My family has never been big on tradition. While moving them like Bedouin nomads over the past 30 years, the only tradition I’ve been able to begin is storing packing boxes in a new home without ever opening them. We still have a few from our move from Philadelphia to upstate New York in 1980.
Now we’re celebrating our 14th Christmas in Delaware, and though I may still occasionally trip over those boxes in the basement, my little desert tribe has found a tradition or two that does not involve nights in a Residence Inn, family breakfasts at a nearby Denny’s, weeks of complaining about having no friends, and assuaging the parental guilt by giving the family a new computer or a kitten.
Several Christmases back, a late-evening party devolved into a team game of Trivial Pursuit. I had at first thought it a good idea to form the teams according to gender, but during a brief male caucus after the ensuing shellacking, the menfolk agreed future teams should be selected randomly.
Because the games lasted deep into an evening that had already begun late, final rolls of the dice were taking place when exhausted members of both teams started begging, “Just get the next one right so we can go home.” It clearly did not matter which side would win, so I worried that we may have stretched this new little tradition past the bounds of normalcy, and that I had committed the worst act of a host: boring my guests to sleep.
I needn’t have been concerned.
“We’re having Trivial Pursuit later on, right?” The question came from many of our guests in later years. One pair, who had stood out by their lack of responsiveness the previous year, even admitted to grabbing a bunch of game cards and cramming during the long drive to Delaware.
I tend to do all right in these games. Like those boxes in my basement, my brain is a storehouse for useless snippets of knowledge. I’m decent enough on history and sports questions that there’s an unfortunate tendency among my teammates to automatically defer to me in those categories—which often results in the painful discovery of huge gaps in my store of useless knowledge.
So my immediate family members began playing a little game within the game that I’ve come to call See Dad Get It Wrong. It begins when a history category is on the table. My eldest daughter will moan, “Oh, jeesh, he’s gonna know this one for sure.” When I miss it—especially if I’ve talked a teammate out of what turns out to be the correct answer—the smile that beams across her face exceeds any I’ve seen while opening gifts on Christmas morning.
One game, with my team one correct question from victory, my daughter huddled with her teammates, including my wife, to choose a question guaranteed to stump me. My daughter thought she had found one, but my wife said I was likely to know it. The two quickly fell into the familiar family argument of, “that fool doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” My wife picked one question, my daughter insisted on the other.
My daughter won out, and I proceeded to correctly answer that it was Andy Griffith in “No Time for Sergeants.” All through the following Christmas morning, my daughter remained profoundly listless.
Reid Champagne says holiday parties always end with his family members assuring their guests, “He’s not nearly as smart as you think he is.”