Be Merry, Be Bright & Be Truthful

In Holiday, Payton Denney by Lola Magazine

I’m stranded in a Mexican airport with my husband, my dentist, and my gynecologist. There’s a tropical storm coming, and our plane is having technical difficulty. At least we have our bases covered.

Somewhere between check in and Terminal C, I snagged a golf ball-sized hole in the crotch of my pants. Now, there’s a runner down the leg of my favorite tights. And so here I sit — bottom flesh to plastic seat. This is obviously the best time to write my overdue piece for Lola featuring our family Christmas cards. After all, this inappropriate breeze is making me a little chilly. Cue “Jingle Bells.”

I married the wrong man if mainstream was ever intended to be my goal. We’re not regular and trying to be is comical. We were comfortable with our oddities until we had kids. And then we entered this vulnerable space of, “Oh, but I want my kids to be accepted.” It felt a lot like walking around in flippers. And so we tried — for a while. But smiling back at the camera lens wearing smocked outfits and knee socks felt fraudulent. What a sham. We may be a lot of things, but we’re not liars.

So I tried, and I mean really tried, for the first few years of our newly established parenthood reign to keep our randomness at bay. Four weeks before Christmas, I would frantically scroll through candid snapshots searching for one, two, or four images to share with friends. Then I would take the seventeen to which I had narrowed my selection and began editing. I would rotate, crop, blend, squeeze, brighten, and stretch each image in an effort to put our best foot forward.

During one particular editing session, I huffed loudly in frustration. Pat was stirring Hamburger Helper on the stove.

“What’s the problem, boo?” He was concerned and listening.

“These stupid cards. This is so stressful. Nothing is working right.” I had overcommitted at work again, and I was not in the mood for boxed meat dinner.

Pat, spooning the slop onto paper plates, said, “Can I ask you a question?”

This felt like a trap, but I engaged, “Sure.”

“Do you remember anyone’s Christmas card from last year?” He was waiting for my response.

I looked up in an effort to locate the answer. Nothing appeared. I had zero response.

Pat continued, “Seriously. Do you remember?”

I couldn’t. And then he asked me an even scarier question. “Do you even remember what our Christmas card looked like?”

This time instead of looking up, I looked down at my feet. How could I have forgotten?

Pat was ecstatic at his discovery, but his excitement held a motive. He continued, trying to contain his excitement, “So here’s the deal. Give me one year. One year. Let me be in charge of the Christmas card this time, and if people don’t love it and remember it, then you can be in charge again.”

I didn’t have a choice. And so it began.

Within days random eBay packages containing props and getup began appearing at the front door. The contents remained secret to the participants until the day of the photo shoot. The photographer, a very tight-lipped close friend, was sworn to secrecy. A few days shy of December 25 and without warning, the first off-the-wall Denney family Christmas card arrived in the mailboxes of our closest family and friends. One of the only regrets of my life was not having a picture of my mother’s face when she opened that first card.

The ensuing flood of response was incredible.

“This card. There are no words…”
“Payton’s hair, how it that even possible?”
“How did you get that 4 wheeler in the living room?”
“Was that shotgun loaded?”
“Is that dog urine on the tire?”

I have never seen my husband feel more accomplished in all of the 20 years that I’d known him. I have also never laughed more in my life. Much like Charlie Daniels Band in “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” I knew that I’d been beat. And so, a Denney family tradition was born.

For the next four years, our eccentric fivesome conjured up more anticipation than Rudolph could ever claim. We would tease social media with a cliffhanger snapshot of a package of sponge rollers. We snuck into a preacher-owned gym at night, threw a thumbs up at the security camera, and posed with the dumbbells and exercise bands. We also borrowed a few Walmart grocery carts and a goat. I had no idea that goats poop miniature Whoppers. There’s evidently a lot that I don’t know.

I never, and I mean never, understood how much people appreciate an honest effort of self expression. Who knew that so many people shared our sense of humor? Who could imagine that our Tiny Prints rep who proofed the cards would get such a kick out of our bucking of the societal system that she would write us a thank you card — twice?

These cards — this legendary effort — followed us throughout each year. When we take the kids for a check up, the cards are still stapled inside their charts. After a season of medical office visit hiatus (it does eventually happen, young mamas) our pediatrician had to convince a new nurse that our cards were, in fact, a joke. To this day, I’m not sure that nurse is completely comfortable in our presence.

Several summers ago, we were invited to a friend’s house for a cookout. I went inside for a backup mayonnaise and noticed our first wacky Christmas card still hanging on the fridge. It was secured by several magnets. It was also the only item still there. Its hilarity had survived the test of time.

Last year we didn’t send a card. Life had gotten heavy. We needed a season of less. In all honesty, we needed a season of none. Our swollen list of expectant recipients was not happy. But this practice, this tradition, has always been about being truthful to who and where we currently are in life. We tell no lies. We are also well-rested.