Caleb and I have always enjoyed seeing family over the holidays as it’s the most guaranteed time off in the military. We would buy the turkey or Tofurky and then the fake tree with lights and gifts to go under it. Then we found traveling to be way more awesome than a white picket fence tradition and used the road time on the way to Montana to see history, nature, and horses (that we could feed carrots to). This year would be different.
With a boot still on my left leg, I’d be unable to go hiking or diving, so I was bummed that we’d have a week off for Thanksgiving and nothing to do — except that Caleb had talked about hunting, shooting, killing, skinning, gutting, cooking, and eating a deer for months and that’s all he wanted to do over break. He’s usually not demanding at all and hadn’t been hunting in at least 12 years, so I considered it. Then somehow he convinced his family (mother, sister, and brother) to all be in the same place at the same time. His dad would already be there as he lives in Missoula along with Caleb’s sister, Jessi.
Caleb was all excited about the siblings, nieces, and nephews and all I could think about was all the things I couldn’t do with my crutches in the snow. I had bragged to my classmates about all the homework I wouldn’t do over the holidays, but figured it would give me something to do and brought my bag of books, with laptop, to keep me company. We left the house before 6am on Thursday and Caleb had wanted to leave by 5 so we could avoid most of the LA traffic. That didn’t happen and I napped while he continued to detour further east.
I woke up to eat bread, write my lab report, and read my book. Caleb drove us to within an hour of Pocatello, Idaho the first day and we “rested” for two hours at a truck stop before I was ready to go again. I tried propping my foot up in the backseat while Caleb slept up front, but I couldn’t get comfortable, so I drove. I got us to his mom’s car, the 2000-ish Ford Probe we agreed to drive to Missoula for her, parked outside a small apartment complex. Kris, Caleb’s brother, was picking her up from Big Timber and they would arrive on Sunday.
We got there in time to say hi to Jessi before she went to work and then I watched Labyrinth with the girls, Sammi and Lyra, and their kittens, 1 and 2 (I don’t remember their real names or the weird ones the girls gave them daily), and their deaf dog Rufus while Caleb hung out with his dad and we waited for Jake to get home from work so he could eat leftovers and we could sleep.
The weekend was spent making pancakes, playing with plastic ponies, finishing puzzles, playing a homemade board game (Donut Race), doing laundry, shopping and more shopping, going to the dog park, and more shopping. We definitely bought more than we ate, but I can’t say the same about the drinks. Robert, Caleb’s dad, would come over for dinner and conversation and Jake had the days off while Jessi slept for her next 12-hour shift of 7pm – 7am.
Monday morning brought homework with the help of kittens and kombucha until Kris arrived with his wife, Vicki, and their boys, Tristan and Jordan, and Caleb’s mom, Terri. One might think that’s too many kids in the house, ages 10, 8, 4, and almost 2, but they helped keep me entertained (Tristan loves to pass out papers and crayons, and I shared blueberries with Jordan) while the adults ran around outside and stood around making nachos (because that takes four adult-age people).
Tuesday, Caleb was out the door before the sun. It was nice to be up with just the stove light on, a cup of coffee, and some adult conversation. Caleb went with his siblings and Robert armed with some rifles to find Bambi’s dad and introduce him to lead. They went one place and walked five feet (too far in the cold) and went to another place that ended up with Caleb throwing a body in the back of the truck — one they could hang from the clothes line in the backyard while they went inside for whiskey and muffins.
Having a lot of people in the house with only one bathroom can be a scheduling issue, but the only person with the problem was Tristan and his Aunt Jessi introduced him to the backyard. That was permissible the first time, but hilarious the second time when he asked for his coat to go outside without stating his intention only to come back in with a wet coat due to an aiming issue. We let him know he could use the bathroom again. I would spend the evening doing sticker-by-number and coloring an anatomy book.
Wednesday, the boys went hunting with Robert (no luck) while Terri cleaned her car and Vicki got a pedicure. Jessi and I were going to take the kids to a museum, but they were all closed till 11am so we let the kids do yoga, puzzles, and paint instead. I gave the boys a bath and then it was back to puzzles and yoga for the boys and plastic ponies and kittens for the girls. Terri made her famous biscuits and even though the bottoms were burnt the men made them disappear.
Thursday, Terri left early (ex can’t be in the same room) and forgot her coat. The cousins played together in the kitchen while the adults were busy prepping three turkeys (one fried) and eventually the Tofurky would get put in the oven with most of the pies (pecan, cherry, pumpkin, apple, and mincemeat). There were cranberries, corn, peppers, broccoli, carrots, gravy, and dinner rolls (store-bought). We quickly had seconds and took some family photos and then packed up leftovers for Kris to take when he leaves at 5pm because Vicki starts a new job on Monday morning and they live in Virginia.
At some point during our stay Jake and Caleb set up the teepee and the kids roasted marshmallows inside. There was lots of screaming (good and bad); screens on for background noise, entertainment, and sanity; and tons of food, booze, and laughs. There’s always going to be drama when family gets together for long periods of time, but ours was centered around one individual, which is the deciding factor for us getting together again anytime soon.
We agreed to leave early the next morning to give us more time on the open road and a bit of time in Las Vegas to visit our friends. We stopped in Dell, Montana for lotion and huckleberry stuff and arrived at Julie and Dustin’s at 7:15pm. Their personalities and tastes merge so well together, a happy couple and a beautiful place. They offered us a key thinking we were staying longer and I would have loved to, but I was also ready to get home, see my puppies, and put Caleb’s deer in the freezer, the half we brought in a cooler on dry ice.
Kris had a car fly over the median and into his truck somewhere past Chicago. It was a big fiasco, but everyone is ok and he’ll be getting a new truck. Terri says she’ll visit Jessi more often since she lives closer again. Robert wants to know what we’re doing for his 60th birthday and the kids agree that he needs to be in better shape before we set out into the woods for hiking and hunting with no store to escape to or a chair to rest in for miles. Jessi had a ton of fun, but she’s a family loving nerd like that. Caleb hopes I heal fast and never break again so we can spend more time hiking and diving on our next vacation regardless of which state or group of people we are with.