The holiday season is upon us, and in my family as in many others, that means togetherness. During the next several weeks, we will have all kinds of reasons to gather at my mom’s house; people will  arrive from all points North, South, East and West. No holiday season is legitimate, no celebration is complete until there’s an official dinner at Gram’s.  Whether it’s pizza and wings, make your own subs, beef on weck, or pork roast smothered in the world’s best gravy, Mom’s dinners reign supreme!

Depending on the number in attendance and the degree of formality involved, dinner is either served in splendid fashion in the dining room, or more informally in the finished basement – appointed with restaurant booths, framed pieces of turf from  Rich Stadium, Dad’s mod-podged jigsaw puzzles, a wrapping station armed with an unending roll of strawberry paper, and Thurman.  Yes, a life-size cardboard cut out of Thurman Thomas joins us at every event. He is always there, always smiling, and always quiet. If we could get our hands on one of Jim Kelly, he’d be there, too.

Regardless of the eating location, my family invariably ends up in some sort of laughing spasm over something utterly ridiculous, but impossible to ignore. “Do you remember the time…” is all we need to say, everyone adding their own little detail, a necessary piece to the elaborate saga. Those are the last intelligible words spoken for the next ten minutes. We cry, we writhe in pain and gasp for air, we hold our stomachs and pray for it to stop, and it does – eventually.  Who knows why these things set us off, but they do.  Granted, laughter is not the ideal way to rest and digest, but there are so many stories worth repeating, and so many new ones that innocently bubble up around our table.

Once we recover from the eating, the laughing and the clean-up, we move to the living room – cautiously stepping over bodies sprawled out in all directions. It’s always  interesting to see how many people can squeeze onto the couch that envelopes you when you sit down, and who will get to the player piano first.  Funny to think that we used to work up a sweat pumping those pedals, but now we just flip the switch!  Rolls teeter precariously in a pile, waiting to be grabbed, and we sing with wild abandon until the familiar flap, flap, flap reminds us that we’ve sung the last verse and it’s time for New York, New York.  No one can do the elephant walk quite like Dad used to during that song, but that doesn’t stop us from trying … nor can anyone top Gram as she Jitter Bugs across the room.

Mom’s house is where holidays come alive, birthdays are celebrated and memories made.  We’re all a little grayer, our elephant walk kicks not quite so high, and fewer of us fit on the couch, but Gram pulls it together.  She’s the the ultimate Bills’ Fan, she’s the spark, she’s the glue.

My family?  Well, that’s just it – it’s mine. Our stories are funny, probably only to us, the strawberry wrapping paper is sacred only to us, and in our opinion Mom’s potato salad and Christmas cookies are utopia. Our paths are varied and interesting – to us, and we are all just a little bit quirky in a warm, wonderful way.  I love to look around at everyone; it makes me smile.  There’s something very comforting about seeing Thurman, sinking into that couch, and watching Gram dance.

Here we go again!

In December of 2013, an edited version of this essay appeared in the Buffalo News as “Being With Family is the Best Part of the Holidays.”