a time. It worked. We hadn’t yet scared her off. Christmas would be her first experience with the entire sibling horde. We had to be on our best behavior.
We blew it. We fell into the classic WASP trap; assuming all other Americans were just like our white-assed, non-practicing but nominally Protestant selves. I, of all people, should have known better. When I met Chinese-American Andy, he didn’t care about a single holiday. He didn’t have so much as a Christmas stocking until my family gave him one.
As I unpacked our stockings, Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister appeared in my doorway.
“Autumn. We have a problem with Excellent New Girlfriend.”
“What? Does she hate your kids? Maybe you should tell them to stop shooting her in the face.”
“No, she’s fine, she’s got great reflexes and ducks fast,” Dr. Sis said. “The problem is that Excellent New Girlfriend is Jewish.”
“How is that a problem? It’s great. Our family could use a little more diversity.” I raised an eyebrow at her. “I think you’ve been living in the south a little too long.”
“While I was kind of hoping for black or Muslim,” Dr. Sis frostily informed me, “Jewish is fine, you idiot. It’s just that Excellent New Girlfriend doesn’t have a Christmas stocking!”
We all have homemade, felt stockings. Some are more elaborate than others, but they are (mostly) sewn with love by various aging relatives. Our favorite part of Christmas is stuffing them with everything from Chapstick (from the rich, cheap siblings) to See’s Candies and Moana Loa Macadamia Nuts (from the poorer, more generous siblings like me).
If Excellent New Girlfriend didn’t have a stocking just like ours, there was the possibility that she might feel left out.
“Why didn’t Baby Brother tell us?”
Dr. Sis laughed. “He forgot to bring his own stocking.”
“So we need to make two stockings?”
“Yep. Good luck.”
“What? Where are you going?”
“I’m on call. I’ll be back later.”
So it was up to the rest of us to figure it out. Georgia Boy located some felt and told us where the sewing machine was before going off on a bike ride. Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister, Big Brother’s Wife, Gorgeous Singing Sister, Andy, and I spent the next few hours cutting felt while dodging Nerf bullets. We created candy canes, gingerbread men, snowmen, and Christmas trees, as well four identical red felt stocking outlines.
Dr. Sis’s new dog ran off with the gingerbread man. I retrieved him, albeit mangled. Andy used the last piece of felt to make a pair of jaws. He artistically positioned the battered ginger man over them.
“That’s going on the back,” I told him.
“It’s the best part!”
“Back,” I insisted. I looked at Big Brother’s wife. “I think they’re ready to be sewn.”
“Yes,” she agreed. I looked at her until she said, “Oh, no, I don’t know how to use a sewing machine.”
“What? But I can’t, and I know Lawyer Sis can’t, neither can Singing Sis and there’s no way Big Brother can.”
Georgia Boy returned. I thought he’d save us. Then he admitted that he couldn’t sew, either.
“Then why on earth do you have a SEWING MACHINE?!” I yelled. “I know Dr. Sis doesn’t sew anything that’s not a suture!”
He shrugged. “Might learn someday.”
Andy sighed. “Really? None of you took Home Ec in high school?!”
We looked at the floor.
He said, “It’s required in Hawaii. Hand me those stockings.”
Andy went to the machine and got to work. There was no small amount of swearing, but he stitched those stockings together.
Baby Brother loved his. Excellent New Girlfriend adored hers…or adored Baby Brother enough to pretend. Even though Andy put his macabre gingerbread man scenario front and center.
Dr. Sis returned from work and bestowed her usual effusive approval. “Thanks for not screwing up all my hard work.”
“YOUR hard work? MY husband did all the hard work. YOUR husband thinks a sewing machine is a giant paperweight.”
“I’m not talking about the stockings. I’m talking about Baby Brother & Excellent New Girlfriend. I’m the one who fixed them up, you know.”
Dr. Sis leaned in and gleefully whispered,
“She’s working on her PhD!”