By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
The end of December is when many return home for dinners, gifts and gatherings of varying formality. No family looks the same and, often, the rituals and traditions start to look different over the years.
In 2021, I gained a whole new family: my husband’s. Granted, while 2021 included our wedding, this year’s holiday gathering hardly felt like a change of pace from the past five years, which I’ve also spent with the Careys. My second family is loud, fun and endlessly generous. We celebrated together on Christmas Eve — as per tradition — with copious snacks, beverages, presents and a campfire. We went to bed full and happy, though extremely aware of just how quiet our daily existence is in comparison to Christmas Eve at the Careys’ home.
Christmas morning looked as it has the past few years, with me, my husband and my three sisters all converging on my parents’ house for a relaxed breakfast and gift exchange. My dad makes his grandmother’s famous pancake recipe — cooking mine crepe-style with jam, because he loves me — along with sausage and eggs. We each take turns opening presents, then — if it’s one from my mom — an entire story unfolds on how and why that particular gift was chosen. My sisters and I have made a concerted effort to spoil my mom in recent years, with many of those gifts including origin stories, so it appears that the tradition will continue in earnest.
Between my nuclear family Christmas and the in-law Christmas Eve celebration, I am a lucky gal. To add to that good fortune, there is my third Christmas.
For this, I drive a few miles to the east, right outside Clark Fork. I pull into the driveway and greet Griz, the appropriately grizzled black lab, offering him a cheesy tortilla chip and chin scratch. I walk through the front door without knocking, hang my coat and set my boots next to a pile of a dozen other pairs in varying sizes. The house is warm, buzzing with activity. The sliding door onto the deck opens and closes frequently.
“Where are my gloves?”
“Can I have another cookie?”
This is the Wolds’ house, full of grandchildren and grown children — one of which is my closest childhood friend, Heather. It is the day after Christmas. I’ve come without a timeline and with only an offhanded text as an invitation. I don’t need one. I know I’m always welcome.
I have been a part of the Wolds’ family functions with such consistency that one of Heather’s nephews just recently discovered I was not, in fact, his cousin. I’ve been walking through the door without a knock for more than half my life now — eating at the table, lounging on the couch, singing “happy birthday” alongside actual blood relatives of the 2- and 3-year-old kids who are now approaching middle school age.
I visited the Wolds this year to see everyone, but mostly, to see Jessie Mae. Heather’s first child, she’s taken to calling me TT — short for “auntie” — and is, without a doubt, the light of my life during the wacky past two years.
Standing by the fire, sipping a beer, watching Jessie Mae make memories in the snow with her big cousins, it occurred to me that I live with the distinct blessing of a third family. They’ve been gracious to me since childhood, accepting in my many phases and have extended that acceptance to my husband.
Those of us lucky enough to count ourselves among three families are particularly lucky during the holidays. Cheers to the Wolds, the Careys and the Kieberts. I’m happy to be yours.
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